Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wal-Mart Suit Reveals Gender Gap at Supreme Court

Amidst a U.S. Supreme Court discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc., a gender gap dispute resulted between the court’s three female justices and their male colleagues.

Among the three female Supreme Court justices were Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. All had voiced their support for the class-action lawsuit, which claims women employees across the country were victimized by the retail giant’s permittance of allowing local store managers make subjective decisions regarding promotions and compensation. The case marks the first gender-bias suit the Supreme Court has considered with three women on the bench.

The powerful three-some jumped at the lead by questioning Theodore Boutrous, one of Wal-Mart’s top attorneys. Ginsburg mentioned how corporate decision-makers have a tendency to acquire personnel like themselves, while Justice Sotomayor argued the use of statistical analysis in discrimination cases. The newest justice, Elena Kagan, thought otherwise when Boutrous claimed the workers’ case was based on an “incoherent theory.”

“I guess I’m just a little bit confused as to why excessive subjectivity is not a policy that can be alleged” said Kagan, as the basis of a job-discrimination suit.

The questioning brought on by the three women justices did not sit well with Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, who acknowledged whether the victimized women had pointed to a corporate policy that violated their rights under the main federal job-bias law, known as Title VII. The justices are evaluating whether the mass of female employees of Wal-Mart have enough in common to establish a legitimate nationwide suit against the retailer.

Justice Scalia said Wal-Mart established an “announced policy against sex discrimination” and showed signs of disbelief when the attorney representing the victimized women argued that the truth behind the policy was just the opposite.

“Do you think you’ve adequately shown that that policy is a fraud and that what’s really going on is that there is a central policy that promotes discrimination against women?” Justice Scalia said.

Ruth Ginsburg made it clear that she took a different perspective with respect to the pervasiveness of gender bias in the workplace. Ginsburg, who was a prominent anti-discrimination advocate before she became a judge, compared the suit to a successful case in the 1970s against American Telephone and Telegraph Co. over the application of a “total person” test to make promotion decisions.

“The idea wasn’t at all complicated,” Ginsburg said. “It was that most people prefer themselves and so a decision-maker, all other things being equal, would prefer someone that looked like him.”

Injecting during the trial over a dozen times, Sotomayor remained focused on technical questions, suggesting a middle ground that would allow a more narrow class action to go forward.

She counter-argued Boutrous when he made the claim that the plaintiffs hadn’t shown a common pattern of lower pay for women on a nationwide basis. Sotomayor made the argument that the plaintiffs’ expert witness had concluded that the compensation discrepancy between men and women at Wal-Mart stores was much higher than at 10 of its competitors.

The lone male justice, Justice Stephen Breyer, hinted at his agreement with his female colleagues. His opinion aligned with Sotomayor's when she asked Boutrous why the justices couldn’t at least allow a limited class action seeking an injunction against the company.

"The trial has been an entertaining case that should yield a very interesting and potentially ground-breaking outcome." said observing attorney from one of the top law firms in New York.

The case may divide the court along familiar lines, leaving those four justices in dissent.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Barnes & Noble and two manufacturers are being sued by Microsoft over the Android-based Nook e-reader. Microsoft said it is seeking triple damages based on willful patent infringement of five patents, plus legal costs and an injunction against further infringement. Microsoft said it also filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission, which has the power to bar imports of infringing products.
Barnes & Noble's Nook and Nook Color devices, which compete with's Kindle e-reader and various Sony devices, are based on Android, system software developed by Google first for smartphones and then for tablet computers. Microsoft also sued Motorola, a maker of Android-based smartphones, for patent infringement in October 2010. Motorola countersued in November.
Microsoft's lawsuits don't go after Google directly, but they could still hurt the Web search leader if device makers decide they don't want to pay to license Microsoft's technology or risk a legal tussle with the software maker.
Microsoft said in the complaint that the Nook e-reader devices and software step on patented technology for showing a Web page's content before loading background images, allowing users to read the page faster. It also pointed to technology around the way "apps," or small programs, indicate the status of a download, and technology for opening a separate window on the screen that makes navigating through content easier.
The other two patents are related to selecting and annotating text in documents.
The suit also named Taiwanese manufacturers Inventec and Foxconn International Holdings.
On a company blog, Microsoft said that after a year of discussions, Barnes & Noble, Inventec and Foxconn, part of Hon Hai Precision Industry, have been unwilling to sign a license.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Firms more motivated to blow the whistle

The investigation currently taking place at Renault signals a sign of caution for certain U.S. businesses to be more aggressive in pursuing tip-offs from whistleblowers.

