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Enron class-action firm bills for 247,000 hours
Press Releases | 2008/03/05 20:11

A lawyer who helped reap a US$7.2-billion settlement for Enron investors says his firm deserves a record US$700-million in fees, due to the complexity and risky nature of the case.

"This is an extraordinary case and we did an extraordinary job," Patrick Coughlin, a partner with Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP, the lead attorneys in the case, told a hearing in U.S. District Court in Houston.

The firm's founder, William Lerach, retired in August. He pleaded guilty to kickback scheme at his former law firm, but still stands to receive a multi-million-dollar payout from the Enron case.

Coughlin Stoia is seeking about 9.5% of the total settlement amount, which would equal nearly US$700-million.

Mr. Coughlin presented his case in an elaborate multimedia presentation to U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon, who now must approve the fee award. The presentation included testimonials from former Enron employees and a clip from the Oscar-nominated legal thriller Michael Clayton.

Over the course of the case that lasted six years, Mr. Coughlin said his firm billed 247,000 hours, took 400 depositions and submitted 5,700 filings.

"We didn't leave any avenue unturned," he said.

Still, other attorneys took issue with the size of the award, arguing that more should go to investors.

"Class counsel has not proved the legitimacy of this fee request," Larry Schonbrun, who represents a single investor in the case, told the court.

The settlement was paid by banks including Citigroup Inc. that are accused of helping the energy trader hide financial misdeeds that led to its collapse. The settlement still lacks final approval from Judge Harmon.

Recently, a group of plaintiffs firms sought about US$460-million in fees following settlements in a securities fraud case against Tyco International Ltd.

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California Supreme Court in gay marriage storm
Legal News | 2008/03/05 20:10

The California Supreme Court is seemingly as divided as society is over gay marriage.

For more than three hours Tuesday, the seven justices of the state's high court shifted back and forth on whether to uphold California's ban on same-sex marriage, at times appearing to spar with each other as they weighed their most important civil rights case in decades.

The justices peppered lawyers on both sides of the case with dozens of questions that made predicting an outcome a fool's game. The court is reviewing a similarly divided 2006 appeals court ruling that upheld California's ban on gay marriage and a 2000 ballot initiative confining marriage to a union between a man and woman.

Underscoring the passions behind the conflict, demonstrators on both sides of the issue lined up outside the Supreme Court building, armed with placards and chants as they awaited the crucial legal arguments. Inside, an overflow crowd unable to get a seat in the courtroom jammed a downstairs auditorium to watch the arguments on a big-screen television, a boisterous group that cheered and jeered as though attending a high school basketball game.

But the stakes were evident in the courtroom, as the justices aired their first public views in a case they must decide within 90 days. Justices Marvin Baxter and Ming Chin, perhaps the court's most conservative members, seemed to have the deepest reservations about siding with civil rights groups and San Francisco city officials,

who argue that the ban violates the equal-protection rights of gay and lesbian couples seeking the power to wed.
But Baxter and Chin were also frequently joined by Justice Carol Corrigan, a moderate who expressed sympathy with the civil rights argument but had major concerns over tampering with the will of the voters. Corrigan indicated several times she may agree with the majority in the appeals court ruling. That court found the Legislature or voters should decide whether to change marriage laws, not judges.

"Our views on this topic are in the process of evolution," Corrigan said to Therese Stewart, San Francisco's chief deputy city attorney, who argued in favor of gay marriage. "There is substantial difference of opinion about what that evolution should look like. Who decides where we are in California in that evolution?" she asked. "Is it for the court to decide or the voters to decide?"



Ex-Westar execs want charges dismissed
Court Center | 2008/03/05 19:27

A federal appeals court has dealt a "fatal" blow to the prosecution's case against two former Westar Energy Inc. executives, and long-standing criminal charges against the two men should be dismissed, attorneys argued in motions filed Wednesday.

"The Tenth Circuit's January 2007 decision dramatically changed the landscape of the government's case," defense attorneys for former Westar Executive Vice President Douglas Lake said in their motion to dismiss. Patrick McInerney of Husch Blackwell Sanders LLP represents Lake.

David Wittig, former chairman of Topeka-based Westar (NYSE: WR), signed on with Lake's motion in U.S. District Court in Kansas, which argues that none of the 40 counts against the executives can stand after the appeals court's rejection of guilty verdicts on 24 of the counts.

The first trial of Wittig and Lake ended in a mistrial in December 2004 after the jury couldn't agree on a verdict in the complex, 40-count trial.



