Friday, April 25, 2008

Show Me The Money: Tax Rebates-The Check's in the Mail!

Rebates from the 2008 economic-stimulus package are set to begin going out Monday, President Bush said, reiterating that the infusion of cash will help lift the U.S. economy out of its ongoing slowdown. The Treasury Department will send out the first wave of rebates via direct deposit starting next week, and paper checks will begin going out May 9. The rebates are worth up to $600 a person or $1,200 a couple.

"This money is going to help Americans offset the high prices we're seeing at the gas pump and at the grocery store, and will also give our economy a boost," Bush said Friday.

Nearly 7.7 million Americans will get their checks electronically during the first week, Bush said at the White House. By this summer, he said, the Treasury will have sent rebates to about 130 million U.S. households.

"It's obvious our economy is in a slowdown," Bush said, speaking on the White House South Grounds. Bush has denied that the U.S. is in a recession. The rebates are part of the bipartisan stimulus package passed by Congress enacted in February.

Man May Sue Over His Arrest For Road Rage

A Las Cruces man who was arrested after calling a woman a "bitch" for taking his parking space may proceed with a lawsuit accusing police officers of using excessive force and violating his constitutional rights, the 10th Circuit ruled.

Officer Chris Gallegos heard driver James York say "bitch" or "what a bitch" after a woman pulled her car into a spot in the Target parking lot that York had been waiting to nab.

Gallegos pulled up behind York and confronted him as he got out of the car, asking, "Who were you calling a bitch back there?" York told Gallegos that it was "none of his business" and allegedly became increasingly belligerent.

Gallegos called for backup, and officers Frank Lucero and Greg Martinez arrived and helped Gallegos arrest the plaintiff. York was charged with disorderly conduct and evading an officer.

He challenged his arrest and the way in which it was carried out.

"Although the word 'bitch' may be offensive to some, any reasonable police officer should have known that he could not arrest Mr. York for loudly saying this word under the circumstances," Judge Anderson wrote.

The court added that the officers probably overreacted, as "there is no evidence that any reasonable person would react violently to hearing this word."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Gideon Bibles out of school

Public schools in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana must stop in-school Bible giveaways to students, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

"Distribution of Bibles is a religious activity without a secular purpose" and amounts to school board promotion of Christianity, U.S. District Judge Carl J. Barbier ruled. That violates the First Amendment's separation of church and state, he wrote.

As requested by both sides, Barbier made a summary judgment based only on the written briefs — something judges may do only if the law is absolutely clear.

But attorney Christopher M. Moody said he thinks the Tangipahoa Parish School Board is likely to ask the 5th U.S. Court of Appeal to overturn Barbier's decision, though he hadn't yet consulted with the board. "We think there's a very good chance" of a reversal, he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed the suit for an anonymous family whose daughter said she felt pressured into taking a Bible even though she doesn't believe in God. The girl was called Jane Roe and her father John Roe out of fear of retaliation by schoolmates and neighbors, the ACLU has said.

"Jane Roe states that she accepted the Bible because if she did not, her classmates would have 'picked on' her," Barbier wrote. "She feared they would call her 'devil worshipper.'"

Marjorie R. Esman, executive director of the ACLU chapter, said, "A child shouldn't have to choose between her family's beliefs and the wishes of school administrators."

Jane Roe was a fifth-grader at Loranger Middle School when The Gideons International visited on May 9, 2007. Principal Andre Pellerin notified fifth-grade teachers that the group would be on campus all day, giving away Bibles outside his office.

His e-mail said, "Please stress to students that they DO NOT have to get a bible," according to Barbier.

However, the judge wrote, even procedures upheld as neutral for secondary school students might be out of bounds for "an impressionable young elementary-age child."

He cited a ruling that upheld a West Virginia county's system of putting both religious and nonreligious material on a secondary school table where school students could walk past it. Grade-school children might not understand that the school board was not endorsing any of the materials, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal said in that case.

At Loranger, the table outside the principal's office also created the impression that the school was endorsing Christianity, Barbier wrote.

