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Jackson Lawyer: Neverland Auction Off
Top Legal News | 2008/03/14 16:21
Michael Jackson still has Neverland, having cut an 11th-hour deal Thursday to keep it off the auction block.

But the magic that once made the financially troubled entertainer's 2,500-acre paradise in the rolling hills of central California's wine country one of the most talked-about places on Earth seems to have vanished along with its reclusive owner.

Jackson hasn't been seen in this bucolic area of oak-studded hills since he was acquitted in June 2005 of molesting a 13-year-old visitor to his estate, and his absence leaves the future of Neverland, a sort of Hearst Castle for 12-year-olds, in doubt.

"We're all, of course, wondering what's going to happen. We've heard rumors but we don't know anything," said Kim Morrison, one of the administrators of a private school located just across the road from Neverland.



Attorney General To Argue a Case Before High Court
Legal News | 2008/03/13 21:35

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who spent most of his adult life as a federal prosecutor and a judge, will return to the courtroom later this month to argue a case before the Supreme Court, officials said yesterday.

Mukasey will urge the justices to reinstate a sentence overturned by an appeals court in the case of Ahmed Ressam, an al-Qaeda operative convicted of a plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport in 1999.

The last attorney general to handle a case before the high court was Janet Reno in 1996, court officials said. William P. Barr and Richard Thornburgh also argued cases while serving as attorneys general in the administration of George H.W. Bush.

Justice Department spokesman Peter A. Carr said there is a custom, not always followed, for attorneys general to argue at least one Supreme Court case during their term. He declined to comment on why Mukasey chose the Ressam case.

Mukasey, 66, is a retired federal judge who oversaw several high-profile terrorism-related trials while on the bench in New York City. He is scheduled to appear for Supreme Court arguments on March 25 and plans to conduct moot-court sessions to prepare, officials said.

Ressam was arrested near the U.S.-Canada border in December 1999 after customs agents found 124 pounds of explosives in the trunk of his car as he disembarked from a ferry in Port Angeles, Wash. He was convicted in 2001 of nine charges in connection with the plot, but after ceasing cooperation with the FBI was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2005.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit threw out the sentence in 2007 after finding that one of the charges was applied improperly. The federal government disagrees and wants the sentence reinstated.



NewsScandal-hit Spitzer faces wait for law firm role
Top Legal News | 2008/03/13 21:32

So what will Eliot Spitzer do next, assuming he escapes criminal prosecution and disciplinary sanction following his alleged involvement with a high-end prostitution ring? If he follows the example of his three living predecessors as governor, he will join a law firm.

George Pataki last year joined Chadbourne & Parke as a counsel in the environmental practice, and Mario Cuomo has long hung his hat at Willkie Farr & Gallagher. Hugh Carey survived the 1987 collapse of Finley Kumble Wagner Underberg Manley Myerson & Casey and is now a partner in the Manhattan office of Harris Beach.

But Spitzer's reasons for resigning office mark him as something of a different candidate.

"It matters how you leave," said the chairman of one large New York firm who asked to remain unnamed.

Former governors and other prominent political names generally have a cachet with clients that makes them attractive to firms, he said, but the scandal forcing Spitzer out of office may have exhausted the current governor's quotient of good will.

"He would need to rehabilitate himself first," agreed the managing partner of another large New York firm who also requested anonymity. It would probably be a year or more before any firm would even consider bringing the soon-to-be ex-governor aboard, the partner said. "He's radioactive in this environment," he added.



Verdict upheld for Valley law firm suing over fees
Legal Watch | 2008/03/12 21:35
A federal Appeals Court has upheld a nearly $3.3 million verdict obtained by a Valley law firm against another firm from Texas for unpaid legal fees.

In their unanimous ruling, the judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments by the attorney for John M. O'Quinn & Associates that the legal fees being charged by Brown & Bain were not reasonable. Neil McCabe said that put the Phoenix law firm in violation of ethical rules adopted by the Arizona Supreme Court.

But appellate Judge John Noonan, writing for the panel, said the O'Quinn firm had in fact agreed to pay Brown & Bain a certain amount once the case settled.

Potentially more significant for attorneys, the appellate judges said Ethical Rule 1.5, which bars fees that are "unreasonable," applies only to the dealings that lawyers have with their clients. It does not regulate what one law firm charges another.

The case involves a lawsuit filed by about 900 property owners in the Phoenix area who filed suit against Motorola contending that toxic chemicals from its plant caused environmental damage. The deal the property owners had was the O'Quinn law firm would get 40 percent of any recovery plus the cost of litigation.


Miami appraiser pleads guilty to fraud scheme
Court Center | 2008/03/11 16:58

A Miami real estate appraiser has pleaded guilty to wire fraud for her involvement in the Southwest Ranches-area fraud scheme in Broward County, the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida said.

Martine Yanisse Castrillon is one of 15 defendants charged with buying homes through straw buyers at an inflated price, and then getting cash back at the closings. So far, nine defendants have pleaded guilty to various federal charges in the indictment.

Castrillon admitted that she did fraudulent appraisals -- valuing the properties at the amount requested by another defendant, not the true market price -- and forged the name of the certified appraiser who was to review her work.

According to the indictment, co-defendants Lazara Villalba and Henry Quintero-Lopez would offer the owner's full asking price and then inflate the contract purchase price to allow their companies, New World International and D&H Investments of South Florida, to receive a finder's fee, assignment fee or additional funds to allegedly construct improvements to the properties. They would then recruit individuals, who, for a fee, acted as straw buyers of the properties. Villalba and a co-defendant would obtain fraudulent pay stubs, IRS documents, verification of employment and verification of deposit forms; documents would be submitted to cooperating mortgage brokers and the loans were approved to purchase the properties.

Castrillon faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the wire fraud counts and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count. Sentencing is scheduled for May 22.



Health-Care Fraud: Keep an Eye on the Small Fry
Opinions | 2008/03/11 13:01

You might have been afraid to attend the American Bar Association’s white-collar crime conference last week. But the Health Blog, armed with the First Amendment, endured the topic and the tropical clime of Miami to check out a panel on health-care fraud.

The government and the corporate defenders were there. Big Pharma bogeywoman Susan Winkler, chief of the health-care fraud unit at the U.S. Attorney’s Boston office, shared the dais with defense attorneys Ty Cobb, Nicholas C. Theodorou, Katherine Lauer and Thomas Dwyer.

The group ran though the health-fraud hit parade: off-label marketing, assessing the value of a case and how a company, once cornered, can strike a productive note with the feds.

But the thing that jumped out at us was the group’s consensus that smaller companies–biotechs and device companies—are expected to be the next big hunting ground for fraud and wrong-doing. “Small cap companies, biotech and medical device companies, their resources are limited in terms of compliance,” Theodorou said. And, he added, “they’re very sales and marketing driven.”

Winkler agreed, saying, “We’re going to see more and more off-label with medical devices.” The U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston has been a leader in rooting out health- care fraud, including cases against a host of drug companies. Sketchy pricing schemes and off-label marketing, or pitching a drug for uses beyond those approved by FDA, have been regular fraud fodder.

But Big Pharma, said the panel, has learned from its lumps after battling government investigations and charges. “There are a lot of drug executives walking around with huge dents in their heads,” Cobb said. “They’ve been beaten with rules and compliance.” It’s the little guys, particularly single-product companies, who don’t have the resources and infrastructure to set up checks and balances. The legal stakes can break a company, Cobb said. “I got a case where the first person I called wasn’t the forensics guy, but the bankruptcy guy.”





Man in Iced Body Probe Pleads Not Guilty
Headline News | 2008/03/11 11:00
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.



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