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    Tuesday
    May082007

    Dog Gets His Own Lawyer in Contentious Custody Battle

    Ron Callan Jr. left an estate worth about $2 million, but the most hotly contested item in the late businessman's Tennessee probate court case is his 13-year-old golden retriever, Alex.

    The four-way fight over custody of Alex was so intense that a judge appointed an attorney to represent the dog's interests.

    A judge on Monday approved a consent order to split custody of the dog based on the recommendations of the guardian ad litem, The Commercial Appeal reported.

    "Obviously, this is a very unusual set of circumstances," attorney Paul Royal wrote of his four-legged client. "At first glance, the petition seems almost frivolous, but after speaking with all parties, it is evident that this is a highly emotional issue for all involved."

    Callan, whose New Year's Day shooting death was ruled a suicide, left no will, leaving the court to decide what to do with the dog and the rest of the estate.

    Details here from the AP via Law.com.

    Tuesday
    May082007

    Corporate Clients Take Note as More Firms Announce Associate Raises

    The latest round of associate salary raises is spreading like a virus through the state's biggest firms -- and it has some corporate counsel feeling a little queasy.

    Just days after three big California-origin law firms raised starting pay to $160,000 for in-state associates, Latham & Watkins; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; and Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker followed suit Tuesday.

    The rash of raises has some big-firm clients worried.

    "There seems to be no end in sight," said James Hall, director of intellectual property at Silicon Valley's Quantum Corp. "At some point I think it has to impact how much I'll pay in legal services ... That money has to come from somewhere."

    Susan Hackett, senior vice president and general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel, said the recent round of raises doesn't take clients into account at all.

    "The decision is completely divorced from any recognition of the value that's provided," Hackett said. "I don't see how those people who got paid $10,000 less yesterday got any more talented today."

    Details here from The Recorder via Law.com.

    Saturday
    May052007

    Proskauer Teams Up With Bernstein to Take on Google

    You Tube Logo

    Google’s already-busy legal staff got a bit more work dumped on their desks today when law firms Proskauer Rose and Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman together filed a copyright infringment case against the company. Here’s a copy of the complaint.

    The lawsuit follows closely on the heels of Viacom’s recent copyright infringement suit against Google . . . ., and contains allegations similar to Viacom’s: namely, that Google, the owner of YouTube, violated federal copyright law by posting video clips on YouTube without authorization.

    But there’s one key difference between today’s filing and the Viacom case: today’s aspires to be a class action. The lead plaintiffs? The Football Association Premier League Limited (a.k.a. the English soccer league known as the Premiership), and Bourne Co., the holder of numerous copyrights in, according to the complaint, some of “the world’s most beloved and well-known songs.” (For those curious, the list includes “Inka Dinka Doo,” “Popcorn” and “San Antonio Rose. . . .”)

    The complaint asks for Google to take down the offending clips and for an unspecified amount of damages.

    To our ears, the most surprising thing about the filing is the Proskauer-Bernstein team-up. Proskauer is often thought of as a general interest large corporate firm, albeit with particularized specialties in labor & employment and sports law. Bernstein Litowitz handles some defense-side work, but is mostly known as a plaintiff-side securities class-action shop. So why the tag-team?

    The answer is here from the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog.

    Saturday
    May052007

    A Liberal Case for Gun Rights Helps Sway Judiciary

    In March, for the first time in the nation’s history, a federal appeals court struck down a gun control law on Second Amendment grounds. Only a few decades ago, the decision would have been unimaginable.

    There used to be an almost complete scholarly and judicial consensus that the Second Amendment protects only a collective right of the states to maintain militias. That consensus no longer exists — thanks largely to the work over the last 20 years of several leading liberal law professors, who have come to embrace the view that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns.

    In those two decades, breakneck speed by the standards of constitutional law, they have helped to reshape the debate over gun rights in the United States. Their work culminated in the March decision, Parker v. District of Columbia, and it will doubtless play a major role should the case reach the United States Supreme Court.

    Details here from Adam Liptak of the New York Times.

    Saturday
    May052007

    Judges Get Crash Course in Sciences

    CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- As advanced science plays a larger role in courtrooms across the country, judges who earned degrees in English or the humanities face the daunting task of making informed decisions about some very technical disputes. That's why judges from across the Southeast gathered Friday for a crash course with medical and genetics experts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    About 60 judges are attending the conference, which is exploring emerging and often contested areas of science.

    Unlike other judicial seminars, this three-day intensive training session -- dubbed The Southeast Regional Science and Technology Boot Camp -- aims to prepare judges for some of the most politically charged issues of the day: gene therapy, genetic discrimination, genetically modified foods, human cloning and stem cell research.

    Details here from the AP via the New York Times.

    Friday
    May042007

    Paris Hilton Receives 45-Day Sentence

    LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A judge sentenced Paris Hilton to 45 days in county jail Friday for violating her probation, putting the brakes on the hotel heiress' famous high life.

