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Railroad Denies Liability for Smuggled Drugs
Headline News | 2008/08/04 14:31
In a sharply worded federal complaint, the Union Pacific Railroad Co. asserts that it is not responsible for the cocaine and marijuana seized on railroad cars as part of a smuggling operation of trains bound for the United States from Mexico.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection found 47 cases of illegal narcotics seized at checkpoints in California, Arizona and Texas. In each case, the Border Patrol found illegal drugs on a train bound for the United States from a Mexican railroad.

Though the trains were ultimately headed to Union Pacific customers, the railroad company claims that it should not have to pay the $37.7 million in proposed penalties against it, because the drugs were found before the railroad cars ever came into Union Pacific's possession.

"At all times prior to the discovery of the illegal narcotics, either the Mexican railroad operating the train of (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) had exclusive control of the trains in which they were found," the plaintiff claims.

It rejects the defendant's assertion that Union Pacific failed to exercise the "highest degree of care and diligence" to ensure drugs were not smuggled on its trains. Union Pacific points out that it owns no railroad facilities in Mexico, and cannot hire, supervise or direct the railroad employees across the border.

The government improperly applied the Tariff Act of 1930 in assessing fines against Union Pacific, the lawsuit claims.

"The Tariff Act does not obligate (Union Pacific) to enter Mexico and conduct extraterrestrial inspections," the railroad claims, "and to do so would require (Union Pacific) to take extraordinarily dangerous and costly measures that the United States itself has found too dangerous and/or futile to undertake."

The risk of setting up security operations in Mexico would expose the plaintiff and its employees "to the risks of murder and mayhem at the hands of Mexican drug cartels, while at the same time potentially running afoul of Mexican law," the lawsuit states.

And it would accomplish nothing, the railroad claims.

"If (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) and the full power of the United States government cannot effectively seize drugs in Mexico, there is no reason to believe that (Union Pacific) could.


Mercedes-Benz Sues Hybrid Battery Supplier
Headline News | 2008/07/31 14:48
Mercedes-Benz U.S. International paid Cobasys $6 million to develop a battery pack for a hybrid vehicle under production, but claims the supplier ran into a funding crisis and is unable to deliver the product, putting the pressure on Mercedes to meet its June 2009 production deadline, the car company claims in Federal Court.

Cobasys is one of the few suppliers to produce nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery packs for use in hybrids. It submitted the winning bid for the Mercedes hybrid project and, in doing so, agreed to develop, produce and deliver the product on time, the lawsuit claims.

Cobasys allegedly assured the Daimler AG affiliate that had all the requisite staff, funds and equipment to complete the job.     

After Cobasys and Daimler hammered out the production costs and pricing of the battery pack, Mercedes issued a purchase order. It claims Cobasys confirmed that it could meet the expected launch date, but did not sign a confirmation of the purchase order. The plaintiff says it found out later that Cobasys refused to sign the order because its owners, Chevron and Energy Conversion Devices, had cut off funding, leaving the supplier with "no plans or ability to fund its day-to-day operations past that point, much less make the capital investments required to meet its production volume commitments to (Mercedes) and other manufacturers."

To make matters worse, Mercedes claims Cobasys' owners are actively searching for a buyer. They allegedly hid this information from Daimler and Mercedes, leading them to believe that Cobasys was "ready, willing and able to produce the necessary parts, while knowing this is not the case, and while avoiding signing (the plaintiffs') purchase order."

Mercedes claims that Cobasys has since found a buyer, and the sale is imminent. But even if the buyer assumes the contract, Mercedes claims it has become "entirely dependent" on Cobasys' delivering the NiMH battery pack in time. "No other supplier can produce a battery meeting the specifications jointly developed by Cobasys and Daimler," the lawsuit claims.

However, when Mercedes solicited written reassurance from Cobasys, the company allegedly denied having any contract to produce the battery pack. Cobasys told Mercedes that it would continue the development work, but would not be involved with production. The plaintiff also remains suspicious of what will happen to the property rights, as Cobasys "has yet to provide any written concrete assurances that it will not sell or transfer any assets or intellectual property rights required to carry out its obligations."

Mercedes' attorneys are Howard Walthall Jr., Joseph Letzer, Ellen Mathews and S. Greg Burge of Burr & Forman.


Alaska Senator Charged with Corruption
Headline News | 2008/07/30 14:53
A federal grand jury indicted Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, thelongest-serving Republican senator, on corruption charges. Stevens, 84,was charged with seven counts of falsely reporting income from giftsand home renovations.
    A year-long investigation revealed arelationship between Stevens and oil executive Bill Allen, whosecompany, VECO Corp., won millions of dollars' worth of federalcontracts with Stevens' help. VECO supervised hundreds of thousands ofdollars worth of renovations on Stevens' Girdwood, Alaska home, almostdoubling it in size.
    Federal agents also investigated thesenator's son, Ben Stevens, then serving as president of the AlaskaSenate, as part of last year's inquiry into illicit payments made tocontractors and lobbyists.
    Stevens has served in the Senatefor 40 years and helped Alaska obtain statehood in 1959. He is up forreelection this November against popular Anchorage mayor, Mark Begich.Begich would be the first Democratic senator for Alaska since 1974.     
    Stevens, a World War II veteran, was first appointed tofill a vacant Senate seat in 1968 by former Alaska governor WalterHickel, and has been re-elected six times since.
    Theindictment will force Stevens to abandon posts as senior Republican onthe Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the defenseappropriations subcommittee.