There are two major takeaway points from the investigation: internal investigations take time and patience, and don't hesitate to consult with the top lawyers to help.

"Renault is the poster child for why you want to approach these situations with a sense of balance, and not have people rush to judgment," said the chief legal officer at logistics and auto transport provider Ryder System Inc.

The epic story involving the Euro automaker started after several top Renault managers were given an anonymous tip that pointed the finger at a senior executive for bribe negotiations.

Proceed a lengthy investigation, Renault let go of the executive as well as two other supervisors. The dismissed employees stressed their innocence, yet the CEO of Renault, Carlos Ghosn, announced that the company had legitimate evidence against their plea.

However, over the past couple months, Renault has been unsuccessful in obtaining any evidence against the trio.

The COO of the company said Renault may have been "tricked" into filing the allegations against the employees. Individuals who are familiar with the matter said French police took the two managers from company's security department into questioning. The two employees were currently overseeing Renault's internal corporate-espionage probe. The company is now preparing to exonerate the three managers for lack of evidence.

Several companies are adopting workplace compliance training programs to overcome such issues in the workplace.

The incident has served as a major wake-up call for corporate-compliance officers. Experts claim that the case will further increase the scrutiny among corporate America and how it handles anonymous tips from whistleblowers.

"More U.S. companies will take a closer look at their internal investigation and compliance systems," predicted CEO of Boundless LLC, an internal auditing and risk-advisory company.

Over the past decade, such companies have taken advantage of workplace management software to improve oversight over such issues.

Set in 2002, the Sarbanes-Oxley law required publicly held companies to establish, for the first time, processes to deal with matters of whistleblowers. Last year Congress passed the Dodd-Frank law, which offers incentives for employees to whistle-blow on actions involving securities fraud and other wrongdoing. As a result, employers and others in recent years have generated millions of dollars in rewards for blowing the whistle on fraudulent activity by the U.S. government.

Some top attorneys keeping a close eye on the investigation claim that in some circumstances the incentives can be taken to far. More and more "companies are getting paranoid," said an Tuscon employment defense lawyer.

Many experts believe the risks associated with taking action too soon can outweigh the risks to of delaying action. "By ending an investigation prematurely, you run the risk of a frivolous issue going public too soon," said Ryder's Mr. Fatovic. "The stock gets hit, you invite shareholder lawsuits, you put out more disclosures. It's a tripwire."

Also in agreement is the chief ethics officer at Best Buy Co. She said the retailer is currently diving into allegations of financial fraud among one of its employees overseas. Because of the nature of the allegations, Best Buy Co. can afford to take its time and conduct the investigation thoroughly.

At the same time, the Best Buy ethics officer mentioned that following up on a whistleblower tip is more of an art than a science. "When do you keep going and when do you pull the plug [on an investigation]?" she asked. "It's very hard to know a lot of the time."

Mexican Movie Goes To Court

Mexico's Court Case May Continue

A judge ruled Monday, March 14, 2011 that a hit documentary that shines an unflattering light on Mexico's secretive legal system can continue to be shown in theaters as long as the identity of a man who appears in the film is protected.

"Presumed Guilty" opened across Mexico on Feb. 18 to wide acclaim, but a judge ordered its suspension last week after a key figure in the movie filed a complaint saying the film violated his right to privacy. An appeals court stayed the judge's order two days later, allowing the film to return to cinemas at least temporarily.

The ruling denied a petition that the film be pulled entirely from Mexican screens.

Theater chain Cinepolis said in a statement that it will continue showing the film in more than 70 Mexican cities, but it did not say if it will alter the movie to conceal any identities or whether it intends to appeal the decision. A message requesting comment from Cinepolis was not immediately returned.

"Presumed Guilty" centers on the case of Antonio Zuniga, a street vendor who was sentenced to 20 years for murder in 2005 on the basis of scant evidence.

Zuniga's conviction was eventually overturned, a process documented by his lawyers, who filmed the hearings with the permission of the trail judge.

The man filing the petition is a cousin of the murder victim, and the case is largely based on his testimony.

Other relatives of the victim also filed a separate complaint, but the judge who handled that case did not order the movie's suspension and on Monday also ruled it could continue to be shown.

"Presumed Guilty" - "Presunto Culpable" in its original Spanish - won the audience award for best international feature at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival.

