Sunday, July 29, 2012

Duluth attorney faces possible disbarment

The Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board alleges that Louis A. Stockman failed to comply with a prior discipline ordered by the state Supreme Court

A Duluth lawyer whose face graces the cover of a Twin Ports phone book is again in trouble with the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility.

The director of that office has filed a petition seeking discipline ranging from reprimand to disbarment for Louis A. Stockman because of unprofessional conduct. The Stockman Law Office has occupied the cover spot on the Dex phone directory for the past couple of years.

Among the allegations is that Stockman failed to comply with the prior discipline ordered by the state Supreme Court.

In January 2009, the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, the state's watchdog group for attorneys, issued Stockman an admonition for failing to obtain his client's consent before making a settlement demand to an insurer, failing to notify the client of the insurer's counter-offer, failing to diligently handle the client's case and failing to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of his case.

He was suspended from practicing law for at least five months starting in March.

According to the new petition for disciplinary action filed by Martin Cole, director of the Office of Lawyer's Professional Responsibility:

In addition to handling the legal matters of two more clients in a less-than-professional matter before being reprimanded, Stockman continued to display signage at his Superior Street office and continued to identify himself as an attorney while suspended.

Brian Fischer, Stockman's former law partner, said Thursday that the signage on his office in the Beal Building in downtown Duluth has been removed and that he now owns the business, which is called Injury Law.

Fischer said Stockman is working in his office as office manager and legal assistant, but intends to answer the allegations against him and be reinstated. Stockman wasn't available for comment.

"It's been a very humbling experience for him, but at the same time we are two relatively young guys and we're looking for ways to come through this and continue, for many years to come, help people with their legal needs," Fischer said.

By: Mark Stodghill, Duluth News Tribune

Source: The Duluth News Tribune

Lawyers' detective work must be commended

Sitting in a St. Paul cafe one day last week, public defenders Lauri Traub and Christine Funk were getting impatient with the service.

"If I were waiting on us, we'd have coffee by now," said Traub, who along with Funk has caused upheaval at the St. Paul crime lab by questioning the way it processed drug cases.

Traub made her declaration with authority, but not the authority of a respected defense attorney. She made it with the authority of a waitress at a hotel restaurant, which she is when she is not defending drug dealers or murderers.

You could say Traub is well versed in both torts and tortes.

Together, they have raised questions about the St. Paul crime lab that should scare the bejeebers out of cops, prosecutors and anybody wrongly convicted of a crime.

A judge will decide in the coming months how bad the problems at the lab were. But when the criminologists themselves admit to being "horrified" by the lab's lack of written standards and sparse record keeping, and admitted they had little training in testing possible narcotics -- well, it can't be good.

No one knows whether the lab's shoddy work will lead to overturned convictions, or cause prosecutors to make deals on pending cases. Earlier, police tried to temper the impact by saying the methods in question were limited to one drug test.

But if a lab has been that slipshod with one test, isn't it likely that they took shortcuts with ballistics, blood spatters and other tests? And if St. Paul's unaccredited lab has problems, what about the other 17 or so unaccredited labs in Minnesota?

Bet that defense attorneys will soon start asking.

"Don't they watch CSI?" I asked Funk.

"On CSI, you don't see them writing down when you last cleaned the machine that tests drugs," said Funk. "That's the boring stuff that's essential to good science."

Labs in Minnesota don't have to be accredited. I'm guessing that's going to change soon.

Some of the admissions by lab workers were shocking.

During one encounter between Traub and lab worker Kari McDermott, Traub asked: "You don't, in your lab, have a lot of the basic minimum standards in place?"

"I guess I don't know what the minimum standards are," McDermott said.

Perhaps my favorite part, however, was during the first meeting between the lawyers and lab workers, in which Funk and Traub made them outline procedures. McDermott wondered why no one had asked her about this before.

It was a great question, one I posed to the lawyers.

"Lawyers don't take classes in forensics," said Funk. For years, they've just accepted the results given them by labs.

Funk doesn't claim to be a scientist, but she's taught herself enough to ask good questions. Her first murder case for the state public defenders contained a lot of DNA science. Funk's boss didn't want to learn it, so she did.

Funk has co-authored a manual on DNA, and she teaches a class called "Wrongful Convictions" at William Mitchell College Law, a course for which she now has new curriculum, thanks to the hearing.

Joe Daly, a professor emeritus at Hamline University School of Law, taught both Funk and Traub and says the school will invite them to help guide the school in providing more education on forensics.

"They did a really good job on this," said Daly. "Both are very smart, and I'm proud they went to Hamline. They have really done a public service. You get two lawyers like this [who] uncover probably an unintentional scandal, [and] it's important. You are talking about taking people's liberty away."

Traub, who was a mom and a candidate for the Minnesota House in past lives, went to law school at age 33, just in time for the statewide layoffs of public defenders. She now handles everything from misdemeanors to felonies. After starring in hearings that got the lab director removed and drug tests moved to other labs, Traub returned to a pile of cases on her desk.

And to her job as a waitress.

"I actually make more money per hour waitressing than I do as a public defender," said Traub, probably the only waitress in town certified in blood spatter.

Funk and Traub deserve our praise for asking critical questions and making the justice system face serious shortcomings that jeopardize one of our basic rights, the right to a fair trial.

So if Traub brings you a cup of coffee this weekend, you might want to be generous with your tip.

