Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Casey Anthony files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Story first appeared on CBS News -

Casey Anthony, the Florida mother who was acquitted in 2011 of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee, filed for bankruptcy Friday and claimed about $1,100 in assets and $792,000 in liabilities, according to court records.  Find a Boston Bankruptcy Lawyer near you!

Anthony sought Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in federal court in Tampa. There is a Raleigh Bankruptcy Lawyer available to assist you.  Her listed debts include $500,000 for attorney fees and costs for Jose Baez, her criminal defense lawyer during the trial; $145,660 for the Orange County Sheriff's office for a judgment covering investigative fees and costs related to the case; $68,540 for the Internal Revenue Service for taxes, interest and penalties; and $61,505 for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for court costs. 

She is also a defendant in several civil suits, including a defamation lawsuit brought by Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez in Orange County Circuit Court, court records say.  A Lansing BankruptcyLawyer is monitoring this case.

Fernandez-Gonzalez alleged that her reputation was damaged when Anthony told detectives that a baby sitter that shared her name kidnapped Caylee. Caylee disappeared in 2008 and was later found dead. Anthony's attorney said details offered by Anthony did not match Fernandez-Gonzalez and clearly showed Anthony wasn't talking about her.  Closing following this progressing story is a Traverse City BankruptcyLawyer.

Court papers list Anthony as unemployed, with no recent income.

Anthony lists about 80 creditors in the 60-page court filing. The claims largely cover fees for legal, medical, psychiatric and forensics consulting or services. But one claim covers a debt for scuba diving services.  There is a BirminghamBankruptcy Lawyer reviewing this data.

According to the courts, the aim of seeking Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection is to be discharged of most existing debts - essentially to obtain a fresh financial start.   There is a Chicago Bankruptcy Lawyer that is inspecting the details for this filing.   A trustee may have the right to take possession of and sell non-exempt property and use the sale proceeds to pay creditors, but Anthony lists little in the way of assets. A debtor may still be held responsible for some obligations, such as taxes and student loans.

The filing came on the same day that a Florida appellate court set aside two of the four convictions she faced for lying to detectives during the investigation into her missing daughter.

Although Anthony was acquitted of killing Caylee, jurors convicted her of four counts of lying to detectives, and her attorneys appealed those convictions. Anthony was sentenced to time served for the misdemeanors.

She was sentenced to a year of probation after her release from jail for an unrelated case. For her protection, her whereabouts have been kept secret since she was released from state supervision last year.

"I was desperate" - Insider-trading Informant says

Story first appeared on USA Today -

A key informant at the heart of the largest insider-trading case in U.S. history has asked a federal judge for lenient sentencing on her own crimes, explaining that soaring monthly bills and crumbling finances pressured her into a return to law-breaking.

Roomy Khan, a former Intel executive who went from Wall Street success to vilified federal prosecution source, wrote in a newly filed sentencing letter that she engaged in insider trading from 2004-2007 because she faced roughly $72,000 in monthly housing and other expenses.

She also faced a threatened bank lawsuit, a separate legal case filed by her former housekeeper and a decimated investment portfolio, she wrote.

"I was getting desperate to make ends meet," Khan wrote in the letter to Manhattan U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff, who is scheduled to sentence her on Thursday. "Slowly, the immorality and unlawfulness of insider trading was replaced by the desperate need to make money and pay my mounting bills. Also, the pervasiveness of this habit within most of the Wall Street professionals I came across made my decision/choices less dubious in my own mind."

Khan, who has a prior conviction for wire fraud, could face a maximum prison term of 20 years or more plus millions of dollars in fines based on her 2009 guilty plea to charges of insider trading, conspiracy and obstruction. But prosecutors are seeking leniency for the India-born informant, even though they noted in a Jan. 24 sentencing memorandum that she at times lied to investigators, tipped off suspected co-conspirators and destroyed evidence while she aided the government.

The prosecution memo cited Khan's major role in helping the government win the insider-trading conviction of former hedge fund billionaire Raj Rajaratnam by recording conversations in which the Galleon Group founder incriminated himself. He's now serving an 11-year prison term. Khan also testified against Douglas Whitman, a California hedge fund portfolio manager who was sentenced last week to two years in federal prison for his insider trading conviction.

The continuing federal probe has generated more than 70 arrests, convictions or guilty pleas to date.

