Friday, November 30, 2007

Bribing Judges?

Hi folks, I'm back. Tried and won a small case in civil court. There's nothing more invigorating than actually being in trial. That's where the phone calls end, the meetings are over, the negotiations are finished, and you are alone, in front of a jury, articulating your client's case. It's a good feeling, fleeting in our business, but it's when I most enjoy being a lawyer. Even if you lose, it's better than much of the crap we do every day.

Other times, when I read stories like this, I get all fired up again.

Dickie Scruggs, bribing a judge for $50k, over a fee dispute with a lawyer in his "group," over sharing a $26.5 million fee?

I find these allegations shocking, if true. The indictment is quite a read, you can review it here.

There are several layers to this story.

First, what made Scruggs think he could bribe this judge for $50k? Has this been done in the past? Is this normal business practice out there? Can you imagine anyone here in South Florida being caught up in something like this?

Second, how shortsighted to end a legendary career, having made many many millions, because you couldn't work out a deal with a fellow lawyer over what is in the end a modest fee? I've seen this countless times. I don't know whether it's ego, greed, power, control, or simply money, but so many times lawyers take shortsighted positions that inure to no one's benefit, preferring to fight over a fee or for control rather than work out an acceptable deal for the greater good.

As we all know, lawsuits frequently have unintended consequences. Could anyone have predicted that fighting over a small portion of a fee in a case in which everyone made out pretty good would result in this?

UPDATE:

Judge Henry Lackey gives his perspective on the alleged bribe, via LawBlog:

In an interview recounting the episode, Judge Henry Lackey said the initial overture came from another lawyer he knew, Tim Balducci of New Albany, Miss. “My first thought was: What kind of character flaw has he discovered in me that would lead him to think that I would do something like this?” said the judge, 73 years old. “I was furious. I mean, this strikes at the heart of our judicial system.”

In his interview, Judge Lackey said Balducci first approached him in March suggesting a bribe. The judge, who sits on a court that covers several counties in Mississippi, said he didn’t contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office because he considered himself friendly with Balducci and feared the ramifications.

“I worried what would become of this young man, his wife, his children,” said Judge Lackey. “He was one of the brightest legal stars on the horizon that I’d come across, and I worried a great deal about the consequences.”

After a few days, he felt he “had to do something” and contacted federal prosecutors in Oxford, Judge Lackey said. Eventually, he agreed to participate in an operation to help them build their case. “I felt like my reputation was being denigrated, so I told them I’d be happy to wear a wire,” he said.

Prosecutors instead equipped his office with audio and video-recording equipment, he said. The indictment cites several telephone calls and meetings in Judge Lackey’s office with Balducci in which, prosecutors say, details of the bribe were mentioned and money was given to the judge.

Judge Lackey said he had met Scruggs only once, at a seminar. “I look forward to testifying at trial,” he said.

Balducci didn’t return calls seeking comment on the case yesterday. Scruggs’s attorney, John Keker, said: “I find it remarkable that this high-minded government witness is talking to the national media, and it makes me wonder if he is interested in notoriety rather than seeing that justice is done. I’ll say this — he sure as hell didn’t get bribed by Dick Scruggs or anyone else in his law firm.”

So I guess Scruggs is taking the position Balducci did this all on his own?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Workin' for a Living


I've got a mini-trial tomorrow so you all will have to play nice while I try to make some money.

Tips etc. send my way.

Have a nice one everybody!

Will be back soon.

Who is Tammy?

Anyone else hear that commercial running constantly on WQAM in the morning by Saxon Business Systems? It is some kind of giveaway, in which a person named "Tammy"(?) at Broad & Cassel is the big winner, going on a free trip to Hawaii!

Tammy is interviewed by the Saxon radio representative, and she sounds positively giddy over her good luck.

Anyone know who Tammy is?

Bologna for Breakfast


Can anyone make heads or tails of this Herald story on malpractice premiums for doctors, and whether or not tort caps have had any effect on reducing rates? I can't.

Here is AP reporter David Royce:

Four years ago, many Florida doctors threatened to quit their practices because their malpractice insurance premiums were spiraling out of control.

