Judge Wants Shipwreck Evidence Worked On

Topics in Legal News 2008/03/05 04:18   Bookmark and Share
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.

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Lawsuit Dropped in Pain Doctor Case

Topics in Legal News 2008/03/04 14:21   Bookmark and Share
A patient-advocacy group is dropping its lawsuit over the prosecution of a doctor accused of running a "pill mill" linked to 56 overdose deaths, just days after a stinging rebuke from a federal judge.

The Pain Relief Network had attempted to intervene to keep Dr. Stephen Schneider's clinic open. It claimed the clinic's 1,000 patients have been unable to find adequate care since Schneider's license was suspended in January.

But a judge refused Friday to grant a request by the advocacy group for a temporary restraining order preventing the Justice Department from taking action against Schneider's clinic.

On Tuesday, the group filed a voluntary motion for dismissal without prejudice of its civil lawsuit against the Department of Justice and the state of Kansas.

If U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown agrees to dismiss the action without prejudice, it could be refiled later.

The Pain Relief Network said in its motion it was seeking the dismissal "after reviewing the current posture of the case."

Schneider, who is jailed without bond, faces 34 federal charges, including four counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death. He has vehemently proclaimed his innocence.

The Pain Relief Network filed the civil suit on behalf of Schneider's patients.

At the earlier hearing, Brown told a room crowded with about 40 of Schneider's patients, some of them on crutches, that if they needed care they should go to the emergency room, not the court.

In its lawsuit, the Pain Relief Network challenged the constitutionality of the Controlled Substances Act, arguing that it allows the federal government to improperly intrude in the physician-patient relationship.

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Ciolli Sues Yale Law Students in AutoAdmit Scandal

Topics in Legal News 2008/03/04 14:06   Bookmark and Share
Penn Law grad Anthony Ciolli — the former administrator of AutoAdmit who was named in a lawsuit filed in June by two Yale Law students against anonymous posters on the law-school discussion board and then subsequently dropped from the suit — is now returning fire. For backstory, click here, here and here.

In this complaint, which was filed today in state court in Philadelphia, Ciolli is suing the two Yale students as well as their lawyers, on eight counts, including abuse of process, libel, publicity placing plaintiff in a false light and tortious interference with contract. This fall, after being named in the original suit by the Yale women and accused of running a website called T14 Talent (now shuttered), which ranked women at the top 14 law schools based on their looks, Ciolli subsequently lost an offer for a full-time associate job at Boston firm Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge.

In defending the action filed against him, Ciolli was represented by Marc Randazza. But this complaint is signed by Mark Jakubik.

We’ve reached out to Mark Lemley, a named defendant and the lawyer for the two women, as well as the other individuals named in the suit. We’ll let you know if we hear back.

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Lawyer in Bribery Case Says Witness Lied

Topics in Legal News 2008/03/03 19:22   Bookmark and Share
A key government witness lied to the grand jury that indicted several attorneys on charges they conspired to bribe a state judge, one of the accused lawyers said in court papers filed Monday.

Zach Scruggs, an attorney whose well-known father and law partner also face bribery charges in the case, is asking a federal judge to dismiss his indictment due to alleged government misconduct.

Scruggs' lawyers say grand jurors heard false and misleading testimony from an FBI agent and from former attorney Timothy Balducci, who has already pleaded guilty to conspiring with Scruggs and others to bribe state Circuit Judge Henry Lackey.

Scruggs' indictment is a product of their "patently false and misleading" testimony, his lawyers argue.

"It has been clear since the filing of this indictment that the government has no credible evidence that (Zach Scruggs) knowingly participated in any scheme to bribe a judge," the defense lawyers wrote.

U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee didn't immediately return a call for comment Monday. Balducci has represented himself in the criminal matter. His office number has been disconnected.

A trial for Scruggs; his father, prominent plaintiffs lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs; and fellow Scruggs Law Firm attorney Sidney Backstrom, is scheduled to start March 31 in Oxford.

Richard Scruggs, a brother-in-law of former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., made tens of millions of dollars from tobacco and asbestos litigation. His role in a landmark settlement with tobacco companies was depicted in the 1999 film "The Insider," starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. rejected a different motion by the three defendants to dismiss the charges based on the government's "outrageous conduct." However, Zach Scruggs' attorneys didn't see transcripts of grand jury proceedings until last week.