By Jon Tevlin, Star Tribune,, 612-673-1702

Source: The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ostlings attorneys seek more than $660,000 in lawyer fees, costs from city of Bainbridge Island

Attorneys for the Ostling family have asked a federal judge to award their legal team more than $660,000 in legal fees and related costs following the $1 million judgement against the city of Bainbridge Island.

The request for attorneys' fees was filed in U.S. District Court last month by lawyers with Connelly Law Offices, the Tacoma-based law firm that represented the Ostling family in their lawsuit against the city.

"As the court knows first-hand, this was a very difficult and hard-fought civil rights case involving unique issues," attorneys with Connelly Law Offices said in their court filing, and added that the firm took on an "extraordinary risk" and had invested "countless hours and thousands of dollars" when it took on the Ostling case.

William and Joyce Ostling filed suit against the city of Bainbridge Island, Police Chief Jon Fehlman and Bainbridge Police Officer Jeff Benkert after their son Douglas Ostling was shot and killed by Benkert after he responded to a 911 call at the Ostling home in October 2010 and Ostling confronted police at his doorway with a double-bladed ax.

The jury in the federal civil rights trial found the shooting was justified, but said police had not been properly trained to deal with the mentally ill, and awarded $1 million to the Ostlings and the victim's estate.

The city has since asked for a new trial, and said the jury would have decided the case differently if Fehlman had been there to defend himself and his department. Fehlman was hospitalized before the start of the trial and has been on medical leave ever since.

In their request for attorneys' fees, the family's lawyers laid out the extensive work they had done on the case.

"This lawsuit was filed on March 22, 2011, and ... the defendants produced thousands upon thousands of pages of documents during discovery, including training records, personnel files, department manuals, documentation from other/prior calls, medical and psychiatric records, correspondence, and other documents. Nine expert witnesses were disclosed (five of them by the defense), and 21 depositions were taken (including two defense experts whose depositions occurred out-of-state). Numerous motions were filed, briefed and argued by the parties," the family's lawyers said.

Attorneys from the firm said reasonable attorneys' fees and costs should be awarded, and that the court should use the "lodestar method," which is a way to calculate fees by taking the number of hours that attorneys worked and multiplying that number by a reasonable hourly rate.

Lawyers from Connelly Law Offices said a multiplier of 1.5 should also be used, which would increase the fees of the three lawyers and paralegal used in the case from $384,645 to $576,967.

The attorneys estimated their costs at $82,657.

The combined legal fees and costs total $659,624, but attorneys for the Ostling family said in a subsequent filing on July 6 they should also be paid for another 47 hours of attorney work that came after the close of the trial.

According to court documents, Nathan Roberts, the lead lawyer for the Ostlings spent approximately 626 hours on the case, and the law firm is seeking reimbursement at $325 an hour (for a base of $203,580, or $305,370 in total).

The second chair in the trial, Julie Kays, worked roughly 293 hours on the case; her hourly rate was $350 (for a base of $102,725, or $154,087 in total).

John Connelly Jr., a consultant partner to the Ostlings' attorneys, devoted an estimated 79 hours on the case; his hourly rate was $550 (for a base of $43,890, or $65,835 in total).

Also, a paralegal spent 275 hours on the lawsuit and trial. At a cost of $125 an hour, the base fees totaled $34,450 (or $51,675 in total).

Attorneys for Connelly Law Offices said the hourly rates were reasonable and "squarely in line with the prevailing rates," and cited average hourly rates for partners at the law firm of Lane Powell at $460 an hour, and at Perkins Coie at $550 an hour.

Connelly Law Offices also said the assessment of time spent on the case was an estimate, and had been "constructed" based on a review of the court files and other documents in the case.

"The number of hours listed in the declaration is, if anything, extraordinarily conservative; countless hours were spent on phone calls, informal conferences, and miscellaneous matter and tasks were never documented and have since been forgotten (and are therefore excluded from this request)," the attorneys wrote in their request to the court.

Attorneys for the city of Bainbridge Island are fighting the request to pay the Ostlings lawyers' attorneys's fees and costs.

Brian Augenthaler, an attorney for Keating, Bucklin & McCormack, said attorneys for the Ostlings had "deceptively" included more than $57,000 that was spent on expert fees in "other charges" that they wanted reimbursed.

Augenthaler, in a response filing with the court, said the request for costs and fees was "grossly inflated" and had "been inflated by hundreds of thousands of dollars through deceptive billing and non-taxable costs."

He also said the verdict itself was invalid, and that the jury had only found in the Ostlings' favor on only one of four issues.

"The jury found Officer Benkert’s actions in shooting, searching, and rendering aid were reasonable and constitutional. However, the jury found Chief of Police Jon Fehlman and the city failed to train their police officers to deal with the mentally ill," Augenthaler wrote.

"The assessment does not account for the fact [the Ostlings] lost on a majority of their claims. And the billing statements, which were not recorded contemporaneously, are replete with 'work' for which no attorney could charge a client," he said.

Augenthaler noted that Connelly had billed at a rate of $825 per hour to watch part of the trial.

"For these three hours of 'work,' Mr. Connelly asks the court for $2,475 for his attendance at a trial in which he did not participate. Defendants should not be charged for Mr. Connelly’s moral support any more than he would ask his clients to bear that expense," Augenthaler wrote.

He also said the estimate of hours worked had been "cobbled together."

"This failure to record time contemporaneously should be fatal to the fee request," he said. "Attorneys who anticipate requesting fees should maintain detailed, contemporaneous time records that will enable a determination of the amount of time spent."