After a contentious fight between doctors' and lawyers' groups, the Legislature responded by limiting the amounts malpractice victims can win in lawsuits -- about $500,000 per doctor in most cases. Voters changed the state constitution to cap how much victims' lawyers can get paid in contingency fees: 30 percent of the first $250,000 won (a maximum of $75,000) and 10 percent above that.

And while some contend that unfairly penalized victims and made it more difficult for them to find attorneys, the measures seem to have helped stabilize and even reduce the malpractice premiums paid by the state's doctors. Rates dropped 3 percent on average last year, the state Office of Insurance Regulation reported.

And the measures appear to have helped decrease insurers' losses, which have fallen from more than $700 million statewide in 2003 to just over $300 million last year, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

In a report in August, Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation noted the declining losses and concluded that award caps are at least part of the reason.

But many doctors say their rates haven't really dropped that much. An 8 percent decrease, when rates doubled over a couple years in the early 2000s, is barely noticeable, many say.

So rates have dropped 3 percent. Is that significant? Apparently not. Is it causally related to the malpractice caps? Who knows:

Lawyers who represent malpractice victims also question whether doctors really have gotten much relief.

''Most of what you're seeing is part of the typical insurance cycle,'' said Debra Henley, deputy executive director of the Florida Justice Association, a trial bar group. ``The insurance companies are the only winners. The patients have had significant restrictions on their rights; the doctors haven't seen the savings.''

So which is it? Don't ask David Royce:

Some experts say it takes years for medical malpractice cases to get to trial, so it's too early to conclude that the reduction in claims is due to the damage caps.

Lawyers who represent malpractice victims argue that the caps are contributing to fewer claims, but as part of a bigger pattern. They say claims have been going down for years also because of increasing barriers, including more difficult rules on expert witness testimony.

Industry observers say it's not really clear. Jay Wolfson, a University of South Florida professor of public health and medicine, said there isn't enough data.

Complicating the issue further is that other states' malpractice rates have also gone down, although many states have also made it harder for plaintiffs to win malpractice lawsuits.

So in other words, my story is a bunch of bologney and I shouldn't have written it. When I wrote in the opening paragraph that "the measures seem to have helped stabilize and even reduce the malpractice premiums," it turns out that I didn't have enough data and I haven't done the leg work to reach a firm conclusion. Plus other states' malpractice rates are going down, though it is unclear whether or not those sames states have enacted similar tort reform.

Is that clear enough?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Big Firms -- Holiday Party Horror Stories


Tell us your firm holiday party horror stories here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Those Greedy Plaintiffs' Lawyers


Making the big bucks....

Oh yeah, did anyone see this story about noted tort reformer John Ashcroft:

Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's law firm could earn $52.2 million helping the U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey monitor a leading maker of knee and hip replacements, according to recent public filings.

Ashcroft's firm is among five legal teams U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie hand-picked to watch the manufacturers, who agreed in September to pay $311 million and hire monitors to settle allegations they paid surgeons to use and promote their devices.

Christie, who took office in January 2002 and worked under Ashcroft until Ashcroft stepped down in 2005, denied any conflict Tuesday.

"If he were still my boss or potentially my boss in the future, I guess that would be something to talk about, but you know I just don't see it as an issue," Christie said. "I hired him because I know he's somebody of honesty and integrity and who has the experience to be able to do a job like this."

The arrangement, disclosed in Oct. 31 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, was first reported Tuesday by The Star-Ledger of Newark.

The deal calls for Zimmer Holdings of Indiana to pay Washington-based Ashcroft Group Consulting Services an average monthly fee between $1.5 million and $2.9 million. That includes a flat payment of $750,000 to the firm's "senior leadership group," individual legal and consulting services at up to $895 an hour and as much as $250,000 in monthly expenses.

Ashcroft's firm could make the full $52.2 million, but it will earn less if Zimmer complies with the agreement, Christie said.

"Cats and Dogs, Living Together in the Streets!"

That was my first thought when a little birdie passed along yet another interesting pleading in the massive HMO litigation, now in its final death throes before Judge Moreno. I guess what they say about politics also applies to HMO, in that two very strange bedfellows appear on this pleading: Milberg Weiss and Ed Moss.