Bible distribution in La. schools unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that a school district in Louisiana must stop allowing the distribution of Bibles in schools, saying that the distribution is "a religious activity without a secular purpose" in violation of the First Amendment. The Tangipahoa Parish School System allowed The Gideons International to visit one of the district's schools to distribute Bibles in May 2007. The Bibles were not distributed in classrooms and students were not required to take a Bible, but US District Judge Carl J. Barbier ruled Tuesday that:

this Court determines that the distribution of Bibles was ultimately coercive as Jane was pressured to accept a Bible in violation of Lee; that distribution of Bibles is a religious activity without a secular purpose in violation of Lemon; and that the distribution by the Gideons amounted to promotion of Christianity by the School Board in violation of County of Allegheny. As a result, the distribution of Gideon Bibles to elementary school children at Loranger Middle School violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, specifically, the Establishment Clause.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of the family of a fifth grade student, welcomed the ruling [press release], noting that "We couldn't find a single case from any court in this country holding that Bible distribution to grade school students is constitutionally permissible." A lawyer representing the school board indicated that he expected an appeal to be filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, though he said that he had not yet consulted with the board on a possible appeal.

Earlier this year, a federal judge in Missouri issued a similar ruling, finding that the distribution of Bibles at elementary schools by religious organizations is unconstitutional.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Surgeon Could Lose License Over Sex With Patient

SAN DIEGO -- A prominent North County surgeon could be in trouble with the state medical board and learned he could lose his license, 10News reported.

Dr. Dennis Nigro is the subject of a hearing at the state building in which he is accused of having sex with a patient.

Nigro admitted to having a brief affair with a woman in 2003, but said she was no longer in his care during their relationship.

Nigro’s attorney, Michael Khouri, said, “The woman does not believe Dr. Nigro was her doctor when the sex occurred.”

“There is documentation required to terminate relationship. It was not done in this case,” said Deputy Attorney General Mary Agnes Matyszewski.

An administrative law judge will issue a proposed decision that will be sent to the state medical board for final disposition.

Nigro’s license could be suspended if discipline is deemed necessary.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Defense in CIA case wants Berlusconi as witnesses

A former Italian secret services chief's defense lawyers requested Wednesday that Premier-elect Silvio Berlusconi testify in the trial of 26 Americans and others charged with kidnapping a terror suspect during a CIA operation.

Nicolo Pollari's defense also requested outgoing Premier Romano Prodi as a witness, said lawyer Alessia Sorgato, who represents some of the American defendants.

Berlusconi _ who won Italy's national elections Monday _ is considered a key witness because he was premier when an Egyptian cleric, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was abducted from a Milan street in February 2003.

The alleged kidnapping was part of the CIA's so-called extraordinary renditions program _ moving terror suspects from country to country without public legal proceedings.

Berlusconi's testimony in the Milan trial is being sought to clarify which evidence might be protected as classified and prove that Pollari was against the rendition, Sorgato said. Also among the requested witnesses are the defense ministers and undersecretaries in both Berlusconi's 2001-06 government and Prodi's 2006-08 government.

Judge Oscar Magi will decide May 14 on whether to allow their testimony. On the same day, Abu Omar's wife, Ghali Nabila, and Milan's lead anti-terrorism investigator, Bruno Megale, will also be heard.

The issue of classified documents has held up the trial, which opened in June, for months as the court awaited a decision by Italy's highest court on whether the indictments improperly relied on state secrets as evidence. It is part of the Italian government's request to throw out the indictments.

The high court still has not ruled, but the judge decided last month to resume the trial anyway. The Constitutional Court is set to hear the case July 8.

Italian prosecutors say the cleric was transferred to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany before being moved to Egypt, where he was imprisoned for four years. Nasr, who was released last year, said he was tortured.

All but one American suspect in the case have been identified by prosecutors as CIA agents. Seven Italians also were indicted in the case, including Pollari.

Pollari has denied any involvement by Italian intelligence in the abduction, and Berlusconi has publicly supported his military secret services chief.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ambigendi Locus: FEMA, FCC Win Dubious Muzzle Awards, Cited for Free-Speech Violations

Ambigendi Locus: FEMA, FCC Win Dubious Muzzle Awards, Cited for Free-Speech Violations

FEMA, FCC Win Dubious Muzzle Awards, Cited for Free-Speech Violations

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which staged a fake news conference, was among the "winners" Tuesday of the 2008 Jefferson Muzzle Awards, given by a free-speech group for egregious First Amendment violations.

FEMA made the list, compiled by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, for staging the news conference during the California wildfires. Agency employees posed as journalists and asked officials soft questions while real reporters got little notice of the news conference and were barred from asking questions because the conference call was "listen only."

Center director Bob O'Neil said the bogus event was an example of fake speech substituting for free speech.
"We haven't [previously] had anything that fell into the falsification or disinformation category; this is a first," O'Neil said in a telephone interview.