A central message of the film is that greater transparency and openness can improve a system in which most convictions are not based on physical evidence and defendants are vulnerable to unfounded claims.

A message in the credits advises viewers to demand their legal hearings be recorded.

It has been seen by more than 1.2 million people in Mexico, according to Cinepolis.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Republican lawmakers question head of SEC over ties to Madoff account

Mary Schapiro, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), did not think the financial connection between the agency's former general counsel and Bernard Madoff posed a matter of concern.

In a letter to lawmakers, the head of the SEC told lawmakers that she did not see a conflict of interest when David Becker explained to her that David's mother owned an account tied to Madoff, who was found guilty after generating billions of dollars through a Ponzi scheme in 2009.

During two Capitol Hill hearings this week, Schapiro is expected to reveal why she permitted her general counsel to contribute in shaping the SEC's policy on how victims of Madoff's scheme should be compensated.

David Becker is facing a lawsuit because a federal court-appointed trustee claimed Becker inherited monies which were generated from the illegal work of Madoff.

The questionable judgments Schapiro made are under evaluation amidst a challenging time for the SEC. The agency is currently seeking additional funding from Congress to establish new financial regulations. The head of the SEC will propose the agency's $1.4 billion need to hire more staff and invest in technology for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

Many companies use employee stock ownership plans, or ESOPs, as an alternative to 401k plans or other types of employee investment program.

Not helping the SEC's cause is overwhelming criticism due to the agency's enduring failure to discover Madoff's scheme despite several hints of his activity.

Testifying before a Senate Banking Committee panel and a joint hearing of two House Oversight subcommittees, Schapiro will face questions by Republican lawmakers who not only see opposition the rules the SEC created, but also who voted against the financial overhaul law.

In addition, Republican lawmakers and the SEC inspector general are investigating Schapiro's actions with Becker.

Becker's connection to Madoff was unveiled to the public late last month after a court-appointed trustee sued Becker and his brothers, announcing that they profited over $1.5 million from their deceased mother's investments with Madoff. Becker left the SEC last month.

"Becker is caught in an interesting legal dispute. Although he his in possession of lots of money currently under question, his position his bordering innocence." said a securities lawyer who chose not to state his name.

In the letter to the lawmakers, Schapiro claimed that Becker brought the account to her attention shortly after he was appointed into the SEC. She added that she does not recall asking Becker for any additional information during his admission.

"The issue did not appear to me to present a financial conflict of interest," Schapiro stated in the letter to the lawmakers. "However, I relied on Mr. Becker to present any ethics-related issues" to the SEC's ethics officer, Schapiro added.

Becker did that. According to the questions posed to Schapiro, the ethics officer told him that "a reasonable person with knowledge of all of these facts would not question (his) impartiality."

John Nester, spokesperson for the SEC, said that Becker sought and followed the advice of the ethics officer.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Attorneys make opening statements during high-volume insider trading case

Raj Rajaratnam, founder of Galleon Group, is facing legal charges after generating millions of dollars in illicit profits. According a U.S. prosecutor, Rajaratnam used a "corrupt network" of consultants and company insiders to retrieve information that helped him obtain his fortune currently under question.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Streeter said in New York federal court that the case is centered on "greed and corruption." He added that Rajaratnam used corrupt insiders to get "tomorrow's business news today."

Defending attorney John Dowd countered Streeter's comments by claiming Rajaratnam's actions were of no violation or crime, and that he traded only on publicly available information and research conducted by Galleon. Dowd pointed out to the jury that the government has it wrong and "failed to do its homework."

The dispute unveiled what many foresee being a drama-packed, ten-week legal battle touching on, among other things, allegations of sex, lies and audiotapes. Top lawyers observing the case emphasized that the opening statement is critical during criminal trials, and jurors are often won over by the initial argument or not at all.

Prior to the opening statements, a 12-member jury of New Yorkers was swore in, each over the age of 45 years old. A majority of the jury told the judge that they were unfamiliar with Rajaratnam's Galleon Group or any of the company insiders who are destined for the stand.

The case against Rajaratnam is significant battle with something at stake for both sides. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara emphasizes the legal implications of insider trading a focus, and how the outcome could influence other related investigations conducted by his office.

Mr. Rajaratnam, if convicted, could face up to 20 years in prison on 14 counts of conspiracy and securities fraud.

One Roanoke business lawyer with experience handling cases of insider-trading pointed out that such cases can be "a challenge to argue", and that the success of the prosecutors will hinge on their ability to sustain jurors' focus on the evidence.