In a separate defense sentencing memo, Khan attorney Stanislao German echoed prosecutors by citing his client's "extremely valuable" cooperation. Khan was deeply involved in aiding government cases that produced more than $250 million in fines, forfeitures and settlements, along with multiple convictions, German wrote.

He asked that Khan be sentenced to five years' probation, with no prison time. Media accounts have referred to her as a "rat," wrote German. In contrast with the government's victories, the India-born informant "has lost all of her money, her home, her friends and acquaintances, the value of her education, and has become an outcast within her own family," German wrote.

Ironically, Khan cited some of those same consequences as among the fears that led her to insider trading.

She said she was living in a costly Atherton, Calif., home with two mortgages.

"Over time, the shame and ignominy of losing my house and status in this society became more important than the unlawfulness of insider trading and the fear of getting caught," she wrote.

Khan reaped approximately $1,525,000 in profits by trading on illegal insider information in the stocks of Google, Polycom, Hilton Hotels and Kronos, prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum. Rajaratnam and others to whom she passed the illegal information collectively gained more than $25 million.

Confronted by the FBI in 2007, she began cooperating. But she wrote that her financial and personal situation continued a downslide.

She lost a job as a consultant with Trivium Capital Management, a hedge fund investment adviser. She was sued for alleged back wages by a former housekeeper, a case which she fabricated a document to help her defense. Federal investigators discovered that she lied to them about suspected co-conspirators and destroyed evidence — actions Khan said she took to protect associates and a relative.

Finally, she suffered a serious leg injury when she was struck by a taxi that jumped a curb in 2011. The leg still hasn't healed properly, German wrote.

"Nothing can defend my decisions through that time," wrote Khan. "All I can say is that I was in the middle of this massive storm that completely destroyed my life."

Today, she and her family have started over in a town where "no one really knew us," she wrote, describing her new life in a rental home as days of cooking, cleaning and other household chores.

"I treat my life now as part of my dues," Khan concluded, adding she hopes to "gain my self-respect and dignity back."

$4B BP Criminal Settlement for Gulf Oil Spill

Story first appeared on USA Today -

The settlement includes payments of nearly $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences.

A federal judge on Tuesday approved a plea deal between energy giant BP and the U.S. Justice Department for the company's role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, finalizing BP's criminal liability for the spill's aftermath.

As part of the agreement, BP agreed to pay $4 billion in fines — the largest criminal resolution in U.S. history — and pleaded guilty to 14 counts of criminal acts ranging from obstruction of Congress to felony manslaughter.

BP agreed to the deal in November, and it was finalized Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance. BP was leasing the Deepwater Horizon rig in April 2010 when it exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 crewmen and releasing about 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf.

Before ruling, Vance heard testimony from relatives of the workers who died in the incident. She told the relatives who were in court that she read their "truly gut-wrenching" written statements and factored their words into her decision, adding that BP executives should have personally apologized to family members.

"I think BP should have done that out of basic humanity," Vance said.

According to a BP statement, Luke Keller, a vice president of BP America, addressed the victims' families during the hearing and reiterated the company's regret for its involvement in the incident.

"Our guilty plea makes clear, BP understands and acknowledges its role in that tragedy, and we apologize — BP apologizes — to all those injured and especially to the families of the lost loved ones," he said.

Under the criminal settlement, BP agreed to pay nearly $1.3 billion in fines. The largest previous corporate criminal penalty assessed by the Justice Department was a $1.2 billion fine against drug maker Pfizer in 2009.

The settlement also includes payments of nearly $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences.

The deal brings BP's criminal liability for the spill to a close. But the company still faces the federal government's civil claims, claims by Gulf Coast residents and businesses and federal environmental penalties that could total into the tens of billions of dollars, said Blaine LeCesne, an associate professor at Loyola University New Orleans' College of Law, who has been following the proceedings.

BP separately agreed to a settlement with lawyers for residents and businesses who claim the spill cost them money. BP estimates the deal with private attorneys will cost the company roughly $7.8 billion but that figure could climb significantly as more plaintiffs sign on, LeCesne said.

The big-money penalties could come under the Clean Water Act and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, which could skyrocket BP's fines, especially if the company is found to be "grossly negligent," LeCesne said. Company attorneys and government officials are currently negotiating what those fines could be, he said.