The police department in Scranton, Pa., was cited for filing criminal charges against Dawn Herb, who screamed a string of profanities when a toilet in her home overflowed. Herb's neighbor, an off-duty officer, told her to tone it down. After she continued, she was charged with disorderly conduct. A judge acquitted Herb in December, saying that though her comments might be considered vulgar, she had the First Amendment right to express herself.

The Federal Communications Commission got a Lifetime Muzzle for having four citations and for being in the running nearly each year of the awards' 17-year history. The commission has been nominated mostly over how it has defined broadcast indecency following situations that included U2 frontman Bono's use of the "F-word" at a 2003 awards show and Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction" in 2004.

A Muzzle also went to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., for introducing a bill that would require the FCC to maintain a policy that would make broadcasting a single word or image indecent and, therefore, punishable.
CBS Radio and MSNBC were cited for taking radio host Don Imus off the air after he made racist and sexist comments about Rutgers University's women's basketball team. The networks allowed public criticism to control their actions, O'Neil said, despite the fact that they could've used broadcast-delay technology to prevent the comments from being heard.

The Charlottesville, Va., center awards the Muzzles annually to mark the April 13 birthday of its namesake, the third president and free-speech advocate.

Others cited: Lancaster County, Neb., District Judge Jeffre Cheuvront for barring witnesses from using the terms "rape," "victim," "assailant" and "sexual assault kit" in a sexual assault trial; the New York Department of Motor Vehicles for recalling a vanity license plate after deeming its "GETOSAMA" message offensive; and the managing board of The Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia's student newspaper, for firing a cartoonist because of public criticism of a strip called "Ethiopian Food Fight" -- despite the fact that the editors approved the cartoon before it was published.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bad News for Bad Lawyers

Getting bad lawyers out of the legal profession isn't cheap. Just ask State Bar of California officials who have calculated that policing their own puts the agency in a financial hole to the tune of about $600,000 a year.

But that might be changing soon as agency leaders push aggressive new measures that could force errant attorneys to pay a substantial portion of the costs of their own prosecution in State Bar Court.

Legislation went into effect this year that lets the State Bar go to court to seek civil judgments for certain costs assessed against disciplined lawyers. And Bar leaders are now reviewing a proposal that would force attorneys to pay several other costs, including prosecutors' hourly fees.

"The goal isn't to collect more money," says Roderick McLeod, one of the Bar governors backing the idea, "but rather to force these lawyers to shoulder more of these costs. We are trying to get attorneys that are causing the problems to share the burden."

Even so, the idea remains controversial -- even within the State Bar itself. Some feel that the move would come across as an attack on solo practitioners and small-firm lawyers, while others believe it's an overly harsh punishment and very likely uncollectible.

"I don't think it's going to increase our recovery," says Scott Drexel, administrative officer and chief counsel for the State Bar Court. "Our statistics show that the people that are most likely to pay the discipline costs are people who want to return to practice. So people who resign or are disbarred are very unlikely to pay costs."

Adds Diane Karpman, a Los Angeles lawyer who represents attorneys: "Many of these lawyers wind up flipping burgers or selling clothes at Macy's. They are barely making it economically, and I would anticipate that this would result in less money being recovered."

Floundering lawyers might choose not to return to the law rather than to make payments beyond their means, some Bar staff agree.

"All of the indications are that the lesser the amount, the more likely you will collect it," says State Bar Chief Trial Counsel Mike Nisperos Jr., who is in favor of recouping some, but not all, costs. "And the higher the amount, the less likely you are going to collect it."

As it now stands, state law lets the Bar recoup from lawyers certain costs, such as transcript and deposition expenses, investigation and hearing costs and some witness fees. Some of the costs are added to the disciplined lawyers' membership dues for the next year, while disbarred or resigned attorneys must pay those costs as a condition of reinstatement.

Even so, the State Bar recovers only about $350,000 to $400,000 of its $950,000 to $1 million in discipline costs each year.

"That's a big chunk of our budget," says McLeod, a partner in Jones Day's San Francisco office. "It just seems intrinsically fair that they who cause the problem, and can pay, should bear the burden more."

Since Jan. 1, Business and Professions Code §6086.10(a) and 6140.7(d), passed by the Legislature last year, have allowed the State Bar to seek recovery costs as civil judgments. Nisperos and President-Elect John Van de Kamp hope the laws, which have yet to be tested, will put some muscle behind its attempts to collect from disbarred lawyers, who have less incentive to pay because they can't return to practice.