He also said the attorneys had failed to prove "the vast majority of their case" and were asking for a $200,000 premium.

Augenthaler also said the court should take into account the amount of money the Ostlings will have to pay their attorneys for their work on the case.

By his estimate of a one-third contingency fee, the Ostlings will pay Connelly Law Offices $333,333 for their work on the case.

By Brian Kelly

Source: The Bainbridge Island Review

12th lawyer out for NBA star Dwyane Wade’s ex-wife in divorce, custody battle

A judge agreed Monday to allow a lawyer for Dwyane Wade's ex-wife to remove himself from her protracted divorce and child-custody battle with the NBA star.

Attorney Michael Haber had been the 12th lawyer to represent Siohvaughn Funches-Wade in the high-profile case.

Haber cited a "lack of communication" with Funches-Wade and said they were "unable to resolve significant issues regarding the representation," according to a court filing last week.

Cook County Circuit Judge Marya Nega agreed at a hearing Monday to let him drop the case, despite an argument from Funches-Wade that it would be expensive for her to hire another lawyer.

"I have never had a lawyer come in here and say they have an obligation to withdraw from the case," said Nega, who has been on the bench more than 20 years.

The judge said most lawyers want off cases because they are not getting paid. She said she had never heard an attorney back off because they believe a "strong ethical violation" exists.

The judge asked Funches-Wade whether she was prepared to find attorney No. 13. Funches-Wade replied: "Yes, ma'am."

Haber said during the brief hearing that he planned to help the transition to new legal counsel and had no intention of "leaving Mrs. Wade high and dry."

Haber was the longest-serving among the dozen attorneys who have represented her as the protracted court battle has played out between Funches-Wade and her ex-husband, the star guard for the Miami Heat.

He's from Robbins and played for Richards High School and Marquette University.

Their divorce was finalized in 2010. A year later, Wade was given sole custody of his two sons. Funches-Wade was granted visitation rights.

Funches-Wade left the courtroom without comment.

For now, she can visit the children in Miami only, rather than having them come to Chicago for visits.

By Lisa Donovan, staff reporter,

Source: The Chicago Sun-Times

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Texas attorneys argue that state voter ID law does not discriminate against minorities

Lawyers for the state of Texas argued Friday that a contentious voter ID law should go forward because it doesn’t limit minorities' right to vote and, therefore, does not violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

Justice Department attorneys argued just the opposite, saying the law requiring voters to show valid, government-issued photo identification at the polls is exactly the type of statute that the act, passed in 1965, was designed to prevent.

Both sides gave closing arguments Friday after a weeklong trial about the Texas law, passed last year by the state's Republican-controlled Legislature. Texas currently only requires voters to show their voter registration cards, which do not have photos, or another acceptable alternative form of ID such as a driver's license or utility bill.

Texas' voter ID law is similar to laws passed by GOP-controlled legislatures in Georgia and Indiana.

The Justice Department blocked the Texas law in March, citing the Voting Rights Act. Texas sued the Justice Department, sending the case to federal court in Washington. A three-judge panel is set to decide the fate of the law.

It's not clear when the judges will make a ruling. The presiding judge, Rosemary Collyer, said they would try to have a decision in "quick order." The judges have said they would like to rule before November's elections.

Attorney John Hughes, who argued for Texas, said the state had met its burden, showing through expert witnesses, social science studies and its own dissection of the Justice Department's evidence that there was little cause to believe any eligible voter would be unable to vote because of the ID law.

"People who want to vote already have ID or an ability to get it," Hughes said.

He said if the Justice Department's argument that thousands would be disenfranchised by the Texas law were valid, the courtroom would have been full of witnesses testifying in support of that point.

Hughes also reiterated other arguments Texas had made throughout the week: that public opinion backs voter ID laws, that Texas lawmakers had the integrity of votes - not the suppression of minority voters on their mind - when they passed the law, and that other states that have passed ID laws have not seen a drop in turnout.

The three judges hearing the case seemed skeptical of Hughes' arguments, interrupting him repeatedly with questions. Judge Robert Wilkins asked Hughes how Texas could require some rural voters to drive more than 100 miles to get a new voter ID card when under current law a person cannot be required to travel more than 100 miles for a subpoena.

Matthew Colangelo, in the Justice Department's closing argument, said Texas' law should be thrown out under the Voting Rights Act because of a number of factors, including the atmosphere in which the law was passed, statistical evidence about its effects and the fact that it creates new barriers to voting.

"It's exactly the kind of law Congress had in mind when it passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965," he said of the act, which was passed as a safeguard on minority voting rights.

Colangelo noted that the ID law in Texas was passed against a backdrop of "tremendous population growth" in the state's Hispanic community. Texas added 4 million people to its population between 2000 and 2010, he said, and 90 percent of them were Hispanics.

"Texas has acted to take away Latino voting strength as it's on the verge of growing" he said.

Colangelo cited testimony that Democrats in the Texas Legislature gave earlier in the week. They said normal rules were suspended to speed along the voter ID bill.

He also argued that the law simply made it more difficult for people to vote, calling it "a new barrier that will disenfranchise."

The judges also interrupted Colangelo at times during his closing argument, pressing him to clarify his points. But they didn't ask him as many questions as they did Hughes.

Closing arguments also came Friday from lawyers for several intervening groups who have joined the Justice Department in opposition to Texas' law. One of the attorneys, Gerald Hebert, said the law would hurt the poor. He referred to it as "merely a pretext, a cloak for voter suppression."