"There's a significant amount of legal liability left," he said. "They have potentially another $30 billion to $40 billion to go before they're out of the woods."

Guilty! BP pleas to manslaughter in 2010 Gulf Oil Tragedy

Story first appeared on Los Angeles Times -

A federal judge in New Orleans accepted an agreement for BP to plead guilty to manslaughter and other charges and pay a record fine in connection with the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which ranks as one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters.

The agreement, announced in November, allowed a unit of the London-based oil giant to plead guilty Tuesday to 11 counts of seaman’s manslaughter in connection with the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the gulf. The company also entered a guilty plea to one felony count of obstruction of Congress and two environmental misdemeanors.

The company was fined $4 billion in connection with the spill and was given five years’ probation.

Tuesday’s court action ends the company’s current criminal issues, but is just one step in the ongoing proceedings related to the disaster. Four current or former BP employees have been indicted on criminal charges. BP has separately agreed to a $7.8-billion settlement with lawyers representing Gulf Coast residents and businesses and could be assessed more than $17 billion under the Clean Water Act.

“Today’s guilty plea and sentencing represent a significant step forward in the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts to seek justice on behalf of those affected by one of the worst environmental disasters in American history,” Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement. “I’m pleased to note that more than half of this landmark resolution -- which totals $4 billion in penalties and fines and represents the single largest criminal resolution ever -- will help to provide direct support to Gulf Coast residents as communities throughout the region continue to recover and rebuild.”

At the hearing, BP again apologized for the deaths and for the spill.

“We -- and by that I mean the men and the women of the management of BP, its board of directors and its many employees -- are deeply sorry for the tragic loss of the 11 men who died and the others who were injured that day,” Luke Keller, a vice president of BP America Inc., said in a statement. “Our guilty plea makes clear BP understands and acknowledges its role in that tragedy, and we apologize -- BP apologizes -- to all those injured and especially to the families of the lost loved ones. BP is also sorry for the harm to the environment that resulted from the spill, and we apologize to the individuals and communities who were injured.”

U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance in New Orleans called the agreement a reasonable disposition of the case. Before she ruled, she heard from relatives of some of the 11 workers who died on the Deepwater Horizon when the Macondo oil well blew out on April 20, 2010.

“I've heard and I truly understand your feelings and the losses you suffered,” she said.

Billy Anderson, whose 35-year-old son, Jason, of Midfield, Texas, died in the blast, recalled the trauma of watching the disaster play out on television.

“These men suffered a horrendous death,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “They were basically cremated alive and not at their choice.”

According to the Justice Department, Vance found, “among other things, that the consequential fines imposed under the plea agreement far exceed any imposed in U.S. history, and are structured so that BP will feel the full brunt of the penalties. She also noted that the agreement provides just punishment and significant deterrence, requiring detailed drilling safeguards, monitors and other stringent, special conditions of probation so that BP’s future conduct will be closely watched.”

About $2.4 billion is earmarked for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and will go for restoration and preservation of systems damaged by the spill. An additional $350 million will go to the National Academy of Sciences for research, the Justice Department said.

BP agreed to pay nearly $1.3 billion in fines, the largest such penalty in U.S. history, surpassing a $1.2-billion fine against drug maker Pfizer in 2009. It also received five years' probation, the maximum term. The company is also required to have a safety and risk management monitor and an independent auditor. It will also have to have an ethics monitor to ensure full candor with the government.

Those still awaiting trial include BP rig supervisors Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, who are charged with manslaughter and are accused of disregarding abnormal high-pressure readings. David Rainey, BP's former vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico, was charged with withholding information from Congress about the amount of oil that was pouring out of the well into the gulf. Former BP engineer Kurt Mix was charged with deleting text messages about the company's spill response.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

UK Suing Google for Safari Tracking

A British law firm says that about a dozen Apple customers are suing Internet search leader Google in the U.K. over its alleged secret tracking of their Internet browsing habits.

London-based law firm Olswang said that 12 Apple users were taking the Internet search leader to court over small pieces of tracking code — known as cookies — surreptitiously installed on computers and smartphones.

Google found itself in hot water last year after it emerged that the company had circumvented privacy features on Apple's Safari web browsers to deposit cookies on millions of users' computers. The issue has already cost Google $22.5 million, which it agreed to pay the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to settle the claims last year.