"In the past, the ability to recover has not been as good as some would like," says Van de Kamp, who becomes president in October.

Several Bar leaders, however, thought the new laws weren't enough, and at a July committee meeting, a handful of State Bar governors gave their tentative approval to proposals that would:

• Allow the agency to recover the costs of prosecutors' fees. Mid-level deputy trial counsel, who would most likely be involved in the cases, charge $40 an hour.

• Insist on payment of costs as a condition of applying for reinstatement.

• Require payment of costs for involuntary inactive enrollment proceedings.

• Shorten the months-long delay on payments by requiring attorneys to repay costs within 30 days after they become final.

• Force out-of-state applicants for reinstatement to come to California for their depositions. Currently, prosecutors must travel at State Bar expense to the applicants' home states. "We have been so jerked around by not having that kind of rule," Nisperos says. "It didn't make any sense to me."

The full Board of Governors has yet to review the proposals, and legislative approval would likely be needed if any were to be adopted.

The committee considered, and rejected, a couple of other proposals that were deemed too harsh. One was to raise the filing fees to apply for reinstatement from $900 to more than $11,000. The committee settled on $2,000 as a more reasonable sum. The other proposal would have allowed the State Bar to fine lawyers on top of suspending or disbarring them. The committee dismissed the idea entirely.

State Bar Executive Director Judy Johnson raised "class concerns," saying a reprehensible but well-heeled attorney could fork over the money and go back to work, while a financially poor lawyer who may be rehabilitated would be stuck.

"They are basically really pitiable human beings at this point," she said, "and have nothing to pay."

State Bar Governor Joel Miliband, a partner at Irvine's Rus, Miliband & Smith, agreed, saying he didn't like the idea of someone "buying their way" out of a problem.

"The goal is to protect the California consumer of legal services, and the discipline system is designed to do that," he says. "I think we can accomplish that without the fine aspect."

San Francisco Bar Governor McLeod, however, believes fines should be levied, and points to 12-year-old legislation that expressly permits the Bar to do so. Specifically, Business and Professions Code §6086.13 authorizes a fine of up to $5,000 per violation, with a maximum fine of $50,000.

"Here's a statute that's been crying out for implementation," he said at the July committee meeting.

Bar officials are too lenient on bad lawyers, McLeod said. "They are not going after attorneys who face discipline problems tooth and nail. They want to give them every benefit of the doubt.

"It's almost like they have a sensitivity for the fallen," he adds. "And yet I don't see the same sensitivity for the upstanding, the people who don't get into trouble."

Bar officials say that the 1992 fine statute was never implemented because they worried that it would violate lawyers' due process rights to both fine and discipline them. Plus, they said they would need the state Supreme Court's approval.

Incoming President Van de Kamp takes McLeod to task about Bar leniency.

"I'd like to see the evidence of that," he says. "Tell him to put up or shut up."

There's definitely more debate down the road. And L.A.'s Karpman warns Bar leaders to be cautious about crossing the line from discipline into punishment.

"The historic and traditional theory has always maintained that discipline is intended to protect the public," she said. "If it becomes punishment, [the Bar] will be required to give an accused attorney more due process rights, and, in the end, it will result in a more costly and cumbersome system."

Monday, April 7, 2008

Plans to drop case on hold; Prosecutor to evaluate

Instead of dropping the armed robbery case against Elton Phillips, the Louisiana attorney general's office on Monday asked Criminal District Court Judge Dennis Waldron for a week to consider possible new evidence against the suspect, accused of a gas station stick-up. Phillips' case became high-profile after it came to light he had left the gas station and gone straight to the home of then-Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan, whose girlfriend knew Phillips.

On Monday, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Derbes said he needs the time to examine footage that aired on WDSU on Thursday, the night he announced he would drop the case because of contradictory witness testimony. The television news report quoted Carolyn Jackson, describing her as Phillips' aunt, who said the 20-year-old defendant confessed the robbery to her. During the broadcast, she said she had prayed with Phillips and he confessed. "I said, 'You need to pray, you need to confess. I need to agree with you,' " Jackson told Travers Mackel with WDSU, according to the clip on the station's Web site. "He took my hand, he held his head down and he said, 'Lord, I am sorry for what I've done.' "

"I said, 'Uh uh, you have to say what you've done,' " Jackson continued. "He said, 'I'm sorry for robbing.' And he asked God to forgive him." Jackson, however, told a different story when she was briefly called to the stand by defense attorney John Thomas during the short hearing.