"It will harm the poor, the downtrodden, the destitute," he said. "How mean-spirited, how callous can you be?"

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

By The Associated Press

Source: The Washington Post

2 Jackson Kelly lawyers selected for Super Lawyers West Virginia 2012 Top 10

Jackson Kelly lawyers A. L. Emch and Thomas J. Hurney, Jr. have been selected to the Super Lawyers West Virginia 2012 Top Ten List.

This honor is given to 10 attorneys in West Virginia who received the highest point totals in the Super Lawyers' West Virginia nomination, research and blue ribbon review process.

This is the fourth time Emch has made the Top Ten list and the fifth time Hurney has made the list.

Emch practices in the industrial, environmental and complex litigation practice group at the firm. He represents defendants in trial and appellate litigation in both state and federal courts, with emphases on personal injury, including deliberate intent cases and industrial accidents, product liability, toxic torts, class actions, mass torts and other complex litigation.

Hurney is the leader of the health care and finance practice group at Jackson Kelly and has a practice involving the litigation and trial of cases involving serious personal injury and wrongful death.

The firm recently announced 24 of its West Virginia lawyers were selected for inclusion on the West Virginia Super Lawyers 2012 list and 13 others were chosen for the West Virginia Rising Stars 2012 list.

Super Lawyers is a rating service choosing lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.

The selection process is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. In the United States, Super Lawyers magazine is published in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., reaching more than 13 million readers.

By The State Journal

Source: The State Journal

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Defense attorneys attack reliability of Holyland witness

Lawyers protest the frequency with which the state tries to allow witness, S.D., to review his previous testimony to the police

Defense attorneys attacked what they called the faulty memory of the state's witness as the Holyland trial continued on Monday, during which "S.D." elaborated on his involvement in arranging buyers for different parts of the project.

The Holyland trial, which deals with the large Jerusalem construction project of the same name, is a massive corruption case involving allegations against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski, former Bank Hapoalim CEO Dan Dankner and 13 other defendants.

Clashes between the state's attorneys and defense attorneys over the method of S.D.'s testimony continued during the hearing.

Throughout the week-and-a-half of testimony by the state's witness, known only as S.D. due to a gag order, he has remembered most of what occurred in the almost 15 years that he was involved in the project. He has, however, often been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of detail necessary to prove the state's case against a large number of defendants, many of whom were involved in disparate aspects of the project and at different times.

To try to make its case flow better, the state has frequently resorted to interjecting to provide S.D. with missing details and has asked to "refresh his memory" by showing him his prior testimony before the police. These are permitted legal tactics for helping witnesses recall details, but one with limits that the state has pushed.

Defense attorneys continued to protest the frequency with which the state tried to allow S.D. to review his previous testimony to the police, arguing that if he cannot remember so many details without assistance, the veracity of his testimony itself is questionable.

The defense attorneys also objected to what they described as S.D.'s "hearsay" or secondhand statements about the corporation Holyland Park's operations, when he has only claimed in general to have worked for Holyland Corporation and Holyland Tourism corporation.

The attorneys for the defendants continue to be frustrated with the pace of the trial: The state has the floor with its witness and the defense attorneys can object to questions but not yet cross-examine him.

In terms of the substance of S.D.'s testimony, the state's witness discussed how he facilitated getting buyers and large financial institutions involved with Holyland project transactions.

S.D. took credit for drafting Bank Leumi into investing in the project even though it had, until then, left investing in real estate largely to rival Bank Hapoalim.

During Monday's hearing, S.D. also recounted his negotiations with the various investors in the Holyland project regarding his compensation for arranging bribes, buyers and generally making sure the project moved forward.

At one point, S.D. asked for an advance payment of $240,000, but only received $160,000, possibly foreshadowing some of the later tensions which eventually led him to turn against his former business colleagues and allies.

By Yonah Jeremy Bob

Source: The Jerusalem Post

Lawyers in Miles case told to pare lists of witnesses

A federal judge on Monday told lawyers in Jordan Miles' civil rights case against three Pittsburgh police officers that they need to pare down their lists of potential witnesses.

"Right now, there's like half of Allegheny County listed here," U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster said.

Miles, 20, of Homewood claims officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak beat him during a 2010 arrest. The officers contend Miles resisted arrest, and they used proper force.

Lancaster met with the attorneys in a final pretrial conference before the jury trial begins next week. The judge ruled on more than 20 motions on evidence he will allow during the trial.

Both sides agreed not to introduce the results of lie detector tests that Miles and the officers took. The judge said lawyers can use evidence about past conduct by the officers and Miles only to rebut what they say on the witness stand.

He said the defense could use prior statements from Miles' friends about what he told them only if they take the witness stand.

Still pending is a motion that Miles' attorneys filed on Monday asking Lancaster to sanction the defense for not preserving a Mountain Dew bottle the officers said gave them probable cause to suspect that Miles carried a weapon.

Miles and lawyers for the officers declined to comment after the hearing.

Tim O'Brien, one of Miles' attorneys, said they contend their client wasn't carrying a soda bottle in his jacket pocket, but if the officers use that to justify their subsequent actions, they had a duty to keep the bottle as evidence.

Miles' attorney J. Kerrington Lewis said even if the city produced a soda bottle, experts could have shown that it had no fingerprints or DNA to link the bottle to Miles.

Lewis said he has considerable evidence showing that Miles, then a senior honors student at the Creative and Performing Arts High School, suffered damage to his learning abilities and still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It really has permanently injured him," Lewis said.

