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Ginsburg Reverses FOIA Denial
Court Center | 2008/06/16 14:45
An airplane enthusiast has the right to seek documents from the Federal Aviation Administration, though the lower court had denied his friend the same documents.

Greg Herrick was denied access to the documents, due to an exemption covering trade secrets. When his friend filed a similar lawsuit, the lower court said the lawsuit was precluded by the first ruling. The D.C. Circuit upheld, but Justice Ginsburg reversed, shooting down the Circuit's 5-point test for "virtual representation."

"Extending the preclusive effect of a judgment to a non-party runs up against the deep-rooted historic tradition that everyone should have his own day in court," Ginsburg wrote.

For a lawsuit to be precluded, the two parties must have "pre-existing substantive legal relationship" or one party must have assumed control over the previous litigation, according to the unanimous opinion.


Washington, D.C. Law Firms Join D.C. Habitat For Humanity to Donate "Buildable Hours" to a Local Family
Firm News/D.C. | 2008/06/14 21:20
A group of law firms in the greater Washington area have joined together to participate in the third year of a community service summer program in conjunction with D.C. Habitat for Humanity called “Buildable Hours.”  The Buildable Hours team of law firms will provide fiscal and physical resources to build a Habitat home in Northeast Washington, D.C.

The Buildable Hours project provides law firms with the opportunity to build upon the volunteer work that many associates and summer associates started at college chapters of Habitat for Humanity.  The team grew this year to 24 participating firms from last years 17 firms.  Buildable Hours partners include major law firms such as:  Latham & Watkins LLP, Caplin & Drysdale, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Alston & Bird LLP, Baker Botts LLP, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP, Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP, Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP, McKee Nelson LLP, McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, Miller & Chevalier Chartered, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, Morrison & Foerster LLP, Patton Boggs LLP, Piper Rudnick LLP, Reed Smith LLP, Ross Dixon & Bell LLP, Shaw Pittman LLP, Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, and Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman, LLP.  The project has also expanded nationally with new Buildable Hours teams now in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and Omaha.

Each Buildable Hours partner is making a financial contribution to Habitat for Humanity.  In addition, 13 to 17 attorneys, summer clerks, and staff from each law firm will work on the job site for one day.  Participation will promote team building and give participating firms a unique sense of community involvement.  Last year, the Buildable Hours program contributed financially and physically to the building of a home for Elizabeth Dockery and her 3 sons, DeAngelo, Christopher, and DaQuan.  By partnering with Habitat for Humanity, Buildable Hours partners are able to help provide deserving individuals such as Elizabeth Dockery with a safe, decent place to live and raise their families.

“Buildable Hours provides law firms and summer associates a unique way to relate to each other while making a lasting contribution to the community.  The power of the program was demonstrated to us last summer when we saw summer clerks actually writing checks to Habitat,” said Roger Goldman, Latham & Watkins partner and event organizer.


Subscription Bill for $11.83 Brings $5 Million Award
Headline News | 2008/06/13 14:33
A bill for $11.83 led a customer to file a federal class action accusing XM Satellite Radio of illegally renewing subscribers' contracts without proper notice. Damages are estimated at more than $5 million.

On behalf of all XM subscribers in New York, Richard Vacariello claims XM violates New York General Obligations Law §50903 by failing to notify subscribers 15 to 30 days before "automatically" renewing their subscriptions.

Vacariello took a 3-year subscription and used it in a leased automobile, then turned in the car and let the XM subscription expire - he thought. After he turned in the car, he says, XM sent him a bill for $359.64. (It is not clear from the complaint whether this was a bill for another year or for another three years.) Vacariello says he objected, and that XM told him it had "automatically renewed the contract."

So Vacariello says he canceled the contract "immediately," only to have XM send him another bill - for $11.83 - for the period after the 3-year contract expired, and before he canceled the automatic renewal.

Vacariello says XM refused to cancel the $11.83 bill, so he paid it under protest, for fear of harming his credit. Then he filed this class action. He estimates class damages at more than $5 million. He demands compensatory damages and an injunction.


South Florida Law Firm Gives Low Income Clients a Legal Lift
Firm News/Florida | 2008/06/12 21:45
The Law Firm of Caserta, Spiriti & Gonzalez, is providing a helping hand to Floridians, allowing “eligible” low income individuals access to a full service lawfirm with deeply discounted legal care.

The services will fall under the firm’s Affordable Legal Lift Program ™. This program was spearheaded by Senior Member, David Caserta, who after returning back from Tallahassee and witnessing first hand the devastating State Budget Cuts, immediately called a meeting with the firm’s Managing Member, Joe Spiriti, to discuss how the firm could reach out to the overwhelming number of Floridians that cannot afford legal services. Aided by Attorney/Member Maria Cristina Gonzalez, who previously dedicate several years as a family law practitioner with the Dade County Legal Aid Society, Spiriti reviewed some of the public and private programs offered in several states. After weeks of review and joined commitments by all of the Attorneys in the firm, the Affordable Legal Lift Program™ was created.

