Monday, January 31, 2011

Borders Group to delay payments to remain liquid

Borders Group announced on Sunday that it plans to delay paying some of its bills, which are due at the close of January, to help "maintain liquidity" while attempting to finish the restructuring of its debt.

Last week, Borders confirmed commitment for $550 million in financial assistance from General Electric Capital. The financing is subject to conditions that include securing $175 million from other lenders and resuming store closures.

The nation's second largest book chain laid off 45 employees, most of them at the company's headquarters. Last month, Borders delayed payments to publishers as it began seeking new financing. Compounding the situation, earlier this month the chain said payments would be delayed to "vendors, landlords and others."

Borders said in a statement on Sunday that the company "understands the impact of its decision on the affected parties, but ... is committed to working with its vendors and other business partners to achieve an outcome that is in the best interest of Borders and these parties for the long term."

Shedding light on the case is one St. Louis business attorney, "The company is taking some risky moves to become more financially solvent, which should provide a very interesting outcome."

The book chain has about 19,500 employees nationwide, mostly throughout 650 Borders and Waldenbooks stores. Borders has shown a loss of almost $800 million since 2006.

Bloomberg News reported that resources from GE does not factor out a possible bankruptcy reconstruction.

"They have a long way to go before seeing any major improvements" said a Salt Lake City business lawyer who is also following the case.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Expedited ruling expected in Virginia on challenge to health law

State legislatures are reviewing bills in consideration to undermine the nation's health overhaul. One Virginia court in particular is promising to expedite its consideration of a lower court ruling against a key provision of Obama's health care act. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit claimed it would accept and consider arguments between May 10 and May 13 in the Obama administration’s appeal of a ruling last month by the Judge of the Federal District Court in Richmond.

"This could be a groundbreaking decision," said one Charleston medical malpractice lawyer. "The result could have a profound impact on the healthcare climate as well as related insurance requirements."

The Judge ruled that Congress had stepped over the boundaries of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by demanding citizens to acquire commercial insurance. He allowed the law to remain in effect pending appeals, which will most likely end at the Supreme Court. Two other federal judges have upheld the insurance requirement, while a fourth judge, is expected to rule in the near future.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dispute among Ho family tragets stake in casino empire

A battle for control of one of the largest casino empires has resulted in tension among the family of ailing 89-year-old billionaire Stanley Ho.

Opposing members of the Ho family wrote letters contradicting and publicly accusing other members of the family of attempting to seize control of stake in SJM Holdings Ltd., the Hong Kong-listed operator of his prestigious Macau casinos. The total stake is approximated to be worth $1.7 billion.

Two of the most well known and powerful businesswomen in Asia are at the center of family feud. Mr. Ho has acknowledged 17 children from four different women, including one who died in 2004. Mr. Ho refers to his children's mothers as his wives, though it is unclear which—if any—of them are legally married to the gambling mogul. These four families form the core of the continuing fight.

Industry analyst claim the dispute is being prompted by resentment between wife No. 4 , Angela Leong, and Pansy Ho, one of five children from his second family. Ms. Leong carries an executive position in the family's flagship casino operation that was strengthened late last year when Mr. Ho gave her shares that boosted her stake to 8%, making her a top contender to control the casino business.

Pansy Ho, who is widely regarded as the head of the second family faction, is on the other side of the table. She has launched her own gambling franchise and is managing director of Shun Tak Holdings Ltd., the listed property and real-estate firm founded by her father. Pansy's siblings Daisy and Maisy hold executive positions at Shun Tak as well. Pansy's brother, Lawrence Ho, has set up a rival Macau casino. Together, those siblings form a block in the complicated holdings of Mr. Ho's empire.

Attorneys who claim they represent SJM Chairman Stanley Ho challenged the announcement of his succession plans, stating that certain family members "hijacked" his assets.

"This is classic, yet high profile case of poor estate administration planning" said one Harrisburg estate planning lawyer who has been following the case. "Unfortunately, when succession details are not clearly outlined, the result is typically in disputes." he adds.

Concerns over Mr. Ho's legacy started when he began feeling ill in August 2009, and shortly later, underwent brain surgery. He resigned from day-to-day management and began slowly targeting to whom portions of his Byzantine holdings would go to in his family.