Thomas asked Jackson, "Did he confess?" She replied, "No, sir, he did not." Under cross
examination by Derbes, Jackson said that she isn't Phillips' aunt -- in fact isn't related to him at all. Phillips confessed only to "doing wrong" in general while they were praying, she added. Jackson said she drove from her home in Hammond to New Orleans for the TV interview so she could talk to the public about the importance of prayer. Waldron granted the request for a continuance, asking Jackson and the attorneys to return to Criminal District Court next Monday, when they would decide whether to proceed with a trial. Jackson at times appeared distraught by the repercussions of her statement, dropping to her knees outside the courthouse to ask that Phillips' family forgive her.

Derbes had been prepared to drop the case against Phillips because of contradictory statements made by the chief witnesses in the case: robbery victim Roy Joseph and his girlfriend. The Louisiana attorney general's office is handling the case because of the connection to Jordan and the conflict of interest that represents. The case against Phillips ended up having some problems. Neither Joseph nor his girlfriend could identify Phillips as the man who on Oct. 11 robbed Joseph at a gas station in Algiers, taking $800, a white metal chain and a cell phone. The armed robbery charge against Phillips took on prominence because Phillips allegedly left the gas station in a Dodge Avenger, which Joseph followed in his Hummer H2, eventually ramming the fleeing car. Police documents said that Phillips got out of the vehicle and ran on foot to the Algiers home of Jordan and Cherylynn Robinson, the former DA's live-in girlfriend.

Both Jordan and Robinson talked to Phillips before he left their house. They were expected to testify at the trial. Jordan left office about a week after the incident became public, but said it did not play a part in his decision to resign with more than a year left in his term. After the Monday court hearing, Thomas, the defense attorney representing Phillips, questioned why the prosecutor needed a week to consider Jackson's statements, calling them just as problematic as the potential testimony of the robbery victim and his girlfriend. "She is not the aunt like she claimed to be, and she never got a confession," Thomas said.

But Derbes, speaking with reporters after the hearing, said the attorney general's office also has questions about statements made by Phillips' mother, Kim Wicker, to WDSU that her son had been prepared to deal with the consequences of his behavior. Wicker also said that her son did not confess to committing the robbery, adding that she never asked him that question. Still, Derbes said the interview was troubling. "Why was he ready to face consequences?" Derbes asked. Thomas said that Phillips' mother was speaking more in a spiritual sense abou

Friday, April 4, 2008

Former Latham Partner Pleads Guilty

A former partner at Latham & Watkins pleaded guilty Friday to defrauding both clients and his own firm by charging them more than $300,000 in personal or false expenses.

Samuel A. Fishman, a mergers and acquisition specialist in Latham's New York office from 1993 to 2005, was designated billing partner for a number of firm clients. According to prosecutors at the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney's Office, Fishman, 51, used his position to carry out a fraudulent scheme over the course of several years.

Responsible for supervising and approving invoices sent to clients, Fishman added to the bills a number of inappropriate items, mischaracterizing them as charges for photocopying or express mail. He also fraudulently sought reimbursement from his firm for a number of personal expenses he claimed were for business.

The U.S. Attorney's Office did not identify Latham as Fishman's firm in a criminal information filed with the guilty plea, nor was the firm's name mentioned in court Friday afternoon when Fishman entered his plea to one count of mail fraud. But in a statement Friday, the firm acknowledged Fishman as a former partner and said his misconduct had come to light in 2005.
Latham "immediately acted to protect our clients fully, and disclosed the matter to appropriate law enforcement authorities," said David Gordon, Latham's New York managing partner. "Mr. Fishman resigned from the firm at the time the issues were discovered. Since that time, we have cooperated fully with the investigation."

In announcing Fishman's guilty plea, prosecutors noted that the firm had reimbursed its clients hundreds of thousands of dollars that had been fraudulently charged. A firm spokesman Friday declined to identify the clients defrauded by Fishman.

The criminal information said Fishman's clients were in the banking, utilities, telecommunications and entertainment industries. He has previously acted as lead counsel for companies including movie theater chain AMC Entertainment Inc. and JPMorgan Partners, the private equity arm of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Accompanied at Friday's hearing by defense lawyer Jack Litman of Litman, Asche & Goiella, Fishman expressed remorse to Southern District Judge Victor Marrero.

"I am very sorry for what I did," he told the judge.

