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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eBay Settles Patent Dispute With MercExchange

Topics in Legal News 2008/02/28 11:17   Bookmark and Share

eBay has agreed to settle a patent dispute with MercExchange. The online auction company told investors Thursday it would buy MercExchange's patents and MercExchange would dismiss all claims and appeals regarding a lawsuit it filed seven years ago.

"We're pleased to have been able to reach a settlement with MercExchange," Mike Jacobson, eBay senior VP and general counsel, said in a prepared statement. "In addition to resolving the litigation, this settlement gives us access to additional intellectual property that will help improve and further secure our marketplaces."

MercExchange claimed credit for eBay's fixed price auction options through eBay's "Buy It Now" feature, saying the online auction infringed on three of its patents. According to records from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, MercExchange filed for the patents in 1995, 1999, and 2001.

eBay tried to fight a judgment that would have cost the company about $30 million. The case went up and back down the U.S. court system. In December of 2007, a U.S. District Court ruling concluded in December that the court lacked authority to consider eBay's motion for summary judgment.

eBay claimed then that it did not infringe on MercExchange's '265 patents and that it owed no damages.

eBay said it will buy three patents, related technology and inventions, as well as a license to a search patent portfolio that is separate from the lawsuit.

The companies did not disclose other settlement terms, which eBay said are confidential. eBay said the settlement should not affect its 2007 results or 2008 financial guidance from January's fourth quarter earnings release.

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Court Denies Altria Motions To Dimiss Claims

Topics in Legal News 2008/02/27 13:57   Bookmark and Share

The law firm of Broach & Stulberg LLP said the U.S. District Court denied Altria Group Inc.'s (MO) motions to dismiss an age discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by a former Swiss-based employee against Altria and Philip Morris International Inc.

The motions sought to dismiss the claims on the ground that the U.S. court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the plaintiff, D'Arcy Quinn, was employed by a "foreign" employer not subject to the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Judge Laura Taylor Swain ruled that Altria "failed to raise a meritorious issue as to lack of subject matter jurisdiction."

The suit alleges that firing, hirings and promotions within Philip Morris illegally considered ages of candidates and employees.

The suit was filed in October in the U.S. District Court for the Southern district of New York on behalf Quinn, a former Philip Morris brand integrity director who served as in-house counsel for international anti-counterfeiting and anti-smuggling matters.

An Altria spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment.

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A Law Firm Puts Its Chefs on Trial

Topics in Legal News 2008/02/25 13:58   Bookmark and Share

Big-time lawyers are pros at waiting for judges' tough decisions, but yesterday afternoon at Nixon Peabody in the District, some may have posted fewer billable hours until results of the firm's 19th annual cook-off were handed down.

The competition pits men against women, which could lead to actionable territory and dangerous stereotyping. Yet, it has helped build camaraderie among all departments, firm employees say, pointing to Nixon Peabody's ranking among Fortune magazine Top 100 Best Companies to Work For, three years running. Still, the trash talk leading up to the cook-off can start two months in advance, when planning meetings and team captains are chosen. Attempts have been made in past years to choose sides differently -- by floor, say, instead of along gender lines. Those negotiations have failed.

Some companies set up tennis or golf tournaments, which can draw more male than female employees. Nixon Peabody's cook-off turns out to attract partners and paralegals alike and is even more popular than the bocce tournaments it has held in the summer.

Not all the women in the firm, which has 216 employees in its Washington office and about 1,725 nationwide, agree on the event's attractions. Women's team co-captain and associate Emily Hargrove, 30, says that although more women than men participate, she still ran into plenty of resistance from women in the firm who said they don't cook; they just make reservations.

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Former partner suing Dorsey & Whitney law firm

Topics in Legal News 2008/02/25 13:56   Bookmark and Share

A former partner in the New York office of Dorsey & Whitney is suing the Minneapolis-based law firm, claiming gender discrimination and violations of the whistleblower act, among other things.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Gary Larson heard an hour of arguments Tuesday on the Dorsey firm's motion to dismiss Kristan Peters' suit.

Peters began working as a Dorsey partner in January 2007 and left on June 23. At the core of the case is her handling of a trade secrets dispute on behalf of Wolters Kluwer Financial Services in New York. The matter drew media attention in trade publications, largely because of U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer Jr.'s 129-page opinion criticizing Peters' behavior.

According to R. Scott Davies of Briggs and Morgan, who is representing Dorsey, Baier scolded Peters 22 times for her handling of the case. Davies said Peters played fast and loose with the litigation, lied to the court and misrepresented circumstances to the firm's partners.

Peters' lawyer James Kaster countered that the judge's behavior, not Peters', was unusual. The behavior Baer disliked -- such as scheduling a 7-hour deposition over two days and refusing to give bathroom breaks -- is not unusual, Kaster said.

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Supreme Court to hear car search, tribal land cases

Topics in Legal News 2008/02/25 11:22   Bookmark and Share
The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear three cases, including Arizona v. Gant (07-542) where the Court will consider whether "the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement officers to demonstrate a threat to their safety or a need to preserve evidence related to the crime of arrest in order to justify a warrantless vehicular search incident to arrest conducted after the vehicle's recent occupants have been arrested and secured?" Arizona is appealing an Arizona Supreme Court ruling that Rodney Joseph Gant's constitutional rights were violated when police searched his car after he was handcuffed and seated in a police car.

http://www.supremecourtus.gov
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