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Court Accepts Crime Lab Case
Legal Watch | 2008/03/17 18:02
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether prosecutors can use crime lab reports as evidence without having the forensic analyst who prepared them testify at trial.

The reliability of crime labs has been questioned in several states and at the federal level in recent years.

State and federal courts have come to different conclusions about whether recent Supreme Court decisions affirming the constitutional right of a defendant to confront his accusers extend to lab reports that are used in many drug and other cases.

The case the justices accepted, and will consider in the fall, comes from Massachusetts. Luis Melendez-Diaz was convicted of trafficking in cocaine partly on the basis of a crime lab analysis that confirmed that cocaine was in plastic bags found in the car in which Melendez-Diaz was riding.

Rather than accept the report, however, Melendez-Diaz objected that he should be allowed to question the person who prepared it about testing methods, how the evidence was preserved and a host of other issues.



CNet to Appeal Court's Bylaw Ruling
Legal Watch | 2008/03/17 18:02
CNet Networks Inc. said Monday that it will appeal a lower court's decision on bylaw provisions to the Delaware Supreme Court.

Last week the Delaware Chancery Court ruled that CNet's bylaws do not give it the ability to prevent a group of dissident shareholders led by an affiliate of hedge fund Jana Partners LLC from nominating directors to the company's board or proposing an increase to the board's size.

The court's decision "incorrectly calls into question the bylaws of a large number of companies with the same or similar bylaw provisions," CNet said in a release. The company said its stockholder-approved bylaws are "fully applicable" to the hedge fund.

A "costly and disruptive proxy contest" is not in the best interest of stockholders, and Jana should not be able to seek control of CNet without paying a premium, the company said.

In a letter to CNet Chief Executive Neil Ashe issued earlier Monday, Jana managing partner Barry Rosenstein questioned whether an appeal would benefit shareholders. "We believe it is time for fundamental strategic and operational change at CNet, and that the nominees we have proposed... have the collective experience and expertise to successfully implement this change," he wrote.

Jana had about a 10 percent stake in CNET as of Dec. 31.



Lake Stevens to halt drug testing after court ruling
Headline News | 2008/03/14 16:22
Lake Stevens School District plans to suspend student drug testing after the Washington State Supreme Court ruled today that testing of student athletes is unconstitutional.

The district’s lawyer needs to review the court decision, spokeswoman Arlene Hulten said.

“On first blush, it looks like this ruling would impact our programs and we’d have to stop our random drug testing programs for grades 9 to 12,” she said.

Lake Stevens High School is one of the few in the state that uses random drug tests. In a controversial move, the school began testing students involved in extracurricular activities for drugs in 2006.

The tests have helped motivate kids to avoid drugs, Hulten said.

The court unanimously ruled in support of a challenge brought against the Wahkiakum School District's policy of random urine tests of middle school and high school student athletes.


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.


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