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U.S. treasure firm ordered to identify disputed wreck
Legal Watch | 2008/03/07 16:55
A U.S. judge ordered a Florida treasure-hunting company on Thursday to disclose the identity of a disputed shipwreck and dismissed some of its claims against Spain in a legal wrangle over a $500 million haul of silver and gold.

Odyssey Marine Exploration and Spain have been arguing over the treasure since the trove was found last year at an undisclosed location in the Atlantic Ocean.

U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday ruled on Thursday that Odyssey's lawsuit claiming rights to the treasure could go forward provided the company promptly identifies the wreck for Spain, or gives its "best available hypothesis" of the identity.

At a court hearing on Wednesday, the company's lawyers said Odyssey did not know for certain the name or nationality of the wreck, from which the company recovered some 17 tonnes of silver coins and gold.

"We want to know the identity of this vessel, and what this ruling is saying is 'It's not an answer to say we haven't decided for sure,'" said lawyer James Goold, who is representing Spain.

Merryday ruled that parts of Odyssey's lawsuit could go forward through the courts, including claims for possession and ownership of the wreck and the artifacts.

But he sided with Spain on several other elements of the suit, dismissing Odyssey's claims for monetary damages from Spain and a request for an injunction to "secure the integrity of the recovery operation against interference from a third party."

The two sides have been at odds since Odyssey announced last May that it had found half a million silver coins and other artifacts. It said the wreck, which it code-named "Black Swan," was discovered in the Atlantic Ocean outside any country's territorial waters.

The dispute turned ugly when Spanish warships twice intercepted the company's treasure hunting ships after they left the British territory of Gibraltar and escorted them to Spanish ports.



Court of Appeals weighs scope of extortion law
Legal Watch | 2008/03/06 19:26

A lawyer for the state came under sharp attack from several Court of Appeals judges when he urged them to reinstate the extortion conviction of a man who sent expletive-laden letters to a former boss and his attorney, threatening to sue them unless they paid him $100,000.

Assistant Attorney General Brian S. Kleinbord said Scott L. Rendelman’s letters constituted extortion because the grounds for his threatened lawsuit were “baseless” and the written messages were a “threat to obtain something of value to which [he] is not otherwise entitled.”

A Montgomery County jury had convicted Rendelman of trying to extort money from William Elmhirst and attorney Kevin P. Fay, but the Court of Special Appeals threw out the conviction, saying that a threat to sue, unlike a threat of bodily harm, is not evidence of extortion.

Three of the seven judges hearing the matter on Thursday — retired Judges Alan M. Wilner, Lawrence F. Rodowsky and Dale R. Cathell — echoed that reasoning.

Click to download the Webcast of the State of Maryland v. Scott L. Rendelman

Extending the crime of extortion to include threats of litigation might discourage individuals and their lawyers from validly informing an opponent that they might file suit, lest they find themselves in criminal court, the judges said.

By contrast, all seven were largely silent as Rendelman’s lawyer, Karen C. Daly of Washington, said prosecutors go too far when they charge with extortion a person proclaiming his or her legal right to sue – even if vulgarly expressed.



Gault Pleads Guilty; Facing 50 Years In Prison
Legal Watch | 2008/03/06 12:03

A former dog trainer who was accused of hiding a runaway girl in his West Harford home for nearly a year pleaded guilty Wednesday in Superior Court in Hartford to eight felony charges which are expected to net him a lengthy stay in prison.

Adam Gault, 41, entered guilty pleas to two counts of first-degree kidnapping, four counts of second-degree sexual assault, risk of injury to a minor and conspiracy to commit first-degree kidnapping.

Assistant State's Attorney David Zagaja said the state is recommending a 50-year prison term for Gault, which would be suspended after 30 years incarceration. He would then spend 20 years on probation.

Sentencing was set for May 19. If he had chosen to go to trial, he would have faced a maximum of 160 years.

Judge David Gold told the defendant he was considering imposing 50 years, suspended after 25 years, but that he would consider increasing the term at the time of sentencing after getting a pre-sentence report.

Gold gave Gault the option of accepting a higher sentence, or withdrawing his guilty plea at that time.

Gault was found competent to stand trial in February. He had faced nearly 40 charges. The bulk of the charges, including kidnapping, unlawful restraint, risk of injury to a minor, reckless endangerment and sexual assault, were in connection with the Bloomfield teenager who was found in his home. The girl, who was 14 when she disappeared is now 16.

A second complaint brought by a second woman was lodged subsequent to his arrest.