Yes, slow-talkin', fast-thinkin' Ed Moss, having successfully transformed himself from a self-made plaintiffs' lawyer to a defender of all things corporate for mega-firm Shook Hardy & Bacon, has entered an appearance for the beleaguered Milberg Weiss, in a November 6, 2007 fee application that will blow your socks off.

In it, Ed (along with Shook partner Richard C. Smith) allege that Milberg Weiss was cut completely out of the fee application jointly submitted by plaintiffs' counsel, despite having expended over a million dollars in out-of-pocket costs, and over 25,000(!) hours of time, for a corresponding lodestar of nearly $9 million.

As was explained to me, and some of this appears in the pleadings, apparently a group of lawyers from Milberg, after litigating HMO and related state cases for several years, jumped ship to Joe Whatley's firm, taking the HMO litigation with them. They then litigated the case there, and submitted their time as part of Whatley's fee application.

It's not clear, however, why the earlier Milberg time and expenses were not included, or why they would not be entitled to reimbursement of the million dollars they expended as part of the joint prosecutorial effort. I'm sure Whatley will explain, although he has not yet filed a response.

All I know is that, with Ed on the case, Milberg is in very good hands.

Is it just me or as HMO winds down it gets more and more interesting?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Julie Kay on South Florida Blogging

Julie Kay gives JAAB, Rumpole, and David Marcus the love (hey I got mentioned parenthetically):

The Broward blog is one of a handful of legal blogs that have started in South Florida in the past two years that have shone a spotlight on the justice system.

Justice Building Blog is anonymous and written by a Miami criminal defense attorney who calls himself "Rumpole of the Bailey."

South Florida Lawyers, started anonymously a month ago, covers civil law in the southern part of the state. The Southern District of Florida blog is run by David O. Markus, a prominent Miami criminal defense attorney and president of the Miami chapter of the Federal Bar Association.

While the Southern District of Florida and South Florida Lawyers blogs are intended to share discourse and aggregate newspaper stories, the JAA Blog and the Justice Building Blog are clearly intended to make waves.

"People underestimate the impact of the Justice Building Blog, but I believe that every state court judge, particularly criminal, reads it routinely as well as most of the practitioners," said Brian Tannebaum, a defense lawyer at Tannebaum Weiss in Miami.

"There are a lot of things that happen in the building that people didn't know about. I think it's had a huge impact on the way people operate in the criminal courthouse. I think blogs in general have had a huge impact on the way that our system operates," Tannebaum said. "They can spread rumors, they can relay information that people otherwise may not have known."

The downside to the blogs, say readers, is that anonymous responders post information about judges routinely not showing up for work, judges and lawyers having affairs with each other and other salacious rumors.

Moderating movement

The JAA Blog is not moderated and anyone can post any comment. The anonymous author of the Justice Building Blog recently began moderating the comments section and bans personal rumors and attacks from his blog.

"I think it would have a lot more credibility if you had to register your name. Right now, it's a tremendous catalyst for a lot of controversy that didn't exist before," Adler said.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Leonard Glick said he reads the Justice Building Blog "two to three times a day" and sometimes writes in.

"I think it's an interesting exchange of ideas," he said. "Some people spoil things by posting juvenile and hurtful things. But it's not totally a gossip mill. There are elements of important ideas."

In an e-mail response to questions, "Rumpole" took direct responsibility for two changes: helping to secure a daycare room for children at the Miami criminal courthouse for defendants to use, and causing judges to rethink their position of not allowing continuances at "soundings" or calendar calls held a week before trial.
It's unquestionable that JAAB and Rumpole have had an effect; David Marcus has been a valuable asset to the federal courthouse coverage, and the influence can been seen by talking to lawyers and judges around town.

Courthouse Security -- Too Much?

Fred Grimm on the state of security at the federal courthouse in Ft. Lauderdale:

An obsessive level of security has transformed the federal courthouse from a democratic institution into a forbidding fortress. No cameras allowed. Across the river, in the county courthouse, spectators are warned to turn their cellphones off. At the federal courthouse, someone with a cellphone can't get past the doorway metal detectors, where the marshals laboriously record the name, photo and driver's license number of anyone seeking entrance to their semi-secret domain. Ordinary folks get the clear impression they aren't much welcome.

And on an extraordinary day, when Broward County's top law enforcement officer was bundled off to prison, few ordinary folks showed up.