    Hilton, who parlayed her name and relentless partying into worldwide notoriety, must go to jail on June 5 and she will not be allowed any work release, furloughs, use of an alternative jail or electronic monitoring in lieu of jail, Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer ruled after a hearing.

    The judge ruled that she was in violation of the terms of her probation in an alcohol-related reckless driving case.

    ''I'm very sorry and from now on I'm going to pay complete attention to everything. I'm sorry and I did not do it on purpose at all,'' she told the judge before he announced the sentence.

    She was then ordered to report to a women's jail in suburban Lynwood on the set date or face 90 days behind bars. The judge's ruling excluded her from paying to serve time in a jail of her choice, as some are allowed.

    Good! Details here from the AP via the New York Times.

    Wednesday
    May022007

    Crisis Pending: Can a Tax Law Strategy Be Patented?

    Can a patent on a legal strategy prevent a client from taking your advice? The courts may soon decide

    Imagine, before sitting down with your client to advise her about her legal options, having to consult the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Web site to determine whether someone else already owns the patent to the course of action you want to suggest.

    If that’s the case, you’ll have to pay the patent holder so your client can take your advice. But the patent holder also might refuse to sell you the license, limiting your client’s legal options. Then what?

    Welcome to Dennis Belcher’s world.

    In 2004, Belcher—a trust and estate attorney in Richmond, Va., with three decades of experience—learned that patents had been issued on certain estate planning strategies for minimizing taxes.

    At first, he says, “I thought it was absurd that someone could patent an estate planning strategy.” But now, “I realize how dangerous this matter is, and I follow the topic for professional protection and to keep my clients out of a patent lawsuit.”

    For good reason. Since issuing its first patent for a tax strategy in 2003, the Patent and Trademark Office has issued at least 52 patents covering specific tax strategies.

    Details here from the ABA Journal.

    Wednesday
    May022007

    Suit Over 'Rent-to-Own' Agreements Settles for $109 Million in New Jersey

    Rent-A-Center Inc., the nationwide rent-to-own company, has agreed to pay about 100,000 New Jersey customers a total of $109 million to settle a putative class action suit claiming the company violated the state's criminal usury statute.

    The company agreed to the settlement last Friday and Camden County, N.J., Superior Court Judge Ronald Freeman is expected to approve it in late May or early June, says one of the plaintiffs lawyers, Camden solo William Riback.

    The plaintiffs -- all of whom entered into contracts with the Plano, Texas, company between April 23, 1999, and March 16, 2007 -- will receive, on average, $800, according to the lead plaintiffs counsel, Seth Lesser of the Locks Law Firm in New York City.

    In a statement released after the settlement was announced on Tuesday, Rent-A-Center said it planned to finance the settlement through its regular business operations. The company has more than 3,500 outlets nationwide and reported first-quarter revenues of $755.3 million.

    Details here from the New Jersey Law Journal via Law.com.

    Wednesday
    May022007

    Calif. Smoker Gets Higher Compensatory Damages in Second Trial

    For the second time in about seven years, a San Francisco jury has found two major tobacco companies liable for damages related to Leslie Whiteley's habit of smoking cigarettes.

    In court Wednesday, a jury recommended Whiteley's husband get about $2.5 million in compensatory damages, more than the $1.7 million in compensatories attorney Madelyn Chaber helped the Whiteleys win the first time around, before a higher court ordered a retrial.

    Yet it's not clear how Leonard Whiteley will fare this time when it comes to punitive damages.

    Back in 2000, the jury handed him and his wife a total of $21.7 million -- including $20 million in punitives, $10 million each against two tobacco companies.

    But that was before an appeal court overturned the entire verdict in 2004, and substantially limited the plaintiffs' case going forward. In Whiteley v. Philip Morris, 117 Cal.App.4th 635, the 1st District Court of Appeal concluded the defendants could not be held liable for certain conduct during a 10-year window closed by the legislature beginning in 1988.

    But in the retrial, it appears that only R.J. Reynolds will face punitive damages, not co-defendant Philip Morris.

    Details here from The Recorder via Law.com.

    Monday
    Apr302007

    Calif. PI Pleads Guilty to Forgery

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- A private investigator who worked to get condemned inmates off death row pleaded guilty Monday to forging documents to support their appeals, later declaring she did so because the death penalty is ''barbaric.''

    Kathleen Culhane, 40, admitted that she forged documents to try to stop the executions of four condemned inmates since 2002.

    In her plea agreement, she admitted to two counts of forgery and single counts of perjury and filing false documents. State prosecutors had charged Culhane in February with 45 felony counts of forgery, filing false documents and perjury.

    The plea agreement asks Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Gary Ransom to sentence her to a five-year prison term. She could have faced nearly 19 years if convicted of all 45 counts.

    Details here from the AP via the New York Times.