Google said it had no comment on the lawsuit.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Amid Claims of Sexual-Harassment, Square Exec Resigns

Story first appeared on The Wall Street Journal

Square Inc. said Chief Operating Officer Keith Rabois resigned from the mobile-payments company because of accusations from a Square employee of sexual harassment.

Square on Friday said a New York attorney, Steven Berger, who represents a Square employee, reached out to the San Francisco-based company two weeks ago, alleging that Mr. Rabois had sexually harassed the employee and that Square was aware and failed to take appropriate action.

Mr. Berger didn't respond to requests for comment. Square declined to identify the employee who brought the allegations against Mr. Rabois.

In an interview, Mr. Rabois, 43 years old, denied the allegations and said, "I'm completely confident that all the  facts will come out and I will be vindicated."

Square Inc. said Chief Operating Officer Keith Rabois resigned from the mobile-payments company because of accusations from a Square employee of sexual harassment.

Square on Friday said a New York attorney, Steven Berger, who represents a Square employee, reached out to the San Francisco-based company two weeks ago, alleging that Mr. Rabois had sexually harassed the employee and that Square was aware and failed to take appropriate action.

Mr. Berger didn't respond to requests for comment. Square declined to identify the employee who brought the allegations against Mr. Rabois.

In an interview, Mr. Rabois, 43 years old, denied the allegations and said, "I'm completely confident that all the facts will come out and I will be vindicated."

Square said it retained attorney Richard J. Curiale when it learned about the accusation to look into the matter.  Square's chief executive and co-founder, Jack Dorsey, was briefed by Square's attorneys on the situation, along with Mr. Rabois. Mr. Curiale said he spent several hours with Mr. Rabois and other Square executives, and reviewed texts and emails provided by Mr. Berger. According to Mr. Rabois, he wasn't aware of any sexual-harassment issues at Square, involving him or other employees, until then.

Mr. Rabois said he had an intimate relationship with an employee that started several months before the employee joined Square. Mr. Rabois acknowledged that he didn't disclose the relationship to Square.

"Several months after our relationship began, I recommended that he interview at Square," said Mr. Rabois in a statement. "He went through the interview process and was ultimately hired. I did not interview him....At no point did he ever report directly to me, and I have seen his work product less than a handful of times."

According to Rabois, he exchanged many texts and emails with the employee, though he described them as welcome.

Mr. Rabois said he resigned in order to not cause a distraction for the company. He added in a statement, "I deeply regret that I let my personal and professional lives to become intertwined."

No lawsuit has been filed against Mr. Rabois or Square, said Mr. Curiale.

"While we have not found evidence to support any claims, Keith exercised poor judgment that ultimately undermined his ability to remain an effective leader at Square. We accepted his resignation," said Square spokesman Ricardo Reyes in a statement.

Mr. Rabois, a former executive of tech companies including PayPal and LinkedIn a high-profile Silicon Valley figure who is considered part of what many techies call the "PayPal Mafia," a group of early PayPal employees who have since gone on to invest and create a number of Silicon Valley startups.

His abrupt departure comes at an awkward time for Square, which recently raised a large financing round at a $3.25 billion valuation and is working on growing to better compete with larger rivals, such as Google Inc. and eBay Inc.

While Mr. Dorsey has focused on the design of the company's products, including its signature square-shaped credit-card processor, Mr. Rabois has been focused on running other parts of the business, such as marketing and business development. Mr. Rabois, who joined the company in mid-2010, helped build Square from 17 employees to more than 400.

Square last June hired Sarah Friar, a former executive of to be its chief financial officer. With Mr. Rabois's departure, Ms. Friar will be acting chief operating officer, the company said.

Obama’s Recess Picks Tossed Out By Court:

Story first appeared on The Wall Street Journal

Long Tradition of Presidential Appointments During Senate Breaks Faces Constitutional Challenge:

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that President Barack Obama violated the Constitution in filling labor board vacancies, a decision that could reshape a long-standing practice by U.S. presidents to make recess appointments.

Such appointments—which bypass Senate approval to install top administration personnel—have been used by presidents for at least 90 years. But in the past two decades, Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton ratcheted up use of the tactic to avert congressional obstacles. Friday's decision, if it holds, would restrain that power. 