Ms. Leong could end up with an even bigger stake and the upper hand in the casino, depending on which side wins. On the other hand, the children of the second wife, Lucina Laam, could have a larger and possibly controlling block in SJM. Macau law forbids holding more than one casino license, so it is unclear whether Pansy Ho wants to take the reins of her father's business.

An individual close to the family said Pansy aligned with Mr. Ho's third wife, Ina Chan, to counter Ms. Leong's rising power. In correspondence made public by his second and third families, Mr. Ho confirmed that he would provide a gift of his stake in his casino empire to his second and third families.

Monday's release of regulatory filings showed Mr. Ho had split his own SJM stake roughly in two, with slightly less than half going to the children of the woman he considers his second wife and the rest to the woman known as his third wife, leaving Mr. Ho with nearly nothing.

But in a surprising reversal, estate planning lawyers claiming to represent Mr. Ho later denied he had ever authorized the restructuring of his holding company and accused the second and third families of having "hijacked" his shares without his knowledge and threatened to sue his children to get them back. Instead of a two-way split, Mr. Ho said in a letter provided by lawyers at his law firm, Oldham, Li & Nie, that he always planned to share his part of the company in four equal segments among the families. "This has always been my intention and wish," Mr. Ho wrote in a letter dated Jan. 5 that was provided by the law firm, and addressed to Daisy Ho, a daughter from his second wife.

On Tuesday, representatives of families two and three released personal communications from Mr. Ho and his four families to prove their claim to a controlling stake in Lanceford Co., a vehicle that holds nearly one-third of Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, the company that controls SJM. The holders in the stake stand to benefit from a gambling boom in Macau, where revenue is expected to rise some 30% this year to about $35 billion, compared with $7 billion on the Las Vegas Strip.

Mr. Ho complained in a note to his daughter that she hadn't been returning his phone calls. "I have tried to call you and contact you and your secretary in order to come personally to explain to me what is going on. However, you have not responded so I have no other way but through this letter to command you to come to my house," he wrote.

Wednesday morning in Hong Kong, representatives of Mr. Ho's second and third wives released two letters. The first handwritten letter, saying that the tycoon was firing the law firm Oldham, Li & Nie and that the share transfer hadn't been made under any undue influence and that the divide of his empire was final.

"The recent stir over the Ho family has caused an uproar. I think it's time to put an end to this," he said in the note's message. "Family matters should not involve lawyers, and suing one another in the courts is troublesome! I also hope the media will not misunderstand. My health is very good, and there's no need for anyone to be concerned."

Mr. Ho claimed in an other statement that his decision to split the Lanceford stake was solely his: "Under no circumstances, did I receive any pressure or orders from anyone," the statement said.

Trading in SJM shares was suspended Tuesday. Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC gambling analyst Philip Tulk announced shares in SJM could drop when trading resumes. "Ever since I've been covering this company, the concern has been about Stanley's succession plan. Those worries seemed to be going away, but now they look like they could come back with a bang," Mr. Tulk said.

The verbal back and forth could develop into a protracted legal battle among members of the tycoon's family, said an estate planning lawyer specializing in probate and succession cases and a member of the Hong Kong Law Society's Probate Committee. "Any move at this stage can potentially unleash a chain of lawsuits. This is about a huge amount of money," he said.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Emanuel appeals ruling of being kicked of Chicago mayor ballot

Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Illinois. Rahm is requesting that the courts overturn a ruling that booted him off the ballot for Chicago mayor.

Emanuel's lawyers filed the appeal with the state's highest court on Tuesday (one day after an appeals court rejected his qualification) because Rahm was not a resident of Chicago for at least one year before the election.

One St. Louis corporate lawyer said that the outcome could take an interesting precedent and will yield a significant turn of events.

In the appeal, Rahm's commercial lawyer call the appeals court decision "one of the most far-reaching election law rulings ever" issued by a court in Illinois. They added that the ruling imposes "a new, significant limitation" on ballot access.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Recent study reveals merger claims to increase securities class actions

A recent study found that securities class-action lawsuits in the U.S. rose 4.8 percent last year, correlated by claims that businesses violated disclosure rules in mergers and acquisitions.

