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US lawmaker fears open-ended US military pact in Iraq
Headline News | 2008/03/06 20:48

A top lawmaker voiced fears Tuesday that US President George Bush's administration was negotiating deals with Iraq that would amount to an open-ended commitment to stage US combat missions there.

Administration officials say formal US-Iraqi negotiations will begin later this month on a legal framework aimed at keeping security policy options open for both countries beyond 2008, when the UN mandate for US forces ends.

David Satterfield, the State Department's coordinator for Iraq, told a joint meeting of two congressional subcommittees Tuesday that "the agreements will not tie the hands of the next president or indeed this president.

"They will ensure that every policy option remains on the table," Satterfield told the lawmaking panels. "The size of the US presence in Iraq, the missions to be performed by such forces if forces are present, are decisions for the president and the next president to make," he added.

The so-called Strategic Framework and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), he insisted, "will not include a binding commitment to defend Iraq or any other security commitments that would warrant Senate advice and consent.



Court of Appeals weighs scope of extortion law
Legal Watch | 2008/03/06 19:26

A lawyer for the state came under sharp attack from several Court of Appeals judges when he urged them to reinstate the extortion conviction of a man who sent expletive-laden letters to a former boss and his attorney, threatening to sue them unless they paid him $100,000.

Assistant Attorney General Brian S. Kleinbord said Scott L. Rendelman’s letters constituted extortion because the grounds for his threatened lawsuit were “baseless” and the written messages were a “threat to obtain something of value to which [he] is not otherwise entitled.”

A Montgomery County jury had convicted Rendelman of trying to extort money from William Elmhirst and attorney Kevin P. Fay, but the Court of Special Appeals threw out the conviction, saying that a threat to sue, unlike a threat of bodily harm, is not evidence of extortion.

Three of the seven judges hearing the matter on Thursday — retired Judges Alan M. Wilner, Lawrence F. Rodowsky and Dale R. Cathell — echoed that reasoning.

Click to download the Webcast of the State of Maryland v. Scott L. Rendelman

Extending the crime of extortion to include threats of litigation might discourage individuals and their lawyers from validly informing an opponent that they might file suit, lest they find themselves in criminal court, the judges said.

By contrast, all seven were largely silent as Rendelman’s lawyer, Karen C. Daly of Washington, said prosecutors go too far when they charge with extortion a person proclaiming his or her legal right to sue – even if vulgarly expressed.



Judge Wants to Resolve Indian Lands Case
Top Legal News | 2008/03/06 17:59
A federal judge says he wants to resolve a 12-year lawsuit over government mismanagement of Indian lands this June.

In a decision last month, U.S. District Judge James Robertson said government accounting for billions of dollars owed to Indian landholders has been "unreasonably delayed" and is ultimately impossible.

At the same time, Robertson said the task is not hopeless, and he asked lawyers for both sides to lay out their cases again at a status hearing on Wednesday.

The June trial "is meant to bring this matter to a conclusion," Robertson said.

The suit, first filed in 1996 by Blackfeet Indian Elouise Cobell, claims the government has mismanaged more than $100 billion in royalties held in trust from Indian lands dating back to 1887.



Team New Zealand take Swiss champions to court
Headline News | 2008/03/06 16:58
The New Zealand syndicate for the next America's Cup race said Thursday it is seeking "tens of millions of euros" in compensation from Swiss champions Alinghi over the event's postponement.

Team New Zealand said it had filed a case with a New York court claiming damages for breach of contract arising from an agreement covering its entry for the 33rd edition of yachting's showpiece event.

The agreement included an "understanding entered into by (Alinghi boss) Ernesto Bertarelli that the America's Cup would go ahead in 2009," it said in a statement.

"It's now probable we might not see a normal regatta until 2011," Team New Zealand's managing director Grant Dalton said in the statement.

The statement did not indicate the amount of damages it was seeking. But Dalton told AFP in a telephone interview from New York that it would be "tens of millions of euros."

"We have a duty to protect the investment in the team over many years by a wide range of loyal supporters," Dalton said.

"We also have an obligation to honour the trust shown by the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who have supported the team through the years."