    Monday
    Apr302007

    Supreme Court Takes Second Look at Death Sentences for Foreigners

    The Supreme Court stepped into a Texas death penalty case Monday that mixes Bush administration claims of executive power with the role of international law in state court proceedings.

    The case accepted by the justices for argument this fall concerns the fate of Jose Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican national who was sentenced in 1994 to die for the rapes and killings of two teenage girls.

    The state wants to go ahead with Medellin's execution, despite a ruling from the International Court of Justice in The Hague that the convictions of Medellin and 50 other Mexican-born prisoners violated the 1963 Vienna Convention because they were denied legal help available to them under the treaty.

    The pact requires consular access for Americans detained abroad and foreigners arrested in the United States. Mexico sued the United States in the international court, alleging the prisoners' rights had been violated.

    Unusual for a death penalty case, the administration is siding with Medellin in asserting that the president's primacy in conducting foreign policy is being challenged.

    Bush is actually opposing a death sentence? From Texas? Astonishing. Details here from the AP via Law.com.

    Monday
    Apr302007

    Supreme Court Adopts New Standard on Patent Litigation

    In a major patent law development, the Supreme Court on Monday adopted a new, flexible standard that will make it easier for patents to be denied or challenged on the grounds that the invention at issue is too obvious to deserve patent protection.

    The unanimous ruling in KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc. could also subject existing patent-holders to fresh litigation over obviousness -- a threshold issue that is part of every patent determination.

    "This leaves patent litigation in a state of total disarray," says Kenneth Bass III of Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox, part of the legal team representing Teleflex, a Pennsylvania company whose patent for an automobile gas pedal assembly was challenged by KSR, a Canadian firm. Teleflex held onto its patent under a more restrictive standard for finding obviousness used by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. But the high court, in relaxing the standard Monday, ruled against Teleflex and returned the case to the Federal Circuit.

    "Judges are now permitted to use their own common sense rather than objective evidence or testimony," Bass says.

    Details here from Tony Mauro of Legal Times via Law.com.

    Sunday
    Apr292007

    Two Federal Judges Hold Key to California Prison Reform

    Two veteran jurists may find themselves reluctantly stepping in where there is a political vacuum to address inmate overcrowding.

    SACRAMENTO — Both are past 70, with creaky limbs, gray beards and an eye on retirement after long careers in the black robe.

    But like it or not, federal judges Thelton E. Henderson and Lawrence K. Karlton hold the power to help California fix a catastrophic failure: its broken prison system. It is a task neither man covets.

    Karlton has had heart surgery and carries a full load of cases aside from his prison work. Henderson suffers an autoimmune disorder that is attacking his muscles. He says he'd be enjoying his golden years already if not for his desire to see inmate medical care improve.

    "I want to retire and go fishing and hang out with my grandson," Henderson said in a recent interview. "But Larry and I feel an obligation, a duty, here."

    Now the judges' long-running role in California corrections is taking on new urgency. Each is poised to decide a potentially far-reaching question: whether crowding in the state's floundering prisons has become so severe that a cap on the inmate population is warranted. Hearings are set for June.

    Details here from the Los Angeles Times.

    Thursday
    Apr262007

    Lawyer's Price For Missing Pants: $65 Million

    When the neighborhood dry cleaner misplaced Roy Pearson's pants, he took action. He complained. He demanded compensation. And then he sued. Man, did he sue.

    Two years, thousands of pages of legal documents and many hundreds of hours of investigative work later, Pearson is seeking to make Custom Cleaners pay -- would you believe more than the payroll of the entire Washington Nationals roster?

    He says he deserves millions for the damages he suffered by not getting his pants back, for his litigation costs, for "mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort," for the value of the time he has spent on the lawsuit, for leasing a car every weekend for 10 years and for a replacement suit, according to court papers.

    Pearson is demanding $65,462,500. The original alteration work on the pants cost $10.50.

    By the way, Pearson is a lawyer. Okay, you probably figured that. But get this: He's a judge, too -- an administrative law judge for the District of Columbia.

    This story is almost too much to believe. Details here from Marc Fisher of the Washington Post.

    Wednesday
    Apr252007

    Citing Fraud, Judge Tosses Case After Video Shows 'Paralyzed' Woman Walking

    Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely was shocked. She had just watched a videotape of a medical malpractice plaintiff, who claimed in 2004 that she was permanently paralyzed, walking down the street with the use of a cane in 2005.

    "This is the worst case of misrepresentation, of outright fraud, that I have ever had in 22 years," Cardonne Ely said during a March 15 hearing in the case of Wanda Davis-Johnson. "I'm telling you, Mrs. Davis, I'm looking at you in the eyes. I am dismissing your case. I have seen enough. ... I'm making a specific finding that there was a scheme to defraud the court."

    Lawyers on both sides are facing ethical questions about their own conduct in the case, though both sides say no Florida Bar complaints have been filed.

    Details here from the Daily Business Review via Law.com.