To be eligible for the Affordable Legal Lift Program ™, individuals will need to fill out a simple application, provide current paystubs, or similar proof of income, and fall within the Client Financial Eligibility Guidelines, which have been set by the firm. The Guidelines are based on Size of Household and Annual Income.

Under the Affordable Legal Lift Program ™, Caserta, Spiriti & Gonzalez will provide as much as a 50% discount off their usual and customary hourly rate. In addition, on Contingency Fee Cases (Where the fee is usually expressed as a percentage of the amount collected or awarded), Caserta, Spiriti & Gonzalez may accept a reduced fee as low as 20% if the case is settled before formal court proceedings begin or 25% if settled after filing the lawsuit.

“With the increased number of foreclosures and level of unemployment, everyone needs to give each other a Lift,” says Caserta.


Trial Suspended Over Judge's Dirty Web Site
Attorneys News | 2008/06/12 14:33
An obscenity trial in Los Angeles Federal Court was suspended after it was revealed that presiding 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski posted sexually explicit photographs and videos on a Web site that he has since blocked from the public, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Kozinski, 57, claims he had no idea that the graphic materials, which included a photo of naked women painted to look like cows and a video of a man "cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal," were available to the public, The Times reported.

Kozinski is presiding over the trial of Los Angeles filmmaker Ira Isaacs, who is accused of violating U.S. obscenity laws by making pornographic films depicting extreme fetishes, including bestiality and defecation. Jurors were set to view hours of allegedly obscene videos during trial.

Kozinski told The Times that some of the material was inappropriate, while others he claimed were meant as jokes. "Is it prurient? I don't know what to tell you," he told the the paper. "I think it's odd and interesting. It's a part of life."

The judge, considered a judicial conservative, was appointed to the bench at age 35 by Ronald Regan, making him the youngest federal appeals court judge in the country. He has a reputation for championing free speech and the First Amendment.

Before it was blocked, the site alex.kozinski.com contained extensive sexually explicit material, The Times claims, including images of masturbation and public sex. "There was a slide show striptease featuring a transsexual, and a folder that contained a series of photos of women's crotches as seen through snug fitting clothing or underwear. There were also themes of defecation and urination, though they are not presented in a sexual context," Times reporter Scott Glover wrote.

"People send me stuff like this all the time," Kozinski told The Times. He said he saves items he finds interesting or amusing that he might later send to friends. But he said that he must have accidentally uploaded some of the more explicit images to his server while trying to upload something else.


Class Claims Steak House Knowingly Hires Illegals
Court Center | 2008/06/11 14:46
Ruth's Chris Steak House systematically hired undocumented workers and lets them use the Social Security numbers of previous workers, and harassed and threatened a legal worker who complained of it, a RICO class action claims in Federal Court.

The lawsuit claims that after an INS sweep of Ruth's Chris Steak House in Birmingham, many undocumented workers returned "wearing different name tags." It claims the restaurant hires undocumented workers on a "large scale," pays them in cash, knowingly accepts I-9 immigration forms containing false information, and otherwise knowingly violates immigration and employment laws.

Plaintiffs also accuse Ruth's Chris of "stealing" 20% to 25% of its workers' tips.


Judge Removed From Office For Phone Rage
Court Center | 2008/06/10 14:19
Niagara Falls City Judge Robert Restaino was removed from office in an apparent case of telephone rage. Frustrated that no one owned up to the cacophonous cell phone that rang in the back of his courtroom, Restaino sent 46 defendants to jail.

   The New York Court of Appeals said removal was proper, because Restaino acted in a way that eroded confidence in his ability to render fair, rational judgments.
When the cell phone went off, Restaino told the defendants in his courtroom, "Now, whoever owns the instrument that is ringing, bring it to me now or everybody could take a week in jail and please don't tell me I'm the only one that heard that."

After a fruitless inquiry to find the owner, he reiterated, "Everyone is going to jail; every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now. If anybody believes I'm kidding, ask some of the folks that have been here for a while. You are all going."

He questioned the 35 remaining defendants and recalled 11 defendants whom he had previously released before the phone rang. Dissatisfied with their responses, he revoked their recognizance release and imposed bail. He even set bail for a petitioner who had been standing next to the judge when the phone rang in the back of the room.

He then ranted about the breach of courtroom decorum. "You know, for some of you folks, this hurts me more than you imagine because someone in this courtroom has no consideration for you, no consideration for me and just doesn't care," he said. "Some of you people may not be in the (same) economic situation (as) this selfish person ... (is who) put(s) their interests (sic) above everybody else's. They don't care what happens to anybody."

The 46 defendants were transported to the city jail, booked, searched and placed in holding cells. Thirty-two defendants posted bail, while the remaining 14 who could not post bail were shackled and bused to the county jail.

The state court said the circumstances qualified as "truly egregious" to merit removal from office. "(I)t is ironic that petitioner displayed the very attributes by which he accused and summarily punished each defendant," the court added. Restaino had "more than 46 chances to correct himself and failed to do so."


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