Alinghi retained the America's Cup by beating Team New Zealand in a hugely successful event in the Spanish port of Valencia in July.

But the 33rd edition of the race was indefinitely postponed because of a legal dispute between Alinghi and US syndicate Oracle over the rules.

Team New Zealand said it has also filed a second case in a Federal Court under US anti-trust laws.

That suit claims Alinghi "has acted to stifle competition for the Cup and for the right that goes with it of conducting future events" by accepting the Spanish syndicate Desafio as its challenger of record, "thereby enabling it to impose rules for the next event that were competely one-sided."

Oracle last July filed a lawsuit in the US against Alinghi's decision to name Desafio as its official challenger of record, which gave it the right to negotiate the format of the America's Cup with the Swiss syndicate.

In November, a New York court ruled in favour of Oracle and said the US team should be Alinghi's challenger of record.

"Bertarelli had the chance to accept a reasonable proposal from Oracle, which was also signed by the majority of the challengers, and which would have allowed the America's Cup to be held in 2009," Dalton said. "He would not do so."

Alinghi said it was "disappointed" by the action by Team New Zealand, "given their previous public acceptance and commitment to the competition.

"These actions are totally without merit, wildly miss the target and will be defended rigorously," Lucien Masmejan, Alinghi's legal counsel, said in a statement.

"We share the sailing community's frustration in the delays affecting the America's Cup but Alinghi, as trustee, is duty bound to defend its position in the current legal action and to preserve the integrity of the America's Cup."

The format of the 33rd America's Cup challenge is still subject to an imminent ruling by the New York court, with a multihull duel between Alinghi and Oracle seen as the most likely outcome, rather than a regatta involving several teams.

The two teams have begun training in catamarans in Valencia in preparation for such an event.

"The delay in staging the next America's Cup is harming every challenging syndicate as they have to stretch budgets for a two-year campaign over three or perhaps four years," Dalton said.



High Profile Local Law Firms Merge
Legal Interview | 2008/03/06 14:59
The San Diego law firm of Steigerwalt & Associates merged Wednesday with the Pacific Law Center, creating a new entity specializing in personal injury, bankruptcy and criminal defense litigation.

The new firm -- called Kerry Steigerwalt's Pacific Law Center -- will have 30 attorneys working out of offices in downtown San Diego, La Jolla, Escondido and Chula Vista, Steigerwalt said.

He said the company will provide effective and affordable representation for the average person who becomes involved in litigation, offering the services of experienced lawyers who have handled thousands of matters ranging from death penalty cases to traffic offenses.

Steigerwalt stressed KSPLC's commitment to offering experienced and effective legal services at affordable rates, including free initial consultations.

"The very rich can afford whatever lawyers they choose," Steigerwalt said. "The poor are provided lawyers at public expense. The big gap in legal representation involves the average citizen who becomes involved with litigation and doesn't know where to turn. We're here to provide them that same access to justice."

Among Steigerwalt's high profile clients in the past has been Sam Sulieman, the man who assaulted FOX6 Investigative Reporter John Mattes.

http://www.fox6.com/mediacenter/local.aspx?videoID=332641


Court Skeptical of Passenger Rights Law
Headline News | 2008/03/06 12:57
A federal appeals panel seemed impatient Wednesday with arguments supporting the first law in the nation requiring airlines to provide food, water, clean toilets and fresh air to passengers trapped in a plane delayed on the ground.

The three judges expressed skepticism that states should be allowed to impose such a law on an industry already subject to extensive federal oversight. It was likely, they implied through their questions, that federal authority would pre-empt state laws on the issue.

New York's law requires relief for people who have been trapped in a plane on the ground for at least three hours. It was passed after passengers at Kennedy International Airport were stranded on planes for more than 10 hours with no food and overflowing toilets.

The court did not immediately rule on the constitutionality of New York's Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.

The judges said they were sympathetic to the needs of passengers on planes, but they seemed to agree that only the federal government can regulate airline services.

Judge Brian M. Cogan said New York's law might lead to multiple solutions by states nationwide that would subject airlines to all kinds of requirements.

Judge Debra Ann Livingston agreed.