Fishman's sentencing is scheduled for June 27. The mail fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Fishman also has agreed to forfeit $350,000 in ill-gotten wealth. He also faces likely disbarment.

A number of major firms have had to deal in recent years with fraud by partners, though most instances have resulted in disbarment or other disciplinary sanction as opposed to criminal prosecution.

In 2006, former WilmerHale intellectual property partner William P. DiSalvatore resigned from the bar after admitting to a litany of misconduct, including falsifying expense reports and assigning associates to perform "pro bono" work for friends and family. He claimed more than $109,000 in false personal expense.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher and the former Kronish Lieb Weiner & Hellman are two other firms that have also terminated partners for fraudulently seeking reimbursement for personal expenses.

In most such cases, including that of Fishman, the defrauded amounts have been small compared to what the perpetrators earn as partners. Last month, Latham said it had profits per partner of $2.3 million in 2007.

Steven Lubet, a legal ethics professor at Northwestern University School of Law, said he always found it "incredible" that highly paid partners would resort to fraud. He said he could only imagine that such people were overspending trying to emulate the lifestyles of those they represented.

"The clients have that kind of money, the lawyers don't," said Lubet. "Sometimes, lawyers decide they want to live like their clients and that extra money has to come from somewhere."
Perhaps the most well-known case of a lawyer bilking his clients and firm was Webster Hubbell, the former associate attorney general under President Bill Clinton.

Hubbell was forced to resign his position in 1994 after his former partners at Arkansas' Rose Law Firm discovered billing irregularities. He later pleaded guilty to fraudulently charging almost $500,000 for personal expenses and legal work never actually performed. He served 16 months in prison.

Federal court decertifies status of cigarette lawsuit

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Thursday overturned class action certification for a lawsuit brought by "light" cigarette smokers against Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and other light cigarette makers. The class action, which included anyone who has ever bought light cigarettes since they hit the market in the 1970s, had alleged that tobacco companies used deceptive advertising tactics to mislead smokers in response to growing health concerns over the risks of smoking cigarettes. Attorneys for the tobacco companies argued that determining why every light cigarette consumer bought the product would be impossible and therefore made class certification impractical.

In September 2006, Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the United States District Court in Brooklyn certified the class of 50 million plaintiffs for the class-action suit. Lawyers estimated that sales of light cigarettes brought tobacco companies between $120 billion and $200 billion in extra sales since 1971.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Woody Allen Sues Company Over Ads

Woody Allen Monday sued American Apparel Inc , claiming the U.S. clothing company used his image in advertising on billboards and the Internet without his consent.

The billboard ads, which depict Allen dressed as a rabbi, appeared in New York and California, according to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.Famed director Woody Allen "does not engage in the commercial endorsement of products or services in the United States,"
according to his lawsuit, which claims American Apparel illegally used his image in one of their billboards. Allen, an Oscar-winning U.S. director known for his work in films such as "Annie Hall" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors," said in the suit he was neither contacted by the company, nor compensated for the use of his image.

"Allen does not engage in the commercial endorsement of products or services in the United States," according to the lawsuit.

He is seeking damages in excess of $10 million, according to the suit.

A representative for American Apparel did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The company makes and sells its own cotton apparel and has more than 180 stores in the United States and Canada.

4th Down and Out: A Special Report

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Brian Williams has been arrested.

Here’s the play: Williams gets pulled over during a drunk driving arrest and then goes on a “sexual, racist and profane” tirade with the police officer because nothing makes an officer want to give you a warning and send you on your way more than by calling the guy who can legally take away your freedom a “honky.”

Then he offers to let the officer have sex with his girlfriend who was in the car with him if he lets him go. Apparently, he not only had the right to remain silent, but he also had the right to remain stupid.

Williams pled guilty but he later returned to the court to change his plea because he didn’t think he could pay a $2,500 fine. He plays for the NFL and can catch a ball but he claims he can’t catch a $2,500 tab? Oh wait, doesn’t he play for Jacksonville? Never mind.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Woman Forgotten in Cell Over Weekend

A woman being held as an illegal immigrant spent four days forgotten in an isolated holding cell at a courthouse with no food, water, or toilet, authorities and the woman said.Adriana Torres-Flores, 38, appeared in court Thursday and pleaded not guilty to a charge of selling pirated CDs, but a judge ordered her held because she is in the country illegally, Sheriff Tim Helder said.