If a jury finds the officers violated Miles' civil rights, it will determine what damages to assess.

By Brian Bowling, staff writer for Trib Total Media, 412-325-4301,

Source: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Money to pay lawyers lacking

Luzerne County did not fund the line item for Children and Youth cases' representation

Thirteen attorneys who represented parents in Children and Youth cases are owed nearly $106,000 in legal fees dating back to last June, but it remains unclear where the county will get the money to pay them.

Mike Shucosky, deputy court administrator, said he delivered a memorandum to the county Friday that details the amount that’s owed to each attorney.

The county budget does not have a line item in place to pay the fees, however.

"The line item that was created to pay the bills in the past was not funded this year," Shucosky said. "It's an obligation of the county. The work was performed. It will be up to the county to decide how to make the payments."

Shucosky said the attorneys, who were paid $55 per hour, are owed a combined total of $105,747. Most of the bills are for work that was performed in 2012, but there were some leftover bills dating back to June 2011.

County Manager Robert Lawton did not return phone messages Thursday or Friday seeking comment on where the county will get the money to pay the bills, or when they might be paid. Vic Mazziotti, budget and finance director, said on Friday he had not yet met with other county officials to discuss the matter, but expects to do so soon.

The attorneys, who include Robert Davison of Kingston, have been representing parents throughout this year, even though none of them have received any payment to date.

Davison, who estimated he's owed roughly $20,000, said he continued to do the work as a public service, believing he would eventually be paid.

"It's important that parents, regardless of the merits of their case, be given legal counsel," Davison said.

He said he's pleased to see the county has finally taken action to address the bills.

"I don't think any of the lawyers who worked the past seven months did so with the assumption they would not get paid," he said.

The manner in which the attorneys are paid has been criticized after a Times Leader investigation revealed one of the attorneys, Angela Stevens, had double billed the county nearly $60,000, most of which was for bill preparation.

Stevens has acknowledged she made billing errors, but has maintained the errors were an honest mistake. She voluntarily relinquished roughly $20,000 that was owed to her, after the double billing was accounted for, and is not among the attorneys who is seeking payment.

The county has since altered its policy to pay a flat rate.

In June the county awarded contracts to the Sebelin Law Offices of Lehighton and attorneys Michael Shotto and Tony Ross, both of Wilkes-Barre. They each will be paid a flat rate of $25,000 to represent parents through the end of this year.

By Terrie Morgan-Besecker,, 570-829-7179, Twitter: @TLTerrieMorgan

Source: The Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

Fort Hood suspect's lawyers discuss jury screening

Fort Hood shooting suspect's attorneys question jury screening process in his murder trial

Less than two months before the high-profile murder trial of the Army psychiatrist charged in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage, defense attorneys Friday continued questioning the jury screening process but received access to some documents.

At the pretrial hearing, the judge, Col. Gregory Gross, gave Maj. Nidal Hasan's attorneys access to some government documents, including background information on hundreds of Fort Hood soldiers who didn't end up in the jury pool. However, Gross denied a defense request for the same information on those from other Army posts who could be eligible to be jurors.

The court-martial is to start Aug. 20 on the Texas Army post. Hasan, an American-born Muslim, faces the death penalty if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the November 2009 shootings.

Jurors must be of Hasan's rank or higher, and they will be brought from Fort Hood and Army posts across the country. Death penalty cases in the military require at least 12 jury members, more than in other cases. And unlike other trials, their verdict must be unanimous in finding guilt or assessing a sentence.

Hasan's attorneys on Friday also said they want to interview Fort Hood's commanding general and staff judge advocate separately about their initial screening process for potential jurors. Gross is allowing defense attorneys to question the officials together, but a separate interview for the staff judge advocate is being considered.

Last month, lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe called it a "highly irregular" process as the defense sought documents on all potential jurors. Army officials had already decided that the jury pool would not come from Fort Sill, Okla., as initially planned, because that fact had been publicized. Defense attorneys said that 1,133 officers were available as jurors from Fort Hood but nearly 250 more were sought from other Army posts, and Fort Hood's leader whittled the jury pool to 147 - none of them Muslims.

Prosecutors have said the screening process was done properly and that top officials used basic criteria, such as a soldier's rank and any impending deployments. Maj. Larry Downend, one of the prosecutors, said less than 1 percent of the available prospective jurors listed Islam as his or her religion.

Defense attorneys want to send a questionnaire to the jury pool and have it returned about a month before the trial, but Poppe said Friday they cannot agree with prosecutors on all the questions. The judge is to discuss that matter at a hearing next week.

Gross on Friday also denied a request to force a public affairs officer to talk to defense attorneys about how that office tracks and analyzes media reports about the Hasan case.

"A Google search would probably turn up a million stories about this trial, none of them favorable to the defense. That's not a shock," lead prosecutor Col. Michael Mulligan told the judge in urging him to deny the defense request.

Hasan was not in the courtroom again Friday because he continues refusing to shave his beard, a violation of Army regulations. Last month, Gross said Hasan would be barred from attending hearings and his trial in person unless he shaves the beard, which his attorneys have said is an expression of his faith. Hasan and one of his attorneys have watched the past three hearings on closed-circuit television in a room in a trailer just outside the courthouse.

Hasan, 41, was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the rampage. He remains jailed.