The Galleon case is the first trail involving insider-trading where the core evidence lies in almost 90 hours of telephone conversations. The government's intercepted recordings, which will drive a roster of witnesses to the stand for questioning, defense lawyers say.

The crux for prosecutors is ensuring that jurors do not become overwhelmed with evidence and to argue their case in the clearest manner possible.

The prosecution's opening statement was an underscore to the issues involving insider trading and the related challenges the government faces in regulating such fraudulent activity.

Attorney Jonathan Streeter stated his allegations in clear terms to the court: "People at Galleon did their homework, but they cheated, too. And that cheating is called inside information."

Mr. Streeter repeatedly alleged that the defendant purchased and sold shares based on inside information and made an effort to "cover his tracks." He added that Rajaratnam would most likely counter the allegations with emails, making it seem as if his actions were based on legitimate research.

"Both sides are making valid, persuasive arguments. This case should keep us (the audience in the courtroom) on the edge of our seats." said an observing Dayton business lawyer

According to Rajaratnam's attorney, he operated a sound business that used a "mosaic" of research to make trading decisions about companies and "built his success on shoe-leather research."

Mr. Dowd also added: "In the real world, there's nothing wrong with talking about stocks or researching stocks."

Galleon spends roughly $300 million a year on research and traded millions of shares every year, and the alleged trades only accounted for a fraction of the trades Rajaratnam's company made annually, Mr. Dowd said.

Prosecutors plan to sharpen their case strategy by focusing on a select group of witnesses, who claim were involved in the alleged trading as well as the telephone recording with Mr. Rajaratnam in which he discussed improper trades. In the upcoming proceedings, Mr. Streeter and the team of top attorneys will play two of the recordings from 2008 during which the defendant allegedly told his staff at Galleon that he had received tips regarding Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The inside information being pressed on Rajaratnam included a $5 billion investment by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in Goldman at the peak of the economic meltdown, Mr. Streeter said.

Just minutes of receiving the Berkshire tip, Rajaratnam ordered a stock purchase worth $43 million of Goldman shares, Mr. Streeter said. Only $27 million of the order was fulfilled in the short time before the New York Stock Exchange closed, Mr. Streeter said. He also said that after the close and the Berkshire investment was announced, Rajaratnam profited a quick $1 million on the trade.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Smoothen the divorce process via mediation

Even for those married couples with a longstanding history of conflict, a mediation may be the best option for a cost-efficient and less adversarial divorce outside from the courtroom.

According to a study of marital conflict conducted by the University of Michigan, divorce disputes typically reflect "fight styles", displaying lashing and sometimes aggressive behaviors. Such actions during the relationship can result in more complications during divorce proceeding.

“A couple that fights constantly during a marriage will struggle find agreements through a heated divorce. This only makes for a long, highly contested battle in the courtroom,” said one attorney who practices family law in Raleigh.

“However, disputes in court accumulate legal fees very quickly." the attorney added “One of the best approaches to avoid the courtroom and the subsequent fees is to pursue mediation. Mediation can be a more sound and peaceful method to marital separation.”

The study conducted by the University of Michigan analyzed how varying patterns of conflict in a relationship can affect a marriage over time. One example correlates higher rate of divorce among couples in which one spouse engaged in “constructive” behavior while the other spouse “withdrew.”

On the other end of the spectrum, constructive strategies introduced by both spouses of a couple had lower divorce rates.

"It is couples of the latter who would experience a smoother divorce process,” the Raleigh family lawyer said. “Not to say that other types of couples face more rigid separations, however we witness the correlation day in and day out. Mediation provides the optimal solution for all types of marriages."

In short, the process of mediation involves a neutral third-party who helps facilitate agreements - like equitable distribution of marital assets, child support, and child custody - among both spouses and their attorneys. The objective is to seek a common ground for agreement and to reach a fair settlement based on the sum of those agreements.

“Mediation helps to diminish tension throughout the process as both sides work together to resolve their issues." said one of the top lawyers at the Raleigh firm.

Absolute divorce can be a stressful event for all parties involved. “That is why it is so critical seek the legal help of an experienced Raleigh lawyer who can discover solutions through methods like mediation." said the family law expert.

The attorney concluded by saying "Married couples are splitting up, and much more often that old days. It seems like much of our practice today has been dedicated to family and domestic law issues."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Immigration should be supported in Michigan

After the enactment of Arizona's immigration law last year, overwhelming anti-immigration sentiment penetrated the nation. Michigan, along with many other states, brought about a similar idea in the state's last legislative session.