He's right. For us lawyers, it's easy enough to show your bar card and i.d. and go through the scanner, although it's a pain when you are transporting documents and exhibits and witnesses and seeing the same CSO guys every morning who require the same ritual be performed.

Yet for non-lawyers, it must seem onerous and forbidding. It's true there is a need for a certain level of protection, given that criminal trials occur there nearly every day. But he has a point.

And, although Grimm doesn't mention it, the actual physical facility for the federal courthouse in Ft. Lauderdale is a disgrace. A byzantine hodgepodge of rooms, corridors, crossovers and poorly-designed courtrooms, with lousy sight lines and awful acoustics. I also don't like the parking lot, but I can live with that if the courthouse is acceptable once you are inside. I know a new courthouse is in the works, but it has been "in the works" from around the time Arky Freed ran our town, i.e., a long time for you newcomers.

And don't get me started on some of the judges there.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gulp -- A Broward County Class Action


Whenever I see the words "class action lawsuit" and "Broward County" in the same sentence, I get nervous. Very nervous. So do the judges in Broward County. Has anyone seen a successful one brought there in recent years?

Yet valiant securities lawyers Jeffrey Sonn and Jeff Erez are prepared to look Judge D straight in the eyes and defiantly say, "please sir may I have another."

Good luck boys. Brad Kaufman's a great securities lawyer, but if your case is as good as the DBR makes it out to be, this one may be the exception that proves the rule.

Bill Huggett Update

Trials and tribulations continue to flow from the office of deceased Miami maritime lawyer William Huggett. The latest news: the former law office manager and office bookkeeper has pleaded guilty to fraud before Judge Jordan:

A former law firm office manager and bookkeeper who was accused of writing fraudulent checks on her deceased boss's personal accounts pleaded guilty Tuesday to fraud in Miami federal court.

Sara San Martin, 39, also known as Sara Echeverria, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of bank fraud for allegedly writing checks from the personal accounts of the late Miami maritime attorney William Huggett.

Prosecutors alleged she wrote a check against Huggett's personal account at BankUnited for $236,800 to pay down her home mortgage. They said she wrote a second check for $23,079 against Huggett's money-market account at Wachovia Bank to pay off a loan on a 2003 Dodge Ram 150.

The checks were written after Huggett died of a stroke on Aug. 31, 2004 at the age of 65. But the checks displayed dates that preceded his death, according to a federal indictment handed up by a grand jury in June.

San Martin originally denied the charges in August. The guilty plea is not the result of any agreement with the government because she hasn't entered into one with the U.S. Attorney's office. She has been free on bond since her arrest in July.

In court Tuesday, San Martin tearfully answered questions posed to her by U.S. District Judge Judge Adalberto Jordan, who at one point sent a box of tissues over to her. Jordan detailed the charges brought against her and questioned her about her understanding them so he could decide if she was mentally able to enter her plea and wasn’t pressured or coerced into it.

"Did you forge Mr. Huggett's signature on the checks," Jordan asked San Martin at one point.

"Yes," she replied.

Jordan accepted San Martin's guilty plea and scheduled sentencing for Feb. 1.

After the hearing, San Martin declined comment. Her attorney, Brian Tannebaum of Miami said the emotions San Martin showed during the change of plea hearing indicate the emotional effect the case has had on her.

"We reviewed the evidence and looked at the entire case and Ms. San Martin decided that it was in her best interest to enter a plea and move on with her life," he said. "She's devastated by all of the events that have led up to today."

In August, Tannebaum said San Martin was innocent of the charges and that he had not seen any evidence that she took any money that didn’t belong to her.

San Martin could face a sentence of up to 30 years in prison for each count as well as up to $1 million in fines for each count. In an attempt to mitigate the sentence, Tannebaum said he plans to argue that the checks were written for less money than the U.S. Attorney's office alleges in the indictment. He declined to identify a figure.

Foster-Steers referred questions to a spokeswoman who could not be immediately reached for comment.

Huggett's widow, Jacqueline, declined comment, as did Anna Scornavacca, the inventory attorney appointed by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Joseph Farina Jr. to oversee the remainder of the Huggett Firm's cases. Supporters of Huggett in the courtroom gallery could be heard criticizing San Martin's tearful responses during the hearing.