Bailiff Jarrod Hankins put her in the cell to await transport to jail, and she was forgotten. Because of heavy snow, few staff members were in the courthouse to hear her cries and pounding later Thursday or on Friday and through the weekend.

Torres-Flores wasn't found until Monday morning when Hankins opened
the door. She was treated at a hospital and allowed to go home.

The sheriff said Hankins, a bailiff for two months, simply forgot about Torres-Flores.
"He's a broken man right now," Helder said.

Hankins was placed on administrative leave with pay Monday pending an investigation. His mother said Monday he was too devastated to comment.

The cell had two benches, a metal table and a light that Torres-Flores could not turn off. She slept using a shoe to cushion her head, she told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, with 14-year-old daughter Adriana acting as an interpreter.

"She was feeling like she was going to die," Adriana said.
Torres-Flores had not eaten Thursday before going to court. She had a jacket but still was cold in the cell.

"She had to use the bathroom on the floor," her daughter said.

"It's a horrible, horrible situation," said her attorney, Nathan Lewis.

County Judge Jerry Hunton, the county administrator; the judge who ordered her held, Circuit Judge William Storey, and the sheriff issued a statement saying "immediate measures have been taken to ensure this does not happen again."

Hunton said he might install a video camera in the holding cell and an exterior light that indicates when someone is inside. "That's probably the best thing we can do to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else," he said.

Torres-Flores' trial is set for April 1, and she faces deportation by federal immigration authorities.

Detroit Mayor Faces Felony Charges

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and an ex-aide were charged Monday with perjury and obstruction of justice after prosecutors said sexually explicit text messages between the two contradicted their sworn court testimony.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick reportedly sent romantic texts to his chief of staff, contradicting earlier testimony.

Kilpatrick defiantly declared his innocence just an hour after the charges were announced.
"This has been a very flawed process from the beginning," said Kilpatrick at a press conference Monday. "I look forward to complete exoneration."

Kilpatrick, who is married, has been snarled in a well-publicized sex scandal since January after The Detroit Free Press reported he exchanged romantic text messages with his then-chief of staff, Christine Beatty.

The paper reported in January that in an analysis of nearly 14,000 text messages on Beatty's city-issued pager, it found some from 2002 and 2003 that indicated the two were having a romantic affair.

The newspaper report contradicted testimony Kilpatrick gave last August in a court case brought by police officers against the mayor and the city of Detroit alleging the mayor retaliated against the officers for their role in investigating his office. Critics alleged that Kilpatrick committed perjury in the case and called for his resignation.

Man in Iced Body Probe Pleads Not Guilty

A man arrested after police found a woman's body packed in dry ice in his hotel room pleaded not guilty Monday to two drug-related charges.

Stephen David Royds, 46, is charged with one count each of the sale or transport of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell. A prosecutor said the substance was cocaine.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Derek G. Johnson set Royds' bail at $1 million.
Royds was arrested Thursday after police found the body of Monique Trepp packed in dry ice in a large Rubbermaid container in his hotel room. Police had obtained a warrant to search Royds' room for drugs.

An autopsy concluded that Trepp's death was not a homicide and Royds has not been charged with killing her. Toxicology reports were pending, but Dennis Conway, an Orange County assistant district attorney, said it appeared the 33-year-old died of an overdose.

Royds' court-appointed public defender, Richard Carmona, did not make himself available to reporters after the brief hearing and didn't immediately return a call for comment.
In addition to finding Trepp's body, investigators found drug paraphernalia, drugs and Christmas presents in Royds' room, Conway said.

Police and prosecutors have released few other details about the case, including how long Trepp's body was kept in the room. Conway said she had been dating Royds.

Royds has a prior drug conviction in Orange County in 2002, but did not appear for sentencing. Even if he were to post the $1 million bail on the new charges, he would be held with no bail on the older case, Conway said.

Why blame me? It was all my brain’s fault!

The dubious rise of ‘neurolaw’

Imagine this futuristic courtroom scene. The defence barrister stands up, and pointing to his client in the dock, makes this plea: “The case against Mr X must be dismissed. He cannot be held responsible for smashing Mr Y’s face into a pulp. He is not guilty, it was his brain that did it. Blame not Mr X, but his overactive amygdala.”

