New hearings sought in Chicago police torture case

Legal Insight 2011/08/10 08:57   Bookmark and Share
Fifteen incarcerated men who claim they were sent to prison by confessions that were beaten, burned and tortured out of them by convicted Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge and his officers are getting some high-profile help — including from a former Illinois governor.

In a friend-of-the-court brief to be filed Wednesday with the Illinois Supreme Court, ex-Gov. Jim Thompson and more than 60 current and former prosecutors, judges and lawmakers are asking for new evidentiary hearings for inmates who say their convictions were based on coerced confessions.

The brief marks the first effort on behalf of alleged Burge victims as a group and not separate individual cases, attorneys said.

Burge's name has become synonymous with police abuse in the nation's third-largest city, and more than 100 men — most of them African-American and Latino— have alleged Burge and his men tortured them from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Burge was convicted last year of lying about whether he ever witnessed or participated in the torture of suspects. He's serving a 4 1/2-year sentence at Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.

Burge never has faced criminal charges for abuse. He was fired from the police department in 1993 over the 1982 beating and burning of Andrew Wilson, a suspect later convicted of killing two police officers.

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Toyota class action suit to start with Utah case

Legal Insight 2011/06/10 09:48   Bookmark and Share
The first lawsuit to go to trial in a massive class action against Toyota Motor Corp. over acceleration problems that led the company to recall 14 million cars will involve a crash that killed two people in western Utah, a federal judge said Friday.

U.S. District Judge James Selna told attorneys the case of 38-year-old Charlene Jones Lloyd and 66-year-old Paul Van Alfen, whose Toyota Camry slammed into a wall in Utah in 2010, is scheduled to go to trial in February 2013.

The case — Van Alfen v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. — will be the first of several bellwether lawsuits, intended to determine how the rest of the litigation will proceed.

Selna wrote in a tentative order that he hoped the selection would "markedly advance these proceedings."

"The Court believes that selection of a personal injury/wrongful death case is most likely the type of case to meet that goal," Selna said.

Toyota said it welcomes the Utah case as the first suit to reach court.

"We are pleased that the initial bellwether will address plaintiffs' central allegation of an unnamed, unproven defect in Toyota vehicles, as every claim in the multi-district litigation rests upon this pivotal technical issue," the company said in a statement.

Toyota has previously argued the plaintiffs have been unable to prove that a design defect in its electronic throttle control system is responsible for vehicles surging unexpectedly. It has instead blamed driver error, faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals.


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Court hears arguments in Microsoft patent case

Legal Insight 2011/04/18 08:36   Bookmark and Share

The Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments from Microsoft Corp. asking it to overturn a $290 million patent infringement judgment against the world's largest software maker, a ruling that could have a profound effect on how corporations protect and profit from their future inventions.

An eight-justice court on Monday heard arguments from the Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, which wants the multimillion dollar judgment against it erased because it claims a judge used the wrong standard.

Business groups are closely watching this case. The U.S. government made more than $64 billion off of international licensing and royalties from patents in 2009, with an expected growth rate of 15 percent a year. A ruling for Microsoft could make companies less likely to invest in new inventions, but a ruling for i4i, the company which brought the lawsuit against Microsoft, could make it harder for large corporations to fight off such challenges.

The cost of fighting off a patent lawsuit could be as much as $4 million per defendant, companies say.

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Follow the Leader, Distantly

Legal Insight 2010/09/02 21:32   Bookmark and Share
Driving home yesterday afternoon, I was inspired to analogize safe driving practices with prudent business development.  Specifically, I likened good business judgment to following vehicles at a safe distance.  Just as following the next car too closely can result in accidents, mimicking a perceived leader in business can produce calamitous business results.

My analogy is paradoxical.  Being “safe” in business by putting distance between yourself and another leading competitor doesn’t seem very smart.  Intuitively, shouldn’t we be a tailgater, if for no other reason than to prepare to pass our competitor?  Yes, tailgating is risky, but calculated risk is what successful business is all about.

In my view, tailgating is stupid, both on the road and off.  It’s inappropriate and unnecessary risk.  The better risk is trailing at a safe distance. Although beating your competitor at his (or her) own game becomes more difficult, differentiating yourself becomes easier.  In being different, a business can both avoid repeating competitors’ mistakes and, perhaps more importantly, gain the broader market perspective required for novel (or at least rare) insight about better paths to trod.  In street parlance, you can avoid the pile up if you’re not part of it, maybe even spotting a detour with the extra time you’ve afforded yourself.
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Divorce Lawyers' Role May be Changing

Legal Insight 2010/09/01 21:31   Bookmark and Share
Pro se representation in divorce cases is popular.  Probably half of everyone getting divorced today will choose to represent themselves.  Money may seem like the obvious reason, because attorneys are expensive.  Then again, cost is not as important if our help is indispensible, or even greatly needed.  So what value can attorneys offer the twenty-first century pro se crowd?

It may help to examine the several factors which explain the current trend toward self-representation.  As I said, money is obviously is motivating factor, but then there’s the Internet, instant communication between friends and colleagues, the sinking repute of lawyers, and the lower birth rate.  I submit that all these factors – and there are others no doubt – combine to explain why pro se representation is increasingly popular.

A recent
empirical study by Judith G McMullen and Debra Oswald corroborates my suggestions.  Their study concludes that people prefer self-representation for a variety of reasons, both financial and physiological.  Not surprisingly, those with the most to lose are most likely to seek counsel.  The study also suggests that, in general, people are adept at knowing when they need counsel.  As for the value of counsel, the study was largely inconclusive.

The wisdom of self-representation is debatable – at least in some cases – as is the definition of a “successful” divorce.  More certain is that self-representation in divorce cases will remain popular, if only because some people will never be able to pay even modest fees for legal counsel.  From a business perspective, then, the pro se trend is not necessarily lost opportunity.

On the other hand, I wonder whether, among all cases of self-representation, serious business opportunities exist.  Certainly some people choosing self-representation could afford counsel.  To the extend such people view attorneys as just another (expensive) poker in the fire, those attorneys with adaptable styles of representation may be able to win additional business.

There is some suggestion that traditional legal services actually lengthen divorce contests, and that attorneys may, at best, contribute nothing of value to non-adversarial methods of dispute resolution.  To be known as an attorney who reduces conflict while preserving what is most important to most people – getting through the divorce quickly while minimizing collateral damage – may be the go-to divorce attorney of the new century.

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