It is unclear what effect San Martin's guilty plea may have on a civil case in which she is also named as a defendant along with nine other former employees of the Huggett Law Firm. That case, which is pending in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, is a dispute between Jacqueline Huggett and former employees of the Huggett Law Firm.

Jacqueline Huggett alleges that San Martin and former Huggett Law Firm associate Jay Wingate paid themselves and other employees $739,000. She alleged they misled her about the nature of some of the payments and did not tell her about others. Employees said they possess signed documentation to support their claim that Huggett had given them commitments for bonuses and vacation pay.

I'm Tired


I'm tired from the weekend, tired for the short work week, tired of judges not scheduling anything until January, tired of lawyers taking extended vacations, tired of not receiving rulings or orders because everyone is away, tired of seeing relatives, tired of bumping into judges at La Loggia, tired of the shoeshine guy's rap at the Circuit Courthouse, tired of getting beeped going into the federal courthouse, tired of "Bee Movie," tired of doing homework with my kids, tired of fooling around, tired of not fooling around, tired of missing phone calls, tired of opposing counsel, tired of bullcrap discovery motions, tired of being tired.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Peter Spillis Wins Big One


Ted Leopold, not so much:

An attorney representing the widow of a man who was killed in a 1999 construction accident pleaded with a jury to award her and the seven children he left behind nearly $22 million for their loss.

A jury on Thursday agreed they deserved nothing.

After deliberating for more than 10 hours over two days, the jury cleared Hubbard Construction of any wrongdoing in the death of 41-year-old Ray Schoberg.

A clearly shaken Claudette Schoberg vowed to appeal.

"I know this is wrong. This isn't justice," the Riviera Beach woman said, after leaving the Palm Beach County courtroom.

Pollyanna Schoberg echoed her stepmother's sentiments.

"I just wanted justice to be served and for Hubbard to be held responsible for their actions," the 26-year-old said. "No matter what happened here, we'll never have my daddy back, he'll never hold his grandchildren, but Hubbard needs to accept responsibility."

Attorney Peter Spillas, who represented the company that is also known as East Coast Paving, said Schoberg's death was a tragic accident.

Schoberg was crushed to death when a 13-ton road-paving machine he was operating tipped over as it rolled down a steep embankment on a two-lane road in South Bay.

Attorney Theodore Leopold argued that the traffic roller had been jury-rigged to keep it operating.

Schoberg, who hadn't been trained to operate the machine, wasn't told that two employees had refused to operate it, claiming it was uncontrollable.

However, Spillas countered that after listening to nearly seven days of testimony the jury obviously disagreed.

"There was nothing to indicate the machine was unsafe, and I think the jury saw that," he said.

First off, the article says "Peter Spillas" but I assume it's George Hartz attorney Pete Spillis?

Second, does anyone know what happened here? Very rare to see Ted take a complete loss.

Tew Cardenas Loses Another One


As goes Mark Raymond......

Word on the street is that John McPhee, airline litigator to the stars, is leaving Tew Cardenas to form a new firm with his lovely and talented wife, Lynn Waterman.

Congratulations!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Miguel Is Right





Thanks to all who posted -- hard to disagree with Miguel, but please spare me the ZZZZZZ comments if you all thought this one was out of bounds.

Reports on Geller/Tropin Showdown

Reports coming in......Courtroom packed to the rafters, every seat including jury box full.

Geller spoke well but way too fast. Judge Moreno told him several times to slow down. Harley didn't say anything, Joe Whatley handled the argument for settling plaintiffs.

Basically, Moreno told Geller to try to settle the issue with the parties. Geller said at the end it was mostly defendants who are responsible for that, implying that if some relief is given to his doctor class (and fees) then he will fold into the deal.

Whatley was gentlemanly, remarking that "even friends can be wrong." Moreno basically said that he was concerned and they had until the end of the day to work it out.

My guess is that Harley is not the problem here.

Today's the Big Day!

Slugfest between Harley Tropin and Paul Geller over the HMO thingy, in front of Judge Moreno.

Anyone who attends or participates please send a report.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lawyer Caught Up in Land Swindle?