Coalition Opposes Canyon Granite Removal
Court Center | 2008/07/29 14:40
The U.S. Forest Service's approval of a plan to remove 1,000 cubic yards of granite from the Lost Horse Canyon in Montana's Bitterroot National Forest violates environmental law and threatens to rob rock climbers of "world-class" climbing, the Lost Horse Canyon Coalition claims in Federal Court.

The coalition and Rick Torre claim the Forest Service failed to analyze the removal project's impact on climbing, local business and sensitive wildlife species, such as the peregrine falcon, bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.

The Forest Service allegedly curtailed its analysis based on a categorical exclusion for "minor" projects, but the plaintiffs say the agency "failed to explain how the project would be 'minor' in light of the predominant recreational use in the area."

Timothy Bechtold is representing the coalition.


Comedian Says Heckler's Lawsuit Isn't Funny
Legal Watch | 2008/07/28 14:39
Toronto comedian Guy Earle has sued the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal to have a heckler's human-rights complaint against him dismissed.

In May 2007, according to Earle's petition in B.C. Supreme Court, he was hosting an open mic comedy night advertised as "Vancouver's Edgiest Comedy - Not for the Faint of Heart." His onstage persona, the petition states, was "an asshole comic." Lorna Pardy and two friends began heckling him by kissing and yelling, the petition states, and "in the course of trying to silence (Pardy), whom he regarded as an inconsiderate heckler, Mr. Earle used rude language which referenced (Pardy's) sexual preference. (Pardy) continued to heckle."

Earle claims he later tried to make peace with Pardy, but she allegedly threatened him and threw drinks in his face. Pardy later filed a human-rights complaint against Earle, despite an apology, and the tribunal denied Earle's application to dismiss. He claims the tribunal lacks jurisdiction and that the B.C. Human Rights Code is unconstitutional because it's overbroad, vague and it unreasonably infringes upon his right to freedom of expression.

"Guy Earle is not a homophobe," the petition states. "On the contrary, Mr. Earle has many friends and colleagues who are homosexual. He reasserts his unreserved apology to (Pardy) for any suffering she may have experienced as a result of his spontaneous expressions of frustration at her disruption of the performance."

Earle is represented by James Millar.


New York AG files complaint
Court Center | 2008/07/25 14:54
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed a lawsuit against financial firm UBS on Thursday for allegedly misrepresenting so-called "auction rate securities" as low-risk despite the actual volatility of such investments. In the complaint, Cuomo alleges that UBS led investors to believe they could easily divest themselves of the long-term securities, and that after the company was aware of market instability, they continued to push the funds even though top executives had moved quickly to sell their own holdings. During a press conference on the lawsuit, Coumo said:

   Not only is UBS guilty of committing a flagrant breach of trust between the bank and its customers, its top executives jumped ship as soon the securities market started to collapse, leaving thousands of customers holding the bag. Today we bring the first nationwide lawsuit against UBS, seeking to recover billions of dollars for customers and sending a resounding message to the rest of the industry that this type of deceptive behavior will not be tolerated.

Cuomo is seeking to force UBS to buy back the securities from investors and to pay restitution for any profits made from their sale, as well as other damages.

On Wednesday, the Texas Securities Board said it is considering banning UBS from selling securities in the state because of auction rate securities misrepresentations. A March New York Times report said the practice of representing the securities as low-risk and highly liquid was widespread and has resulted in large loses and a number of lawsuits around the country.


Kuwaiti Diplomat Accused Of Enslaving Maid In D.C.
Headline News | 2008/07/24 14:41
A military attaché in Kuwait's Embassy is accused of enslaving, raping and torturing an orphan woman he brought to the United States from India to work as his maid. She claims Brig. Gen. Ahmed S.J. al Naser and his wife promised her $1,150 a month for a 40-hour week, but forced her to work 17 hours a day seven days a week without pay, confiscated her passport, beat and kicked her till she bled, forced her to eat off the floor, and the general raped her.

She claims Naser sexually abused and raped her, and threatened to deport her to Kuwait if she complained, and threatened that he had friends there and "They'd know what to do." She says that until she managed to escape, "Defendant Al Naser raped plaintiff on many occasions when his wife was not in the home."

She sued Gen. Al Naser, his wife Muna S.M.N. Al Najdai and the State of Kuwait in Federal Court.

The plaintiff says she escaped in May 2006. She does not know where Gen. Al Naser is now. She is represented by Michael Coe with Crowell & Moring.


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