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the National Labor Relations Board for the past year has lacked the quorum required to conduct most business because three board members were named by Mr. Obama in recess appointments the court ruled invalid. 

The decision strips the board of key powers and could void some of its actions over the past year. 

The board made more than 200 case rulings last year, including a decision that protected workers from being fired for complaining about working conditions on sites like Facebook, and a decision that gave greater rights to unions in employee-discipline cases.

The ruling also puts in jeopardy recent moves by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, since its director, Richard Cordray, also was installed in a recess appointment. The bureau, a centerpiece of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law, has pushed to crack down on the banking industry and rework consumer mortgage rules.

"The decision is novel and unprecedented, and it contradicts 150 years of practice by Democratic and Republican administrations," Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said. "We respectfully but strongly disagree with the ruling."

Mr. Obama has made 32 recess appointments, compared with 171 by Mr. Bush and 139 by Mr. Clinton.

Republicans cheered the decision, since it limits Mr. Obama's ability to install future nominees using recess appointments. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Potential New International Services Agreement – USTR Seeking Comments on Negotiations

Story First appeared on Washington Trade News at Stewart and
On January 15, 2013, USTR Ron Kirk notified Congress of the Administration’s intent to enter into negotiations for a new trade agreement on international trade in services, and, on January 24, 2013, USTR issued a Federal Register notice requesting public comments on the new services negotiations.  Comments must submitted by February 26, 2013. Stewart and Stewart is following these negotiations carefully regarding their possible impact upon International Trade Free Trade Agreements.

In a new Trade Flow, Terence P. Stewart, managing partner of Stewart and Stewart, explains that the United States currently benefits from trade in services ($178.5 billion surplus in 2011) and, if barriers are reduced (it is estimated that lost services exports are equal to $800 billion), the U.S. has the potential of benefiting even more in increased exports and jobs.    For Stewart and Stewart, this potential is key, and their Customs attorneys are closely monitoring the developments.  However, the WTO's (World Trade Organization) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), in effect since 1995, has yet to fulfill one of the fundamental objectives of the GATS—progressive liberalization—due to delays occasioned by the uncompleted Doha round and other reasons.  Thus, countries interested in expanding services access have increasingly focused on the possibility of bilateral or plurilateral negotiations as an alternative to the stalled Doha talks.  The new services negotiations announced by USTR are a result of that process.  The negotiations will initially involve the United States and twenty of its trading partners (mostly developed countries), with the possibility that other countries may join the discussions later.  Import and Export trading is key to the balance of the world economy, therefore the professional attorneys at Stewart and Stewart are closely monitoring these negotiations.

The new services negotiations are likely to be broad in scope and coverage, and all U.S. stakeholders should consider submitting comments so that USTR may be fully informed of the potential benefits and challenges that liberalized trade in services presents to U.S. service providers.

Monday, January 21, 2013

First wrongful death lawsuit settled for Toyota

Story first appeared on USA Today

A Toyota Motor Corp. spokesman announced Thursday that the company has settled the first of hundreds of pending wrongful death or injury lawsuits, all filed as a result of unintended acceleration by Toyota vehicles.  A Grand Rapids Car Accident Lawyer is closely following these developments.

Toyota reached the agreement in the case brought by the family of Paul Van Alfen and Charlene Jones Lloyd, spokeswoman Celeste Migliore said. They were killed when their Toyota Camry slammed into a wall in Utah in 2010.

Migliore declined to disclose the financial terms.

Attorney Mark P. Robinson, who represents the nine plaintiffs named in the suit, did not reply to phone or email messages.  Tacoma Auto Accident Defense Lawyer firms have been monitoring these lawsuits.  Also, a Tacoma Wrongful Death Defense Lawyer has been reviewing them.

The remaining lawsuits are not affected by the settlement, Migliore said.

Toyota issued a statement saying that the company and its attorneys may decide to settle select cases, but "we will have a number of other opportunities to defend our product at trial."

"We sympathize with anyone in an accident involving one of our vehicles," the statement said, "however we continue to stand fully behind the safety and integrity of Toyota's Electronic Throttle Control System, which multiple independent evaluations have confirmed as safe."

The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the agreement Wednesday, said Toyota had also reached a settlement in another case brought by retired Los Angeles police officer Michael Houlf. The case was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and brought under California's lemon law for vehicles. The size of that settlement and details about that case were not immediately available.  In an Oklahoma City Wrongful Death Defense Lawyer firm these lawsuits and settlements are being reviewed.