Well, this week, anyway. Disbarred Miami Shores attorney Marie G. Estime-Thompson, who is the subject of this lovely Action Line column today:
Q:On April 27, 2006, I agreed to purchase from a loan broker, First Loan Solution of North Miami Beach, two acres of land supposedly located in Madison County [one county east of Tallahassee, on the Georgia line] for $22,000.

That day, I made a down payment of $11,000. Two days later, I decided to buy an additional Madison acre for $11,000 and made a down payment of $6,000.

The remaining balances were paid at the closings with a first check of $11,500 and a second of $5,250. Both checks were dated Nov. 6, 2006, and made out to the Estime-Thompson law firm in North Miami.

Still, no deed has been delivered to me.

Despite all my efforts, I have never been able to talk with Daniel Stephen, the First Loan Solution broker, who is also the company's owner. He has never responded to my e-mails, either.

After a year of this, I went to Mr. Stephen's office April 11 and cancelled the contract. He signed a statement that my refund would be available no later than 30 to 45 days from that date.

I still have no refund. Can Action Line get my money back?

When you first contacted us in July, we called the state Attorney General's office. It said it had no jurisdiction and referred us to the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees land sales.

You filed a complaint there, and we contacted Mr. Stephen, the supposed broker, and Marie Estime-Thompson, the lawyer whose firm received your final payments. Stephen promised the DBPR that your refund would arrive in October. Estime-Thompson wasn't certain of her title company's role in the matter and said she would check her records.

We asked the DBPR why these would be considered acceptable responses. Its spokesmen couldn't confirm or deny the existence of the case (thank you, state law)! They did concede, however, that the agency doesn't have much enforcement power (your tax dollars at work).

By Nov. 1, First Loan Solution's website had evaporated, its voice mailbox had filled up and its corporate registration with the state had become inactive. In addition, the Florida Bar had begun investigating several complaints against Estime-Thompson similar to yours. On Oct. 18, she had been disbarred from practicing law on consent -- meaning she asked the Bar to disbar her. Her wish was granted, which meant that the Bar's investigation stopped in its tracks.

According to this profile, for the Dade Community Foundation's Miami Fellows Initiative, Ms. Estime-Thompson is active in the Haitian Lawyers Association and is involved in numerous charitable endeavors focusing on the Haitian community. She is also on the Board of Directors of the Lambi Fund of Haiti. In 2004, the Florida Association of Women Lawyers honored Ms. Estime-Thompson (along with Judy Korchin and Judge Seitz) for their community efforts.

Mmm.

Seems to be a disconnect here. Anyone know more about this story?

Monday, November 12, 2007

A True Innovation

Those of us who do pro bono work, or who volunteer for the small claims clinics can appreciate how big an innovation this is:

The Broward County Clerk of Courts launched an online service this month that steers citizens through the application process for filing divorce actions, small claims lawsuits and tenant evictions.

"It kind of guides you through, it asks questions. Once it knows your name, it will put it in every space it should go," said Kris Mazzeo, director of the circuit/civil family division of the clerk of courts.

The self-service system is intended for people who can't afford an attorney or don't want to spend the money on one. Each section provides legal definitions and asks questions to determine which forms need to be filled out. The completed forms can be printed at home and mailed to the clerk's office. Some paperwork requires a notary signature.

Mazzeo says the new service will save residents hours of hassle.

"People come downtown and it's expensive to park. If we can keep them from making extra trips to the courthouse, it would be great for them," she said.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County is still dealing with carbon copies, teletypes, and betamaxes.

Dade County -- leading, by falling behind.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Marion County -- Racist?


Is Marion County's Ocala the "most racially discriminatory venue" in Florida? Yes, according to Wesley Snipes' lawyer Richard Bernhoft:

In a motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Snipes' lawyer argued that the U.S. Attorney's Office willfully selected the Marion County seat of Ocala because prosecutors "deliberately chose the most racially discriminatory venue available to the government with the best possibility of an all-white Southern jury where Snipes has never resided."

Snipes' co-defendant, Eddie Ray Kahn, operated his Guiding Light of God Ministries, which prosecutors claim provided tax evasion information, from neighboring Lake County.

The motion, which seeks to have the charges dismissed or the trial moved to New York, describes the area as "a hotbed of Klan activity where the Klan adopted highways to commemorate the Klan and the Confederate flag flies over government property."