Zach Scruggs claims the transcripts, when compared to wiretap evidence, show Balducci lied to the grand jury and mischaracterized Scruggs' knowledge of and participation in the alleged conspiracy.

Prosecutors say Balducci was acting on Richard Scruggs' behalf when he allegedly tried to bribe Lackey for a favorable ruling in a dispute with other lawyers over $26.5 million in fees from a mass settlement of Hurricane Katrina insurance lawsuits.

The FBI arrested Balducci Nov. 1 and sent him into the Scruggs Law Firm wearing a body wire. Balducci later testified that he met with Zach Scruggs and Backstrom that day and told them Lackey wanted $10,000 for the favorable ruling.

However, Zach Scruggs' lawyers say a recording of that Nov. 1 conversation shows that Balducci used confusing, coded language while their client "only participated in an ordinary conversation about how a judge's order reads."

Zach Scruggs' lawyers also accuse FBI Special Agent William Delaney of giving grand jurors a misleading account of taped conversations between the suspects in the case.

"The Government seeks to convict (Scruggs) on coded words uttered after he is disengaged from a conversation and on actions perceived through a presumptuous lens; yet they indicted a man relying on testimony they knew was facially false and wholly inaccurate," they wrote.

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Supreme Court May Re-examine What Is "Indecent"

Topics in Legal News 2008/03/03 19:21   Bookmark and Share

This week, after more than 30 years, the Supreme Court may reopen the debate over what constitutes an "indecent" broadcast. The issue before the court is the usually accidental, so-called "fleeting expletive" that sneaks into an over-the-air broadcast, such as Bono's "This is really, really f---ing brilliant" comment at the 2003 Golden Globes, which was broadcast on NBC.

After receiving complaints from viewers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved to crack down on broadcasters who air "isolated or fleeting expletives" during daytime and early evening hours. Last year, Fox and other television networks sued to block the new policy, and an appeals court in New York put it on hold. Now, the FCC is asking the Supreme court to clear the way for the crackdown to be enforced. The justices may act on the agency's appeal as soon as today, and if they vote to hear FCC vs. Fox TV, arguments will be heard in the fall, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The appellate judges in New York felt that the FCC's new policy was arbitrary and vague, as it does not specify that all expletives will trigger fines regardless of the circumstances. At the same time, the appellate judges hinted that a true ban on all broadcast expletives would violate the 1st Amendment's free-speech guarantee. At the same time, broadcasters have said they have no desire to air expletives, but they're just trying to make sure that when an unscripted expletive is used - most often by a celebrity who is not a network employee - it does not result in a large fine. To help monitor the situation, broadcasters have instituted five-second delays on awards shows and some other live programming, but an occasional expletive can still slip through.

"It's like the Maytag repairman," said Rick Cotton, general counsel for NBC Universal, according to the LA Times. "You're expecting that after sitting in front of a console for literally thousands of hours that at a particular moment, on a completely unexpected basis, a person will hear it and will react in time."

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Court may opt to pay fees from Bible suit

Topics in Legal News 2008/03/03 11:28   Bookmark and Share

Harris County Commissioners Court will decide today whether it will pay about $400,000 in legal fees to a woman who sued to have a Bible removed from a monument near the downtown civil courthouse.

All but about $40,000 in fees were incurred after the county appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Harris County officials have been poor stewards of taxpayers' money," said Randall Kallinen, lawyer for Kay Staley, a real estate agent and lawyer who sued to have the Bible removed. "They knew displaying the Bible was unconstitutional, and they continued fighting for political reasons."

County Attorney Mike Stafford said the county appealed the case because officials believed that there was a constitutional question about whether a Bible could be part of a display honoring a person.

"You can't just look at what the trial court does and give up," he said.

The court is scheduled to discuss possible payment of the legal fees in executive session.

In 1956, the county gave Star of Hope mission permission to erect the monument with a Bible displayed in it to honor a key benefactor, William Mosher. The monument was near the entrance of the then-Civil Courts Building on Fannin.

Four years ago, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake ruled that the display violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which prohibits governments from endorsing or inhibiting a religion. Lake ruled the display promoted Christianity, and the Bible was taken out.

The case could have ended a year ago when the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declared the case moot after the county moved the monument while the Civil Courts Building was restored. But the county appealed to the Supreme Court.

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