By The Associated Press

Source: The KSAT San Antonio

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

No new free lawyer if Mount Pleasant man fires current attorney, State Public Defender's office says

There's no such thing as a free lunch, and the same might be said of legal services for a Mount Pleasant man if a Racine County judge grants his request to fire his defense lawyer.

Justin Jerell Blakemore, 25, was sentenced in December to 40 years in prison followed by 20 years on extended supervision for the 2010 fatal shooting of a man at Tino's Carryout, according to court records. He also was accused of shooting a second man in the face that night inside the restaurant's lobby.

But in a June 4 letter from First Assistant State Public Defender Joseph Ehmann, he stated Blakemore directed his court-appointed defense attorney, Bradley Lochowicz of Elkhorn, to withdraw as his public defender for his appeals. If Blakemore's request is granted, he stated, "...Mr. Blakemore will be waiving his right to public defender representation and no new or successor counsel will be appointed."

Blakemore has until July 30 to file an appeal, court records show.

"Believe it or not, there are some defendants that fire lawyers without good reason to delay (a case)," Racine County Circuit Judge Allan "Pat" Torhorst said in court Tuesday.

Court records show Blakemore had three prior defense attorneys between November 2010 and April 27, 2011.

"Apparently the State Public Defender is getting concerned (about defendants firing their assistant state public defenders on appeal)," Torhorst said.

Torhorst set another hearing for July 26, saying he wanted to ensure that Blakemore knows if he fires Lochowicz, he likely will not receive another free defense lawyer. He could, however, hire a private defense lawyer or file any appeal on his own.

"My view is he's gotta have notice, that I'll buy, that he's waiving his appellate counsel," Torhorst said.

Police were called to Tino's Carryout, 1100 Washington Ave., for a report that two people had been shot in the restaurant lobby, according to reports. Police found Robert Davis shot once in the back of the head at close range, according to the criminal complaint. They also found Willie King had been shot in the face. Davis later was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Blakemore pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree reckless homicide while armed and first-degree intentional homicide in September 2011, according to court records. In exchange, prosecutors dropped two other felony charges, that of armed robbery and intimidating a witness.

If convicted of homicide without the plea deal, he faced a maximum of life in prison.

Blakemore currently is in the Green Bay Correctional Institution, according to state prison records. He is scheduled to be released from prison onto extended supervision in October 2050.

By Kristen Zambo,

Source: The Journal Times

Colonies defense attorney named one of top trial lawyers in country

G. Larson, who is defending a Rancho Cucamonga developer in a high-profile San Bernardino County corruption case, one of the leading trial lawyers in the U.S.

Larson, an Upland resident, was among 37 attorneys from the Los Angeles-based law firm Arent Fox included in the Legal 500 Series' list of leading trial attorneys.

According to its website, the Legal 500 Series has been published for more than 20 years and provides the "most comprehensive worldwide coverage currently available on legal services providers in over 100 countries."

Larson is a former federal judge and former chief of the organized crime section of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. As a defense attorney, he now specializes in white-collar crimes, complex business disputes and intellectual property matters, among other things.

Larson is defending Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum in a conspiracy and bribery case in which three former county officials are also named as defendants.

Burum, former county Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt, are accused of conspiring to convince the Board of Supervisors to approve a $102 million settlement with Burum's Colonies Partners LP over a flood-control dispute in exchange for bribes.

By Joe Nelson, Staff Writer

Source: The Contra Costa Times

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Students try to ID bogus immigration attorneys offering to help undocumented youths

Five Tulsa college students split up the numbers to cold call lawyers claiming to help immigrants file for the latest administrative relief.

In one afternoon, they found two disbarred attorneys, one "notario" claiming the ability to do legal work, an attorney charging $2,000 for an application that doesn't yet exist and several more with no idea of President Barack Obama's recent announcement to shift policy aimed to help undocumented youth.

Warnings have been issued about people offering unauthorized immigration services, calling themselves "notarios" or immigration consultants. A notario is considered an attorney in much of Mexico but does not carry the same educational requirements in the U.S.

The checks started after members of DREAM Act Oklahoma received calls from attorneys wanting referrals.

"One guy told us to 'Send all the students my way,' " said student Tracey Medina. "That really got us wondering how many of these people are legitimate immigration attorneys. We are concerned about what facts are being put out there, and we want to find out what they are saying."

DREAM Act Oklahoma is a grass-roots organization dedicated to advocating for the rights of undocumented youth. It is led and composed of mostly college students and is affiliated with the national DREAM Act organization.

The group has been hosting forums and promoting information related to the recent "deferred action" option available to youth by the use of presidential powers.

Obama's latest directive will allow a specific segment of people younger than 30 to apply for two-year work permits if they have met educational and background requirements. The application will not be ready until August.

The action contains some elements of the DREAM Act, which is pending in Congress and was first introduced to lawmakers more than a decade ago.

In a call to the office of a Tulsa attorney who prominently advertises in immigrant communities, student Kasey Hugheart posed as an immigrant:

"I'm an undocumented immigrant and think I qualify for Obama's latest announcement and wanted to see what it would cost for you to help me," Hugheart said.

"We only deal with the DREAM Act and immigration," said a person answering the phone.

"I know, this is about immigration," she said. "How much will it cost for an attorney to help me file for it?"

"It will be $500 down for the consultation and $1,500 to submit the form," the person said.

After hanging up, the students shook their heads.

"Well, he's on the blacklist," Hugheart said.

"How can he claim to get the DREAM Act when it doesn't even exist?" Medina said. "And there isn't even an application yet for Obama's deferred action."