At Wednesday's 90-minute hearing, Gault appeared clean-shaven, with a short-cropped hair. On several occasions, when the judge asked him how he pleaded, he responded with "I'm guilty"

His other responses were limited to "Yes sir" or "no sir."

Marc Needelman, the attorney who represents the family of the 14-year-old, said he expected his clients to appear at Gault's sentencing and also make recommendations for appropriate sentences against his co-defendants, Ann Murphy and Kimberly Cray.

Gold said they would attempt to accommodate the family by having the two women appear that day.

Gault, who lived on Newington Road in West Hartford, was arrested last June when Bloomfield and West Hartford police discovered the teenager, who had been reported missing for almost a year, in a locked storage closet behind a dresser in his home.

Gault and the girl's mother and stepfather, who operate a dog day care and kennel in Bloomfield, knew each other professionally. The girl had worked for Gault in his dog training business.

The police were executing a search warrant for Gault's house and his DNA on June 6 when they came across the locked, hidden storage space and found the girl inside. At the time, investigators believed they were searching for evidence linking Gault to the girl's disappearance and possible demise.

According to court documents, DNA testing on a fetus that the victim aborted in May showed Gault impregnated the girl.



US Court Denies Injunction Sought by Verigy
Legal Watch | 2008/03/05 20:28
Chip testing equipment maker Verigy Ltd. said Wednesday that a U.S. district court has granted a preliminary injunction preventing Silicon Test Systems Inc. from selling its integrated circuit product for the next five months.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern California District of California, San Jose Division, issued its ruling on Friday. The preliminary injunction prevents the defendants from selling, licensing, distributing, transferring or marketing Flash Enhancer and any product based on Flash Enhancer.

According to Verigy, the court found that Flash Enhancer "is substantially based upon Verigy's trade secrets."

Verigy said defendant Romi Mayder was employed by the company until September 2006 and began developing an integrated circuit product for a new business venture while still employed by Verigy. Mayder's brother, Wesley Mayder, is also named as a defendant.

In a phone interview, Romi Mayder noted that the judge denied the absolute injunction that Verigy sought. Mayder said the information used to develop his product was publicly available and that his use of it amounted to a "five-month head start."

Verigy sued the defendants in August 2007 for breach of contract, trade secret misappropriation, statutory and common law unfair competition and other charges.

The court issued a temporary restraining order against the defendants on Aug. 24, which was still in effect when the preliminary injunction was issued.



Judge Wants Shipwreck Evidence Worked On
Legal Watch | 2008/03/05 18:01
A judge wants Florida shipwreck explorers and the Spanish government to settle their differences over sharing evidence related to an estimated $500 million in treasure the company recovered last year.

In Tampa, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo told lawyers for Odyssey Marine Exploration and Spain to agree by Friday _ or he will be forced to intervene.

Spain believes it has a claim to the 17 tons of colonial-era coins Odyssey raised from an Atlantic Ocean shipwreck. But Odyssey has kept most details of the find secret to protect the site from competitors.

The two sides bickered in a hearing Wednesday over whether Tampa-based Odyssey has handed over sufficient information about the wreck site and treasure for Spain to determine the extent of a possible claim.



Judge accepts plea deal in Cody Warren's death
Legal Watch | 2008/03/04 22:21
A military judge has accepted the guilty plea from the Marine accused of killing Lance Cpl. Kristopher Cody Warren in Iraq in 2006.

Cpl. Douglas Michael Sullivan, 23, pleaded guilty Tuesday to involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of the 19-year-old Gordon County native who had been deployed to Iraq with his Marine Reserve unit.

Robin Patterson, Warren’s mother, told the Calhoun Times earlier that she was “absolutely appalled” when she learned of the plea agreement last month.

Patterson planned to go to California for Sullivan’s court martial and is expected to testify during the sentencing phase.

Warren graduated from Gordon Central High School in 2005 and joined the Marine Reserves.

Sullivan said that he accidently shot Warren while improperly handling a weapon at Forward Operating base Trebil, near Fallujah, Iraq.



Yanez beats Criss in Texas Supreme Court primary
Legal Watch | 2008/03/03 20:31
South Texas appellate Judge Linda Reyna Yanez will be the next Democrat trying to win a seat on the GOP-dominated Texas Supreme Court.

Yanez won the high civil court's Place 8 Democratic primary Wednesday over Galveston Judge Susan Criss. Yanez is a judge in the state's Thirteenth Court of Appeals.

Criss lost despite the visibility she earned presiding over recent high-profile cases like the civil lawsuits filed in wake of the deadly 2005 BP refinery explosion in Texas City.



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