The legal profession in America is taking an increasing interest in neuroscience. There is a flourishing academic discipline of “neurolaw” and neurolawyers are penetrating the legal system. Vanderbilt University recently opened a $27 million neuroimaging centre and hopes to enrol students in a programme in the law and neuroscience. In the courts, as in the trial of serial rapist and murderer Bobby Joe Long, brain-scan evidence is being invoked in support of pleas of diminished responsibility. The idea is abroad that developments in neuroscience – in particular the observation of activity in the living brain, using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging – have shown us that we are not as free, or as accountable for our actions, as we traditionally thought.

Defence lawyers are licking their lips at the possibility of (to use law professor Jeffrey Rosen’s succinct phrase) placing “the brain on the stand” to take the rap on behalf of the client. Though they failed to cut much ice in Long’s case, arguments that blame lies not with the defendant but with his overactive amygdala (supposedly responsible for aggressive emotions) or his underactive frontal lobes (supposedly responsible for inhibiting the expression of such emotions) are being deployed with increasing frequency. If our brains are in charge, and bad behaviour is due to them, our attitude to criminal responsibility, to punishment (the balance between rehabilitation and retribution) and to preventive detention of individuals thought to have criminal tendencies may all have to change.

Before we invest millions in “neurolaw” centres, however, we need to remind ourselves that observations of brain activity in the laboratory can explain very few things about us. We have no neural explanation for: sensations; the differences between sensations; the way our consciousness coheres at any particular time and over time; our relationship to an explicit past and an explicit future; our sense of being a self; and our awareness of other people as having minds like ourselves. All of these are involved in ordinary, waking behaviour. The confident assertion that “his brain made him do it”, except in well-attested cases – such as the automatisms associated with certain forms of epilepsy or the disinhibited behaviour that may follow severe brain injury – therefore goes beyond our current knowledge or understanding.

My brain made me do it Right, what have the scientists ever done for us? Well . . . We all go into the dark – but in the fragility of life there is light Assisted suicide on trial.

Those who blame the brain should be challenged as to why they stop at the brain when they seek the causes of bad behaviour. Since the brain is a physical object, it is wired into nature at large. “My brain made me do it” must mean (ultimately) that “The Big Bang” made me do it. Neuro-determinism quickly slides into determinism tout court.

And there is a contradiction built into the plea of neuromitigation. The claim “my brain made me do it” suggests that I am not my brain; even that my brain is some kind of alien force. One of the founding notions of neurolaw, however, is that the person is the brain. If I were my brain, then “My brain made me do it” would boil down to “I made me do it” and that would hardly get me off the hook. And yet, if I am not identical with my brain, why should a brain make me do anything? Why should this impersonal bit of matter single me out?

The brain is, of course, the final common pathway of all actions. You can’t do much without a brain. Decapitation is, in most instances, associated with a decline in IQ.

Nevertheless, there is a difference between events that owe their origin to the stand-alone brain – for example the twitching associated with an epileptic fit – and actions that do not. While we do not hold someone responsible for an epileptic fit, we do hold them responsible for driving against medical advice and causing a fatal crash. The global excuse “my brain made me do it” would reduce life to a condition of status epilepticus.

In practice, most brain-blamers are not prepared to deny everyone’s responsibility for anything and everything. While the brain is blamed for actions that attract moral disapprobation or legal sanction, people do not normally pass responsibility on to their brains for good actions or for neutral actions such as pouring a cup of tea or just getting up for a stretch after a long sit down. When asked why he is defending a particular client, a barrister is unlikely to say: “My brain made me do it, your honour.” This pick-and-mix neuro-determinism is grounds for treating a plea of “neuro-mitigation” with caution.

So we still retain the distinction between events such as epileptic fits that can be attributed to brain activity and those that we attribute to persons who are more than mere neural activity. Deciding on the boundaries of our responsibility for events in which we are implicated cannot be handed over to neuroscientists examining the activity of the isolated brain in the laboratory. As Stephen Morse, a professor of law, has reminded us, it is people, not brains, who commit crimes and “neuroscience . . . can never identify the mysterious point at which people should be excused responsibility for their actions”. That moral, legal question must be answered not in laboratories but in courtrooms and legislatures.

Meanwhile, the neuromitigation of blame has to be treated with suspicion except in those instances where there is unambiguous evidence of grossly abnormal brain function or abnormal mental function due to clearcut illness that may have its origin in brain disease. Our knowledge of the relationship between brain and consciousness, brain and self, and brain and agency is so weak and so conceptually confused that the appeal to neuroscience in the law courts, the police station or anywhere else is premature and usually inappropriate. And, I would suggest, it will remain both premature and inappropriate. Neurolaw is just another branch of neuromythology.