The students called attorneys found online, in phone books or newspapers and on fliers claiming to specialize in immigration.

Students often needed to explain what Obama's directive was or define terms commonly known in the immigrant communities, such as "Dreamer," referring to youth who would qualify for the legislative act if it passed.

Although the group found a handful of questionable attorneys and a few possible scams, there were some valid professionals.

After getting off the phone with a lawyer known for his immigration work, the student gave a thumbs up.

"The attorney took my call and explained the application wasn't ready," said the student, who asked not be to identified because he is undocumented. "He would not charge for a consultation, explained the deferred action and said to wait. He also used all the right terms. Maybe we should call him back and tell him he passed our test?"

The group took its results to an experienced and trusted immigration attorney, who checked the list with the state bar association and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. That's where it was discovered some had been disbarred, disciplined or were not even attorneys.

Hugheart said the group will support those who are legitimate but will keep their list when asked for referrals by word-of-mouth.

At a forum Sunday, she warned the crowd to watch for unscrupulous lawyers and people making guarantees on results. The forum attracted immigrants, advocates and people wanting information to help friends.

It also attracted a few attorneys and interpreters handing out business cards.

"You should not be paying for this," Hugheart said. "There should not be any prices out there for this. It is in the information process. An attorney should not be asking for money. They can take your name and number and call you back when the application is ready."

Until the application is ready, it is unknown what type of services will be needed from an immigration attorney. Groups such as the National Immigrant Youth Alliance recommend having a criminal history reviewed to identify possible obstacles.

Tulsa has two federally certified organizations working with immigrants - Catholic Charities and the YWCA Multicultural Center.

Also, people are encouraged to check the state bar for an attorney's status, get references and compare fees among attorneys. The American Immigration Lawyers Association also has a search of its membership online.

Hugheart said the group's chief concern is to prevent vulnerable people from being preyed upon.

"This was something we had to do," she said. "The public depends on the information being put out there, and Spanish-language resources are limited. We take this as our responsibility for the public - to put knowledge out there to help."

By Ginnie Graham, World Staff Writer

Source: The Tulsa World

Deleted texts insignificant to BP Gulf oil leak

Lawyers for a former BP engineer are pressing federal prosecutors to explain how their client impeded a grand jury probe by deleting text messages about the company’s response to the 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a court filing Monday, Kurt Mix’s attorneys also seek a court order requiring prosecutors to specify which deleted texts form the basis for the obstruction-of-justice charges against him.

The defense attorneys say the vast majority of deleted texts don’t appear to have any connection to Mix’s work on BP’s effort to stop the flow of oil from its blown-out Macondo well.

“Even the handful of deleted text messages that might be viewed as pertaining to the incident are so substantively insignificant that it is virtually impossible for Mix to ascertain which of them might form the basis for each obstruction count,” Mix’s lawyers wrote.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. didn’t immediately rule on Mix’s request.

Prosecutors claim Mix deliberately deleted more than 200 text messages to and from a supervisor and more than 100 to and from a contractor to prevent them from being used in the grand jury’s probe of the disaster. The FBI says a text message Mix deleted indicated BP’s blown-out well was spewing far more oil than the company was telling the public.

Mix, 50, of Katy, Texas, was freed on $100,000 bond following his arrest in Texas on April 24. He pleaded not guilty on May 3 to two counts of obstruction of justice. Each count is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The criminal charges against him are the first in the Justice Department’s investigation of the disaster, which killed 11 rig workers and spawned the nation’s worst offshore oil leak.

A trial for Mix is scheduled to start in February.

By Michael Kunzelman, The Associated Press

Source: The Advocate

Monday, July 2, 2012

Amid new voter ID laws, Obama camp recruits lawyers

President Barack Obama's campaign has recruited a legion of lawyers to be on standby for this year's election as legal disputes surrounding the voting process escalate.

Thousands of attorneys and support staffers have agreed to aid in the effort, providing a mass of legal support that appears to be unrivaled by Republicans or precedent. Obama's campaign says it is particularly concerned about the implementation of new voter ID laws across the U.S., the possibility of anti-fraud activists challenging legitimate voters and the handling of voter registrations in the most competitive states.

Republicans are building their own legal teams for the election. They say they're focused on preventing fraud -- making sure people don't vote unless they're eligible -- rather than turning away qualified voters.

Since the disputed 2000 presidential election, both parties have increasingly concentrated on building legal teams -- including high-priced lawyers who are well-known in political circles -- for the Election Day run-up. The Bush-Gore election demonstrated to both sides the importance of every vote and the fact that the rules for voting and counting might actually determine the outcome. The Florida count in 2000 was decided by just 537 votes and ultimately landed in the Supreme Court.

This year in that state alone, Obama and his Democratic allies are poised to have thousands of lawyers ready for the election and hope to have more than the 5,800 attorneys available four years ago. That figure was nearly twice the 3,200 lawyers the Democrats had at their disposal in 2004.

Romney has been organizing his own legal help for the election. Campaign attorney Ben Ginsberg did not provide numbers but said the campaign has been gratified by the "overwhelming number of attorneys who have volunteered to assist."

"We will have enough lawyers to handle all situations that arise," he said.

The GOP doesn't necessarily need to have a numerical counterweight to Obama's attorneys; the 2000 election showed that experienced, connected lawyers on either side can be effective in court.

Former White House counsel Robert Bauer, who is organizing the Obama campaign's legal deployment, said there is great concern this year because he believes GOP leaders around the country have pursued new laws to impede the right to vote.