According to Cornerstone Research, which conducted the study with Stanford Law School’s Securities Class Action Clearinghouse, the cases include M&A claims involving companies like Novartis AG and Alcon Inc., BHP Billiton Ltd. and Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., Sanofi-Aventis SA and Genzyme Corp. Additional cases involved buyouts of J. Crew Group Inc. and Del Monte Foods Co.

Trends are cyclical and often driven by events, said Cornerstone’s senior vice president in Boston. This year, there were no new cases filed over Ponzi schemes or auction-rate securities, and suits deriving from the credit crunch continued to slide, according to the study released today.

“There’s always something new,” the VP said in an interview. Case filings have been driven by the 2001 collapse of Enron Corp. and more recently by the credit crisis or options backdating, he said. “M&A was the big one this year.”

According to the study, the amount of investor lawsuits filed claiming securities law violations in M&A's rose to 40 in 2010 from 7 in 2009.

A 20 percent increase in transactions of mergers and acquisitions is insufficient to explain the nearly six-fold rise in cases, one Stanford Law Professor said during an interview.

“The sharp increase in federal litigation alleging disclosure violations in M&A transactions suggests that plaintiffs’ lawyers are scrambling for new business as traditional fraud cases seem to be on the decline,” the director of the Stanford, California-based Clearinghouse, said in a statement. “That was the only explanation we were able to come up with,” he noted in the interview.

Cases of merger drove the total securities fraud lawsuits filed in U.S. federal courts to 176 last year from 168 in 2009, according to the study. Also according to the study, the 2010 level remains 9.7 percent below the annual average of 195 filings between 1997 and 2009.

"It is interesting to decipher these changing trends with respect to what drives companies to file such claims," stated one St. Louis corporate lawyer.

Traditional securities lawsuits, typically prompted by accounting restatements or stock drops following bad news, continued to fall, dropping to 135 in 2010, from 144 the year before, the researchers said.

According to Cornerstone, lawsuits brought on last year included claims against Toyota Motor Corp., Boston Scientific Corp., Motorola Inc., BP Plc, Pfizer Inc., and Transocean Ltd., to name a few.

The primary rate of these lawsuits is essentially at an all-time low, said a Nashville business lawyer who represents investors. He considered the trend to securities law and regulatory reform.

M&A litigation has a unique function from typical securities fraud claims, He added.

According to the study, investors also filed more securities lawsuits against Chinese companies in 2010, with these types of cases accounting for 43 percent of all filings against foreign issuers.

Rep. Giffords shooting case likely to take years

Law officials have begun a thorough investigation of Jared Loughner, including items seized from his home, surveillance video, and witness interviews, as they establish a case in his assassination attempt against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The case will likely take years to pan out as it evolves through the several stages of the criminal justice system: prosecutions by both federal and state authorities, proceedings over whether to move the case to a different venue, a possible insanity defense by Jared Loughner and prosecutors' likely push for the death penalty.

The current step is an arraignment scheduled this afternoon (Monday) in Phoenix for Loughner. He is accused of opening fire on a Rep. Giffords political event two weeks ago in a rampage that wounded 13 people and killed six others.

A recent court filing by the U.S. attorney for Arizona asked that the federal case be sent back to Tucson for all further hearings.

The motion said all the victims and witnesses live in the Tucson area and should not be burdened by having to make a four-hour round trip drive to Phoenix to attend court hearings. Local federal court rules also require that a crime that happens in the court's Tucson region should be tried there unless a court moves the case.

Jared Loughner is charged in a federal indictment with attempted assassination of a member of Congress and trying to kill two federal employees. Additional federal and state charges are expected.

The case was moved to Phoenix because one of the six dead, U.S. District Judge John Roll, was based in Tucson and federal judges there recused themselves. All the federal judges in the rest of the state soon joined them, and a San Diego-based judge is now assigned to the case.

Many investigators have noted that Loughner was mentally disturbed and acting increasingly erratic in the weeks leading up to the shooting. One Tuscon personal injury lawyer said that if he pleads not guilty by reason of insanity and is successful in doing so, he could avoid facing the death penalty and be sent to a mental health facility rather than prison.