You gotta wonder about an attorney whose publicity head shot actually has him gripping an unlit cigar.

Anyone know who Snipes' local counsel is?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Open Post on Judicial Functions/Bar Events



'Tis the season, isn't it? I don't know about you, but I've been asked or prodded to contribute or participate or attend countless events over the last month or so, with a dozen or so more coming up on the horizon. Some are on the same day. Judge fundraiser, bar event honoring someone (yeah, Judge Davis!!), partnership announcements, you name it.

I'll leave this thread open in case anyone wants to comment on which ones have been good, or hilariously bad.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wendy Lumish Wins $60 Million Reversal


Local appellate lawyer Wendy Lumish won reversal today of a $60 million judgment in a Ford rollover case. Basically, the trial court let in evidence of "hundreds of deaths" in similar rollovers without trial counsel laying the foundation of substantial similarity.

The 3d DCA's opinion is here.

Lisa Landy Discusses Work Challenges for Women


Along with Elaine Bloom and BK General Counsel Anne Chwat, popular South Florida lawyer Lisa Landy spoke at a recent gathering of business women organized by The Commonwealth Institute South Florida.

But, for gosh sakes, Miami Herald, it is Lisa Landy, not Lisa "Landry." She is the daughter of the moustachioed one, Akerman attorney Burt Landy, not former Dallas coach Tom Landry.

Details details.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Yowza!


HBO is filming the movie Recount, about the 2000 Florida election saga:

Gore's staff chief, Ron Klain, is being played by [Kevin] Spacey, according to former Bush 2000 election lawyer Barry Richard, who chatted briefly with the actor. ''I wish you were playing me,'' Richard said he told Spacey.

But Richard's character isn't featured because, he said, Recount is ``about the back-room intrigues, which I was not involved in. The enormity of it, what was happening, was far greater than this.''

Others, such as Democratic lawyer Mark Herron, who had wanted to challenge the validity of some military ballots, want little to do with the production or the recount. ''I really don't want to relive it,'' he said.

Laura Dern, pictured above, is playing Katherine Harris.

Any thoughts on who should play Joe Klock?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Revenge of the Serfs


Law Blog notes that McDermott Will & Emery plans to create a feudal system where overlords have their legal fields tended to by lesser-skilled, underpaid, C+ serfs who didn't study that hard in law school. These serfs will toil endlessly for little pay, harboring resentments and remembering personal slights visited upon them by the well-fed, partnership-track ruling class, until roiling class tensions boli over into a bloody October revolution.

Well, I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea:

At a firm retreat in October, the 1,000-lawyer firm decided to create a cadre of staff lawyers outside the partnership track who will be paid less, work less and charge less per hour. Having a flexible separate staff to move from big litigation to big litigation could help McDermott make the best use of its high-priced associates.

The idea is that the new hires -- the firm is looking into starting with a pilot group of 15 -- will be lawyers "with good pedigrees" who have practiced for a few years but don't want to deal with big-firm hours, Mallory said. Instead, they'll put in more like 30 to 40 hours and be paid something like 25 percent less, though an exact pay range hasn't been decided.

"They'll have a status within our structure that's brand-new," Mallory said. "I don't know what we'd call them -- this is a new animal."

These attorneys will probably be housed in a similar fashion to accounting firms, rotating desks with no home base.

The new class of attorneys will probably take some of the more mundane tasks like document review off the plates of more expensive associates on the partnership track.

"The idea isn't that this will be a training ground," he said. "This isn't a path into the firm."

How could a plan like this not work?

Steven Siff, you have been warned.

Condo Lawsuit Serenade


This time the vocalists are Aventura attorney Robert H. Cooper, who has nearly an entire blog (negatively) devoted to him, and avid scrapbooker/Coffey Burlington attorney Susan Mortensen:

Brooklyn housekeeper Rita Dobrer was swept up in South Florida's real estate frenzy, using $600,000 from a jury award as deposits on six condominiums in two Miami projects in 2005.

Dobrer said she never had the intention, let alone the financial ability, to buy the six condos -- which cost about $3 million. Rather, she claimed she was enticed by the developer's verbal guarantees that she could reap $600,000 in profits by selling the units without ever taking ownership.