"The Republican Party and their allies have mapped out their vote suppression campaign as a response to our success in 2008 with grassroots organization and successful turnout," Bauer said. "This is their response to defeat: changing the rules of participation so that fewer participate."

Several states with Republican leaders have recently pursued changes that could make voting more difficult, including key states such as Florida and Ohio, despite objections from voting rights groups that believe that the laws could suppress votes from low-income and minority blocs.

Republicans dispute that the laws are political, pointing to cases of election fraud and arguing that measures like those requiring voters to show identification are simply common sense.

Independent from the Romney team, a conservative group is prepping an Election Day team of its own to combat possible fraud.

Catherine Engelbrecht, president and founder of True the Vote, said the organization hopes to train and mobilize up to 1 million volunteers this year, many of them to serve as poll watchers. One of the group's main initiatives is to "aggressively pursue fraud reports."

"Being a poll watcher is an age-old tradition, and we're fortunate that so many volunteers are ready and willing to take a day off, learn what they need to know and help out at the polls," Engelbrecht said. True the Vote already has thousands signed up to help and had 500 trained election workers monitoring the Wisconsin recall vote earlier this month.

"They serve as volunteer guardians of the republic, to ensure that procedures at the polls are in keeping with state law," she said.

The Democrats fear thatanti-fraud activity could get out of hand, with vigilante poll watchers targeting and intimidating voters who may not know their rights.

"We will have the strategy and the resources to address the threat and protect the voter," Bauer said.

The Obama-aligned attorneys, most of whom are not election experts by trade, undergo training and have materials to show them how to help at the polls on Election Day.

Charles Lichtman, who created the Florida Democratic Lawyers Council after the 2000 election, contends Democrat Al Gore would have won the presidency over Republican George W. Bush if a similar legal infrastructure had been in place.

By Mike Baker, The Associated Press

Source: The Detroit Free Press

Lawyer charged with contempt

Jurors said plaintiff's attorney coached witnesses on stand

A prominent lawyer faces federal civil contempt charges after he allegedly caused a mistrial in a discrimination lawsuit involving the city of Vancouver.

Thomas Boothe, Portland attorney for Rolando Hernandez, a former Vancouver Fire Department shop employee who sued the city of Vancouver, went to trial on June 11 in U.S. District Court.

Hernandez, who is Hispanic, sued the city for $2.5 million, alleging racial discrimination based on disparate treatment, retaliation and a hostile work environment.

On the fourth day of trial in Tacoma, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton ordered a mistrial after two jurors notified the judge that they saw Boothe apparently coaching his witnesses during cross-examination.

The jurors told the judge that Boothe would shake his head, nod and mouth answers when each witness was asked a question, and the witnesses followed his cues, according to court papers filed in federal court.

Leighton said in court papers that he also was alerted to allegations that Boothe may have intimidated a witness, a Vancouver city official, and also may have forged a court document that was presented as evidence at trial.

"This is the first time I've declared a mistrial in 10 years," the judge told jurors, according to a trial transcript. "I don't like the situation, but I have never encountered a situation like this before."

The judge set a civil contempt hearing for Oct. 12. It's unclear what penalties the longtime attorney could face, but sanctions for civil contempt are generally monetary.

It's also too soon to tell how a civil contempt finding could influence Boothe's ability to practice law.

"Depending on the outcome of that, obviously there could be fallout" for Boothe, said Robert Christie, a Seattle attorney representing the city of Vancouver. "It was a very serious proceeding, and that was a very serious order."

Boothe has retained a Seattle attorney, Patrick Rothwell, to represent him. Rothwell said this week: "Mr. Boothe denies the charges asserted in the show-cause motion, and he will address charges at the hearing in October."

According to the court transcript, Booth said that if he was making any physical cues, it was "unintentional" because he has a firm belief in law ethics.

Boothe, a lawyer for 33 years, has handled several high-profile cases in Clark County, mostly civil suits involving public agencies. He won a $1.5 million lawsuit in 2007 for four women who sued Clark County Fire District 5 for sexual harassment.

Boothe also represented former Vancouver Police Department Officer Navin Sharma in one of his three lawsuits related to his employment. Under a different attorney, Sharma was most known for winning a $1.65 settlement racial discrimination lawsuit against the police department in 2008.

Hernandez's discrimination lawsuit against the city remains in limbo. When the judge ordered a mistrial on June 14, he told the attorneys the case is open to be re-tried.

That decision rests with Hernandez, who must hire a new attorney to move forward. Attempts to contact Hernandez, who lives in Alaska, were unsuccessful.

The case has stalled since he filed the lawsuit in 2004. The District Court originally threw the case out in 2006. Following appeals, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision in May 2008 and called for a jury trial.

Hernandez worked for the city's Operations Center as a mechanic from 1995 to 1999, when he was promoted to work in the fire department's shop as an emergency equipment mechanic. His suit alleges that when he took up his new position, he received the "cold shoulder" from other employees, was given more menial tasks than his peers and had his tools and at least one vehicle he worked on sabotaged.

The suit also says that Hernandez's supervisor and the city conspired to cover up the discrimination. Hernandez was placed on leave in 2004 after an altercation with another employee in a parking lot, and eventually demoted. He left the city in 2007.

The case has gone through several attorneys over the years. Lawyers have said both sides have been unable to agree on a settlement.

By Laura McVicker, Columbian Staff Reporter,,,, 360-735-451

Source: The Columbian