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Church to defy federal ruling upholding funeral protests ban
Headline News | 2008/08/29 15:15
Followers of the Kansas-based fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church plan to stage a protest at the funeral for late Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones Thursday, despite a federal appeals court ruling last week that upheld an Ohio law limiting funeral protests. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit last week upheld Ohio's funeral protest law against a constitutional challenge raised by Westboro member Shirley Phelps-Roper. Westboro church members have been going around the country picketing military funerals in recent years, claiming US soldiers have been killed because America tolerates homosexuals. Phelps-Roper claimed that the Ohio law was unconstitutionally overbroad, in violation of the First Amendment. The district court rejected Phelps-Roper's challenge, concluding that the provision was a constitutional content-neutral regulation of the time and manner of protests and that the state of Ohio has a significant interest in protecting its citizens from disruptions during funeral events. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that the law was reasonable and that:
Individuals mourning the loss of a loved one share a privacy right similar to individuals in their homes or individuals entering a medical facility...Unwanted intrusion during the last moments the mourners share with the deceased during a sacred ritual surely infringes upon the recognized right of survivors to mourn the deceased. Furthermore, just as a resident subjected to picketing is 'left with no ready means of avoiding the unwanted speech,' mourners cannot easily avoid unwanted protests without sacrificing their right to partake in the funeral or burial service.
In April, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius signed similar legislation banning protests within 150 feet of a funeral one hour before, during, and two hours after the end of a service. At least 37 other states have passed similar laws in response to the Westboro pickets, and a federal law  restricting protests at Arlington National Cemetery and other federal cemeteries has also been passed.

Attorney Need Not Deliver Subpoenaed Transcript
Top Legal News | 2008/08/28 14:17
An attorney does not have to turn over the transcript of an interview with a son of his client, despite a grand jury subpoena, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled unanimously.

In a 6-0 decision, the state's high court ruled that the jury failed to show substantial need to have the transcript turned over and that the transcript is a product of attorney-client privilege.

The attorney, John Rogers, was representing a client who was a person of interest in the disappearance of the client's son. The client claimed his vehicle was stolen from a parking lot while his son, a 10-year-old with disabilities, was inside. The vehicle was later found, but the child's whereabouts remain a mystery. Rogers took the statement from his client's older son, while representing the client.

After receiving the subpoena, Rogers filed a motion to quash because he claimed it was an attorney work product and that it would be unreasonable and oppressive to release it.

The circuit court found that the transcript was not an attorney work product because it did not contain the attorney's opinions, theories or conclusions.
Because Missouri defines work product in criminal procedure only in regard to the attorney's opinions, theories or conclusions, the Missouri Supreme Court found that because grand jury proceedings do not take place before an indictment is filed, the discovery rules for criminal proceedings do not apply.
"Historically, a lawyer is an officer of the court and is bound to work for the advancement of justice while faithfully protecting the rightful interests of his clients," Judge Patricia Breckenridge wrote. "In performing his various duties, however, it is essential that a lawyer work with a certain degree of privacy, free from unnecessary intrusion by opposing parties and their counsel. Proper preparation of a client's case demands that he assemble information, sift what he considers to be the relevant from the irrelevant facts, prepare his legal theories and plan his strategy without undue and needless interference. ... Were such materials open to opposing counsel on mere demand, much of what is now put down in writing would remain unwritten. An attorney's thoughts, heretofore inviolate, would not be his own. Inefficiency, unfairness and sharp practices would inevitably develop in the giving of legal advice and in the preparation of cases for trial. The effect on the legal profession would be demoralizing. And the interests of the clients and the cause of justice would be poorly served."


Citibank Stole From 53,000 Customers
Top Legal News | 2008/08/27 18:24
Citibank agreed Tuesday to repay $14 million taken from 53,000 customer credit accounts, plus interest and penalties, after after a three-year investigation by the California Attorney General's office revealed the bank's policy of clearing positive balances off customer credit accounts.

Citibank used a computerized process between 1992 and 2003, which automatically and immediately erased positive balances from credit-card accounts. The Attorney General's office quotes a bank executive saying, "Stealing from our customers is a business decision, not a legal decision."

Underscoring the intentional nature of the bank's actions, the Attorney General said an insider at Citibank reported the credit sweeps to an internal audit team in 2001, and was first ignored and then fired.

The investigation took three years to complete because the state investigators had to overcome legal trench warfare from Citibank which resisted subpoenas from the state to third parties who had information about the theft, said a spokesman for the Attorney General.

"The company knowingly stole from its customers, mostly poor people and the recently deceased when it... implemented the sweeps," said California Attorney General Jerry Brown Jr.

Positive balances happen when a customer over-pays, or when a customer returns a purchase for credit. A spokesman for Brown's office, Dana Simas, said the poor and the dead tend to be less financially organized, which accounts for their increased exposure to Citibank's credit sweeps.

$1.6 million was swiped from Californians alone.

Citibank was represented in the matter by Julia Strickland and Julie Nelson with the Stroock law firm.

The settlement calls on Citibank to refund the victims for the amount stolen, along with a 10% interest. It also imposes a $3.5 million fine to be paid to California, and prevents Citibank from re-initiating the credit sweeps.