Swiss Bank Drops Wikileaks Lawsuit
Top Legal News | 2008/03/05 18:02
A Swiss bank quietly dropped its lawsuit against renegade Web site Wikileaks.org on Wednesday, days after a judge reversed his order to disable the site for posting confidential bank documents.

In court papers, Bank Julius Baer didn't give a reason for dropping the suit and reserved the right to refile it later. Bank lawyer William Briggs didn't return a telephone call seeking comment.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ordered the Web site shut down after Bank Julius Baer sued Wikileaks and the San Mateo company Dynadot. The bank argued it was trying to halt "the unlawful dissemination of stolen bank records and personal account information of its customers."

Dynadot, which provided the site's U.S. domain name, agreed to disable Wikileaks in exchange for the bank removing it from the lawsuit.

The judge's order, however, backfired for Bank Julius Baer because it only led to bank's information being spread further across the Internet. Several other Web sites posted the same material out of solidarity with Wikileaks, and Wikileaks posted the documents on "mirror" Web sites it owns outside the U.S.

After enduring criticism from free speech advocates and media organizations, including The Associated Press, White reversed himself on Friday and ruled the Web site could reopen and continue to post the documents until the lawsuit was resolved.

Wikileaks, which bills itself as an activist organization that urges the posting of leaked government and corporate documents to expose corruption, wasn't represented at that hearing. White, however, said he agreed with the dozen lawyers representing the critics that his initial ruling probably violated free speech laws.

The Wikileaks site claims to have posted 1.2 million leaked government and corporate documents that it says expose unethical behavior, including a 2003 operation manual for the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.



Judge Wants Shipwreck Evidence Worked On
Legal Watch | 2008/03/05 18:01
A judge wants Florida shipwreck explorers and the Spanish government to settle their differences over sharing evidence related to an estimated $500 million in treasure the company recovered last year.

In Tampa, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo told lawyers for Odyssey Marine Exploration and Spain to agree by Friday _ or he will be forced to intervene.

Spain believes it has a claim to the 17 tons of colonial-era coins Odyssey raised from an Atlantic Ocean shipwreck. But Odyssey has kept most details of the find secret to protect the site from competitors.

The two sides bickered in a hearing Wednesday over whether Tampa-based Odyssey has handed over sufficient information about the wreck site and treasure for Spain to determine the extent of a possible claim.



Judge Wants Shipwreck Evidence Worked On
Top Legal News | 2008/03/05 12:18
A judge wants Florida shipwreck explorers and the Spanish government to settle their differences over sharing evidence related to an estimated $500 million in treasure the company recovered last year.

In Tampa, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo told lawyers for Odyssey Marine Exploration and Spain to agree by Friday _ or he will be forced to intervene.

Spain believes it has a claim to the 17 tons of colonial-era coins Odyssey raised from an Atlantic Ocean shipwreck. But Odyssey has kept most details of the find secret to protect the site from competitors.

The two sides bickered in a hearing Wednesday over whether Tampa-based Odyssey has handed over sufficient information about the wreck site and treasure for Spain to determine the extent of a possible claim.



Ex-Alaska Governor's top aide to plead guilty
Legal News | 2008/03/05 05:26
A top aide to former Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski admitted on Monday to fraud as part of a wide-ranging corruption conspiracy that has ensnared several state politicians and implicated many of Alaska's top political figures.

Jim Clark, who was the former governor's chief of staff, agreed to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy fraud in a filing in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. He was scheduled to enter his plea at an arraignment hearing on Tuesday.

Clark admitted to taking $68,550 in illegal contributions from the state's largest oil-services company, VECO Corp, for Murkowski's failed 2006 reelection bid in exchange for working on VECO's behalf to secure an industry-friendly version of tax legislation, according to the plea agreement.

He is the first official from the Murkowski administration to be charged in a federal criminal investigation that has so far resulted in convictions of three former state lawmakers, the indictment of a fourth and guilty pleas from two top VECO executives and one former lobbyist.

Murkowski, who was also a former U.S. senator, was soundly defeated in the 2006 Republican primary by Sarah Palin, Alaska's current governor who ran as an anti-corruption reformer.

Clark and VECO conspired to hide the illegal contributions "in a manner so that the public would be deceived and the payments would not be disclosed, as required by law," according to charging documents.

The federal investigation centers around a revision of an oil-tax law that passed the state legislature in 2006 at Murkowski's urging. Bill Allen and Rick Smith, two former VECO executives, pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers for a pro-industry version of the bill and other favorable actions.

Former state Senate President Ben Stevens, son of powerful U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, received much of that bribe money, Allen and Smith testified in court last year.



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