Dobrer's hopes for a windfall, though, have cratered in the ailing residential real estate market. Unable to flip the units, Dobrer joined 35 other Russian immigrants in New York, New Jersey and Florida who on Friday sued Miami developer The Related Group for the return of the deposits on units in Miami's 50 Biscayne and Bal Harbour's Harbour House.

The allegation the condos were pitched as investment opportunities marks the latest twist in a mushrooming problem: buyers seeking to get out of contracts. Buyers have pounced on changes in units sizes, interior improvements, condo budgets and completion dates as reasons for escaping contracts.

Developers are facing dozens of lawsuits, if not more, from buyers, and the pace appears to be picking up as projects near completion.

''It's starting to snowball,'' said real estate analyst Jack McCabe in Deerfield Beach.

Developers aren't inclined to let buyers out of purchases, though. A Fort Lauderdale lawyer sued 22 town-house buyers in Fort Myers on behalf of a developer seeking to force them to close on their contracts -- even though they were willing to walk away without their deposits.

Related Group is fighting back, as well.

Miami lawyer Susan Mortensen, who is defending Related and other developers in similar suits, said many of the buyers who profited in the housing boom are unwilling to participate in the market's downturn.

''They are really profiteers. They are not victimized consumers,'' Mortensen said.

Aventura lawyer Robert H. Cooper, who filed two suits against Related on Friday, said developers shouldn't be surprised about the predicament they're in because they created it.

''They were, across the board, signing contracts with purchasers they knew did not have the ability to consummate the transaction,'' Cooper said.

''I'm a housekeeper,'' Dobrer added. ``Who would give me a mortgage for $2 [million] or $3 million?''

If what Dobrer says is true, McCabe said it would illustrate just how speculative the condo-building boom in South Florida became. In essence, it would mean developers relied in part on shell buyers to meet presale requirements and qualify for construction funding.

Dobrer said Related wouldn't allow her to buy four units in her name at Harbour House for that very reason. So Dobrer said she, her two daughters, and sister each bought units with the proceeds from her court winnings from a car accident. Dobrer bought two units in 50 Biscayne.

''The question for the developer would be, how could you accept contracts from a housekeeper who obviously didn't have the income or the wherewithal to close -- unless you were guaranteeing she could flip them for a profit?'' McCabe said.

Mortensen wouldn't say whether Related did any income verification or credit check of potential buyers.

''Purchasers have an independent responsibility to look after their own financial affairs,'' she said.

As for allegations that buyers were told they could flip their units for a profit without purchasing them, Mortensen said they either signed or initialed contracts that acknowledged no such representations were ever made.

Umm. This strikes me as a tough plaintiff's case. Verbal guarantees? And she wasn't just a housekeeper -- she had recently recovered in a personal injury settlement. And the contracts disclaim any representations about flipping the units.

More to come.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Jeff Fischer Fights For Chrissie Evert's Honor (Kinda)


Although the divorce proceedings between golfer Greg Norman and his former wife are almost concluded, the former wife has scheduled the deposition of Norman's new love Chris Evert, for December. That does not sit well with top WPB divorce attorney Jeff Fischer, who is seeking to block the deposition in its entirety:

Norman is asking a judge to bar Andrassy's attorneys from taking Evert's deposition, now scheduled for mid-December.

West Palm Beach attorney Jeff Fischer said in court records that Evert has no knowledge of the three remaining issues in the case: the split of a tax liability regarding Norman's jet; Andrassy's claims that Norman delayed the divorce and cost her nearly $1 million; and a motion Fischer referenced Wednesday in which Andrassy accused Norman of not properly marketing their multimillion-dollar Jupiter Island mansion now up for sale.

"The remainder of this litigation, which is confined to three narrow legal issues, should not be used to annoy the former husband (Norman) and Ms. Evert," Fischer wrote.

Norman and Adrassy's 26-year marriage ended officially in September, when a judge signed a final divorce decree.

The settlement terms are confidential, but court records suggest that Andrassy may be receiving proceeds from the sale of the Jupiter Island mansion.

Attorneys for the ex-couple will appear in court next week, when a judge is expected to rule on the issue.

So I assume Fischer filed a know-nothing affidavit from Evert. But why can't she be cross-examined on her lack of knowledge, and on her know-nothing affidavit?