Arizona's former U.S. attorney from 2001 to 2007 (who is not involved in the Loughner case) believes Jared will likely follow through with an insanity defense.

"I do not see a lot of other viable defenses," said a Tucson lawyer who has practiced criminal defense in federal court for 30 years. "It appears the actual guilt or innocent of the shooting will not be difficult to prove, and his pre-shooting behavior seems to be a history of erratic behavior - issues of pre-existing mental illness."

The court would have to decide whether Loughner is mentally competent to stand trial, before the case even gets to trial. If he is not, Jared would be sent to a federal facility for a minimum of four months to see if they can restore his competency. It could potentially be up to two-months before officials get him into one of those facilities.

"It could take a year, it could take a year and a half. It could take longer," said the first assistant federal public defender in Arizona, regarding of the time it may take to bring the case to trial.

The fact that the investigation is relatively simple is one area that will help drive the case. While other high-profile investigations have required a lengthy process to chase down leads, authorities have said Loughner acted independently. Several people witnessed the shooting and surveillance captured it on tape.

The officials investigating the case say they have also retained writings from Loughner in which he used words like "I planned ahead," and "My assassination."

Jared Loughner will face two different cases at the federal and state level. The federal charges will entail the killing and attempted killings of U.S. government employees such as the judge and Giffords. The state case will deal with the other victims. Federal prosecutors are taking action first, as the state charges have yet to be filed.

The Pima County attorney has the discretion to decide whether to apply the death penalty against Loughner in the state case, while the federal decision on whether or not to seek the death penalty rests with Arizona U.S. Attorney and Attorney General. Prosecutors have not mentioned whether they would pursue the death penalty, but officials say all signs point toward the latter.

Whether or not the case pans out in Arizona is questionable. First, the case was transferred to Phoenix from Tucson after all federal judges there recused themselves because their co-worker was a victim, although the recent filing shows that the government wants it sent back. Next, Tuscon litigation defense lawyers could ask that the case be moved out of Arizona by arguing that overwhelming negative publicity would make it impossible for Loughner to get a fair trial.

Investigators foresee the trial to eventually be moved out of Arizona, because of people's connections to key individuals.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Meijer seeks settlement with insurance providers

After a court battle that revealed some of Meijer's secret payouts to Acme government officials, the Grand Rapids-based retailer has settled a lawsuit with its insurance providers.

Meijer solidified a settlement with American Home Assurance Co. out of New York - a company that sued in the summer of 2010. American Home Assurance said it was not responsible for more than $2.2 million of the $4.4 million in payments Meijer made to Acme officials that derived the retailer's illegal campaigning in Acme.

Insurance lawyers from both sides told the court judge that they need 30 days to finalize a mediation deal. The attorneys also declined to comment on any specifics of the settlement.

"The settlement is about as confidential as it can get" said one Oklahoma City insurance lawyer who has been tracking Meijer's legal issues from the beginning.

Last year, Meijer's top lawyers had mistakenly revealed the settlement amounts paid to Acme officials. The exposed legal documents revealed that Meijer paid the former Acme treasurer $2 million and another Acme supervisor $700,000.

New York's American Home argued that it was not responsible to pay for Meijer's public, $1.5 million settlement with five Acme commissioners and trustees because the retailer publicized "known false information" about the officials, failed to offer information about the lawsuit, and did not utilize it underlying coverage held by another entity.

As a response, Meijer counter-sued American Home Assurance as well as its insurance broker (Marsh U.S.A. Inc.)

"Meijer's legal disputes are panning out to be an interesting turn of events" said a Tucson insurance defense lawyer who is following the case.

The insurance claim dispute effectively resolved two lengthy mysteries in Meijer-Acme story: the 2007 legal settlement with the former Acme treasurer and the subsequent unannounced deal with the Acme supervisor.

Meijer later paid out $190,000 due to civil fines for violating State campaign finance regulations. The county prosecuting attorney awaits a state Supreme Court decision to see if he can prosecute unidentified individuals at Meijer who allowed the illegal activity.