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California Supreme Court in gay marriage storm
Legal News | 2008/03/05 20:10

The California Supreme Court is seemingly as divided as society is over gay marriage.

For more than three hours Tuesday, the seven justices of the state's high court shifted back and forth on whether to uphold California's ban on same-sex marriage, at times appearing to spar with each other as they weighed their most important civil rights case in decades.

The justices peppered lawyers on both sides of the case with dozens of questions that made predicting an outcome a fool's game. The court is reviewing a similarly divided 2006 appeals court ruling that upheld California's ban on gay marriage and a 2000 ballot initiative confining marriage to a union between a man and woman.

Underscoring the passions behind the conflict, demonstrators on both sides of the issue lined up outside the Supreme Court building, armed with placards and chants as they awaited the crucial legal arguments. Inside, an overflow crowd unable to get a seat in the courtroom jammed a downstairs auditorium to watch the arguments on a big-screen television, a boisterous group that cheered and jeered as though attending a high school basketball game.

But the stakes were evident in the courtroom, as the justices aired their first public views in a case they must decide within 90 days. Justices Marvin Baxter and Ming Chin, perhaps the court's most conservative members, seemed to have the deepest reservations about siding with civil rights groups and San Francisco city officials,

who argue that the ban violates the equal-protection rights of gay and lesbian couples seeking the power to wed.
But Baxter and Chin were also frequently joined by Justice Carol Corrigan, a moderate who expressed sympathy with the civil rights argument but had major concerns over tampering with the will of the voters. Corrigan indicated several times she may agree with the majority in the appeals court ruling. That court found the Legislature or voters should decide whether to change marriage laws, not judges.

"Our views on this topic are in the process of evolution," Corrigan said to Therese Stewart, San Francisco's chief deputy city attorney, who argued in favor of gay marriage. "There is substantial difference of opinion about what that evolution should look like. Who decides where we are in California in that evolution?" she asked. "Is it for the court to decide or the voters to decide?"



Ex-Alaska Governor's top aide to plead guilty
Legal News | 2008/03/05 05:26
A top aide to former Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski admitted on Monday to fraud as part of a wide-ranging corruption conspiracy that has ensnared several state politicians and implicated many of Alaska's top political figures.

Jim Clark, who was the former governor's chief of staff, agreed to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy fraud in a filing in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. He was scheduled to enter his plea at an arraignment hearing on Tuesday.

Clark admitted to taking $68,550 in illegal contributions from the state's largest oil-services company, VECO Corp, for Murkowski's failed 2006 reelection bid in exchange for working on VECO's behalf to secure an industry-friendly version of tax legislation, according to the plea agreement.

He is the first official from the Murkowski administration to be charged in a federal criminal investigation that has so far resulted in convictions of three former state lawmakers, the indictment of a fourth and guilty pleas from two top VECO executives and one former lobbyist.

Murkowski, who was also a former U.S. senator, was soundly defeated in the 2006 Republican primary by Sarah Palin, Alaska's current governor who ran as an anti-corruption reformer.

Clark and VECO conspired to hide the illegal contributions "in a manner so that the public would be deceived and the payments would not be disclosed, as required by law," according to charging documents.

The federal investigation centers around a revision of an oil-tax law that passed the state legislature in 2006 at Murkowski's urging. Bill Allen and Rick Smith, two former VECO executives, pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers for a pro-industry version of the bill and other favorable actions.

Former state Senate President Ben Stevens, son of powerful U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, received much of that bribe money, Allen and Smith testified in court last year.



Louisiana's new AG probes Foti's last-stand lawsuits
Legal News | 2008/03/04 21:50

FCC General Counsel Feder Leaves for Law Firm
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell could be ready to ditch some of the more "curious" cases he inherited from his predecessor.

Former attorney general Charles Foti, unseated by Caldwell last November, issued a flurry of lawsuits in his final days on the job, LNL reported last month. In two cases he teamed up with campaign-donor lawyers to file big class-action suits.

"There has been documented curious official behavior on the part of the previous AG's office that has not gone unnoticed," Caldwell stated in a report.

Another case left for Caldwell was against Foti, accusing the former AG of illegally contracting the same lawyers to represent Louisiana in another big lawsuit. Four law firms working on two of Foti's suits donated $13,500 to his unsuccessful re-election campaign last year, that report notes.

Attorneys from New Orleans firms Dugan Law Firm and Murray Law Firm - both of which gave Foti's campaign $5,000 - are listed as plaintiffs in two of the suits.

On the flip side, Foti has also been accused of violating state law by not gaining official approval to contract with private lawyers in a lawsuit against re-constructor Road Home. The case was filed by major insurers including State Farm.



Campton Hills pays $124,000 to lawyers
Legal News | 2008/03/03 20:42

Campton Hills leaders are attempting to catch up on the village's mounting legal bills.

Village board members Tuesday voted 4 to 0 to pay Chicago-area legal firm Arnstein & Lehr LLP nearly $124,000 for services dating from July to November. Trustees Bern Bertsche and Al Lenkaitis were absent.

While there is currently enough money in municipal coffers to square up the latest bill, Village Treasurer Kathy Catalano said officials might soon need to dig into contingency funds earmarked for budget overruns.

Legal expenses are expected to only mount as the village wages ongoing legal battles with several groups of property owners who are trying to detach their land from the new municipality.

The latest bill is in addition to a roughly $50,000 tab the village paid off around the beginning of the year.

"I'd prefer it wasn't that much," Village President Patsy Smith said Tuesday. "But that's the cost of starting a new village when you're being challenged legally."

Village Attorney Bill Braithwaite has said his firm attempted to help the village by delaying invoices until the municipality, which incorporated after a referendum last April, began receiving state-shared revenue.

Catalano said while "there have been some invoices lagging because of this," the money is finally arriving.

"We've got the ability to pay these bills," she said.

No one at Tuesday's meeting addressed when to expect legal bills from November through today or how much they will be.



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