Once Citibank has complied, an independent auditor will ensure that Citibank has fulfilled its requirements.

The state's investigation was led by Frederick Acker.

US soldier sentenced for desertion
Headline News | 2008/08/26 15:15
A US military judge in Colorado sentenced US Army Pfc. Robin Long Friday to 15 months in prison, dishonorable discharge and demotion after Long pleaded guilty to desertion with intent to remain away permanently. Long fled to Canada in 2005 in moral opposition to the war in Iraq and filed for refugee status there, but a Canadian immigration judge denied his motion in August 2007, writing: 
I find nothing in the claimant’s evidence that would support a finding that he could not rely upon the state to protect him from persecution or any other harm. There is no support for a finding that it was objectively reasonable for the claimant not to have sought protection in his country.
Canadian officials deported Long to the US in July. US authorities initially charged him with desertion with intent to shirk hazardous duty, a more serious offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but Long pleaded to the lesser offense of desertion with intent to remain away permanently the same day as the scheduled start of his court-martial proceedings.

In early July, Canada's House of Commons passed a non-binding resolution to grant US military deserters asylum. In November 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the appeals of Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, two US military deserters who had unsuccessfully applied for asylum before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. The IRB had concluded that the two men would receive a fair trial if they were returned to the US and that they would not face persecution or cruel and unusual punishment.

Gay marriage foes mobilize for ban in California
Headline News | 2008/08/25 14:03
Michael Bumgarner says he's never campaigned for a political cause before, but his strong opposition to same-sex marriage has prompted him to join thousands of volunteers going door-to-door in support of a ballot initiative that would ban gay nuptuals here.

"I've never stumped before, but I want to be a part of this," Bumgarner said. The retired insurance executive and devout Mormon said his late mother would "turn over in her grave" if she knew that gays and lesbians could marry.

With less than 11 weeks until Election Day, supporters of Proposition 8 are ramping up their field organization and refining their message as they seek to persuade California voters to shut the door on same-sex marriage. It's the first time voters will be asked to weigh in on the issue in either California or Massachusetts — the states where gays have won the right to wed.

An estimated 15,000 backers of the measure, most of them members of Mormon, Catholic and evangelical Christian churches, knocked on doors and distributed campaign literature to registered voters throughout the state this weekend and last, according to Jennifer Kerns, spokeswoman for the Yes on 8 campaign.

The initiative is a constitutional amendment, similar to ones already enacted in 26 other states, that would overturn the California Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. It needs a simple majority of votes to pass.

IRS updates and expands EPCRS procedures
Press Releases | 2008/08/24 15:37

The IRS has released the long-awaited revenue procedure, updating and expanding the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS), the system of voluntary correction programs for retirement plans. The EPCRS has been expanded to cover additional plan failures and includes streamlined application procedures under the Voluntary Correction Program (VCP) for numerous categories of plan failures.

“Employers and plan administrators want to comply with the tax laws and regulations to protect plan participants,” said Michael Julianelle, director of the IRS’s Employee Plans division. “EPCRS helps employers and plan administrators take a proactive role in identifying and fixing mistakes. It also encourages implementation of practices and procedures that ensure retirement plans comply with laws and regulations.”

The updated EPCRS revenue procedure generally will be effective January 1, 2009. However, plan sponsors will be permitted to apply the provisions of the updated revenue procedure beginning September 2, 2008.

Time to self-correct expanded
The Self-Correction Program (SCP) permits a plan sponsor to correct insignificant operational failures in plans such as qualified plans, 403(b) plans, SEPs or SIMPLE IRA plans without having to notify the IRS and without paying any fee or sanction. The updated procedure expands the SCP in situations where employers discover failures in their plans and have begun the correction process.

The time by which a plan sponsor substantially corrects a significant operational failure and is therefore entitled to use the SCP has been liberalized. Sample correction methods for improperly excluded employees for both employer and employee contributions have been added to Appendix A. In addition, sample correction methods for the failure to implement an employee’s elective deferral election and to provide matching contributions have been added to Appendix B.

Russian oil tycoon's parole bid rejected
Headline News | 2008/08/22 15:36
A Russian court rejected jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky request for parole on Friday.

The judge said Khodorkovsky was ineligible for early release from a sentence for tax evasion and fraud because he had refused to undertake professional training at his prison, which specializes in sewing, and because of an incident in which he flouted prison rules.

Khodorkovsky reacted by shaking his head as the decision was announced in the courtroom in the Siberian city of Chita.

Khodorkovsky — who headed the Yukos oil company and was once Russia's richest man — has spent almost five years in jail. He was sentenced in 2005 to an eight-year term and has been eligible for parole for the past 10 months.

Khodorkovsky's parole hearing was seen as a test of new President Dmitry Medvedev's commitment to reforming the judiciary.

The prosecution of the oligarch was widely viewed as an attempt to silence a Kremlin opponent and consolidate control over Russia's strategic energy sector.

The charges and subsequent demand for huge back taxes led to the effective renationalization of Yukos, which was taken over by the state oil company Rosneft.

Khodorkovsky also faces new charges of embezzlement and money laundering, brought in June against both the former billionaire and his business associate Platon Lebedev.

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