"There is a patchwork problem in that every state should be concerned about this and probably would write different regulations," she said.

Even though the judges had not yet ruled, Judge Richard C. Wesley defended their apparent stance.

"This is a pre-emption issue. Judges aren't heartless people in black robes. Three judges must decide whether New York stepped over the pre-emption line," Wesley said.

The law was challenged before the appeals court by the Air Transport Association of America, the industry trade group representing leading U.S. airlines.

Seth Waxman, a lawyer for the trade group, told the judges that a dozen other states were considering laws similar to New York's law. He said Congress was considering its own legislation.

"If regulation is required in this area, it must be national to avoid what otherwise is a patchwork solution," Waxman said.

Barbara Underwood, arguing in defense of the law, said it required minimal standards and protected the public.

She said planes in line for takeoff might, after three hours, be forced to return to the gate to pick up more food and water and empty its restrooms or need to summon a delivery service to perform those chores.

A recent federal report showed that about 24 percent of flights nationally arrived late in the first 10 months of last year, which was the industry's second-worst performance record since comparable data began being collected in 1995.

Kennedy airport had the third-worst on-time arrival record of any major U.S. airport through October, behind the New York area's other two major airports, LaGuardia and Newark, according to the report.

Wesley called it a health and safety issue.

"What it really is about is human dignity," Underwood said.

Queens Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, a Democrat, the prime sponsor of New York's Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, said after the arguments that he was not discouraged by the questions posed by the judges. He said he would welcome a national law protecting airline customers.

"I'm hopeful the judges will preserve the law," he said.



Gault Pleads Guilty; Facing 50 Years In Prison
Legal Watch | 2008/03/06 12:03

A former dog trainer who was accused of hiding a runaway girl in his West Harford home for nearly a year pleaded guilty Wednesday in Superior Court in Hartford to eight felony charges which are expected to net him a lengthy stay in prison.

Adam Gault, 41, entered guilty pleas to two counts of first-degree kidnapping, four counts of second-degree sexual assault, risk of injury to a minor and conspiracy to commit first-degree kidnapping.

Assistant State's Attorney David Zagaja said the state is recommending a 50-year prison term for Gault, which would be suspended after 30 years incarceration. He would then spend 20 years on probation.

Sentencing was set for May 19. If he had chosen to go to trial, he would have faced a maximum of 160 years.

Judge David Gold told the defendant he was considering imposing 50 years, suspended after 25 years, but that he would consider increasing the term at the time of sentencing after getting a pre-sentence report.

Gold gave Gault the option of accepting a higher sentence, or withdrawing his guilty plea at that time.

Gault was found competent to stand trial in February. He had faced nearly 40 charges. The bulk of the charges, including kidnapping, unlawful restraint, risk of injury to a minor, reckless endangerment and sexual assault, were in connection with the Bloomfield teenager who was found in his home. The girl, who was 14 when she disappeared is now 16.

A second complaint brought by a second woman was lodged subsequent to his arrest.

At Wednesday's 90-minute hearing, Gault appeared clean-shaven, with a short-cropped hair. On several occasions, when the judge asked him how he pleaded, he responded with "I'm guilty"

His other responses were limited to "Yes sir" or "no sir."

Marc Needelman, the attorney who represents the family of the 14-year-old, said he expected his clients to appear at Gault's sentencing and also make recommendations for appropriate sentences against his co-defendants, Ann Murphy and Kimberly Cray.

Gold said they would attempt to accommodate the family by having the two women appear that day.

Gault, who lived on Newington Road in West Hartford, was arrested last June when Bloomfield and West Hartford police discovered the teenager, who had been reported missing for almost a year, in a locked storage closet behind a dresser in his home.

Gault and the girl's mother and stepfather, who operate a dog day care and kennel in Bloomfield, knew each other professionally. The girl had worked for Gault in his dog training business.

The police were executing a search warrant for Gault's house and his DNA on June 6 when they came across the locked, hidden storage space and found the girl inside. At the time, investigators believed they were searching for evidence linking Gault to the girl's disappearance and possible demise.

According to court documents, DNA testing on a fetus that the victim aborted in May showed Gault impregnated the girl.



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