Officials held discussions regarding immigration reform, often focusing on issues about the services provided to and public costs associated with unauthorized immigrants. However, key points not mentioned in the discussions involve the many ways in which immigrants aid the economy, not to mention the potential cost tied to a new Michigan immigration law, similar to that of Arizona.

Providing optimism for a strong counter argument during his recent State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder emphasized the importance of welcoming immigrants to Michigan. He noted that is a critical first phase in extending an invitation to our state.

Immigrants are able contribute to Michigan's troubled economy in many ways, from becoming some of the state's top lawyers to pioneering profitable business ventures. Although immigrants in Michigan make up less than 6 percent of the population, they are responsible for over 32 percent of all high-tech startups, helping the state achieve a the number 3 rank among states in the U.S. providing new, tech-related business opportunities. In fact, 22 percent of the international patent applications from the state in 2006 involved a foreign-born resident as one of their key inventors.

Additional support comes from valuable evidence that claims immigrants are job creators and entrepreneurs. Between 1996 and 2007, immigrants represented 15.8 percent of new-business owners in Michigan, which rendered them three times more likely than non-immigrants to form a business.

In addition, Michigan's education system attracts the a wide range of foreign students, which feeds over $600 million per year to the state's economy. Immigrants of Michigan are also more likely to attain four-year college and Michigan MBA degrees than are native-born residents

Immigrants also contribute to tax revenues for the state via payroll taxes, sales taxes and/or property taxes. Unauthorized immigrants also help fund the Social Security system however may be ineligible to collect such benefits and are not able to receive any sort of public assistance.

The future economy of Michigan may be negatively affected by the passage of an immigration law. Border control and immigration enforcement can be a heavy financial drain, in addition to a being a diversion from public safety resources. Arizona is one example of how a state suffers from economic boycotts due to the anti-immigration efforts. Such legislation could also hinder Michigan's attractiveness as a destination for individuals and families looking to reside in America.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

One in Five Divorces in U.S. Driven by Social Media

Social media websites, like Facebook and Twitter, serve as great ways communicate to friends and family both near and far. However, these sites can also lead to marriage difficulties.

Divorce-Online's managing partner Mark Keenan claims that Facebook-related antics contribute to one in five divorces, as posted on

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers also added that 80 percent of the top attorneys it surveyed claimed the amount of individuals using Facebook and other social media channels to engage in extramarital activity is "burgeoning."

"If I'm talking to one person five times a week vs. another person one time a week, you don't need a fancy psychological degree to conclude I'm more likely to fall in love with the person I talk to five times a week," Steven Kimmons, a clinical psychologist Ph.D., told ScienceBlog.

Alan Edmunds, a former Judge Pro Tem in family courts, could not agree more. Edmunds, who has over 30 years of experience in family law, says the growing number of Facebook-fueled breakups has nothing surprising.

"I'm not surprised... It's symptomatic of the society we live in. It breaks down traditional marriage." the mobile divorce lawyer said. "Opportunity and temptation are an age-old problem in relationships. It (Facebook) makes it easier to have anonymous relationships that people think aren't real, but they turn into real relationships."

The trend leading to the Facebook-induced break-up sounds like this: with little to do, husband or wife attempts to track down that one crush he or she had back in middle school.

Once their special someone is sought, a secret exchange of e-mails and text messages happens which often leads to meeting up somewhere and later, an affair. Soon enough, the opposing husband or wife discovers an alarming Facebook post that reveals the devious relationship.

"I have seen relationships started on Facebook," said Edmunds. "People have revisited old relationships and they're rekindled. It's when some marriages aren't as strong as they should be (when it becomes a matter of concern)."

An alternative route to divorce court is one side of the couple begins taking a deeper looking into his or her significant other's social media contacts. Such curiosity can spawn a dispute that typically hinders the quality of the relationship.

"People will vent on Facebook instead of talking to their spouse or boyfriend (about an issue)," Edmunds said.

Communication via Facebook, even after the divorce proceedings have been initiated, can be of great interest in family law courts - especially if the messages are verbal backlashes at an ex.

Vice-president elect of the AAML, Linda Lea Viken, tells her clients "I want to see your Facebook page. I want you to remember that the judge can read that stuff, so never write anything you don't want the judge to hear," She adds that "it's all pretty good evidence ... the judges don't really have any problems letting it in. It's very common in my new cases... I've had some fun ones."