Last month, Toyota agreed to a settlement worth more than $1 billion to resolve hundreds of lawsuits claiming economic losses Toyota owners suffered when the Japanese automaker recalled millions of vehicles. Hundreds more lawsuits involving wrongful death and injury remained.

The Van Alfen case was to be the first of those tried, and to serve as a bellwether for the rest. It had been set to go to trial in February.

In 2010, Toyota settled a previous wrongful death lawsuit for $10 million before the current cases were consolidated in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.  A Salt Lake Auto Accident Defense Lawyer has been scrutinizing the suits brought forward.

In the earlier case, a California Highway Patrol officer and three of his family members were killed in suburban San Diego in 2009 after their car, a Toyota-built Lexus, reached speeds of more than 120 mph (193 kph), hit an SUV, launched off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames.  A Kansas City Wrongful Death Lawyer has been reviewing the details on this.

Investigators determined that a wrong-size floor mat trapped the accelerator and caused the crash.

That discovery spurred a series of recalls involving more than 14 million vehicles and a flood of lawsuits soon followed, with numerous complaints of accelerations in several models, and brake defects with the Prius hybrid.

Toyota has blamed driver error, faulty floor mats and stuck accelerator pedals for the problems.  A Chicago Car Accident Lawyer firm is reviewing the lawsuits.  Meanwhile, a Boca Raton Wrongful Death Lawyer is monitoring the ongoing investigations.

In the accident that spawned the newly settled case, Van Alfen was driving the Camry on Interstate 80 near Wendover, Utah, on Nov. 5, 2010, when it suddenly accelerated, investigators said. Skid marks showed that Van Alfen tried to stop the vehicle as it exited Interstate 80, police said. The car went through a stop sign at the bottom of the ramp and through an intersection before hitting the wall.

Van Alfen and Lloyd, his son's fiancée, were killed. Van Alfen's wife and son were injured.

Based on statements from crash survivors and witnesses, the Utah Highway Patrol determined that the crash was the result of a stuck gas petal.

Debates over paid sick-time laws getting plenty of fuel during the Flu season

Story first appeared on AP News

Despite being groggy and concerned about having caught the flu, Diana Zavalda, still went to work because she felt she couldn’t afford to miss a day.

A school speech therapist who works as an independent contractor, she doesn't have paid sick days. So the mother of two reported to work and hoped for the best - and was aching, shivering and coughing by the end of the day. She stayed home the next day, then loaded up on medicine and returned to work.

"It's a balancing act" between physical health and financial well-being, she said.

An unusually early and vigorous flu season is drawing attention to a cause that has scored victories but also hit roadblocks in recent years: mandatory paid sick leave for a third of civilian workers - more than 40 million people - who don't have it.

Supporters and opponents are particularly watching New York City, where lawmakers are weighing a sick leave proposal amid a competitive mayoral race.

Pointing to a flu outbreak that the governor has called a public health emergency, dozens of doctors, nurses, lawmakers and activists - some in surgical masks - rallied Friday on the City Hall steps to call for passage of the measure, which has awaited a City Council vote for nearly three years. Two likely mayoral contenders have also pressed the point.

The flu spike is making people more aware of the argument for sick pay, said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work, which promotes paid sick time initiatives around the country. "There's people who say, 'OK, I get it - you don't want your server coughing on your food,'" she said.

Advocates have cast paid sick time as both a workforce issue akin to parental leave and "living wage" laws, and a public health priority.

But to some business owners, paid sick leave is an impractical and unfair burden for small operations. Critics also say the timing is bad, given the choppy economy and the hardships inflicted by Super Storm Sandy.

Michael Sinensky, an owner of seven bars and restaurants around the city, was against the sick time proposal before Sandy. And after the storm shut down four of his restaurants for days or weeks, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars that his insurers have yet to pay, "we're in survival mode."

"We're at the point, right now, where we cannot afford additional social initiatives," said Sinensky, whose roughly 500 employees switch shifts if they can't work, an arrangement that some restaurateurs say benefits workers because paid sick time wouldn't include tips.

Employees without sick days are more likely to go to work with a contagious illness, send an ill child to school or day care and use hospital emergency rooms for care, according to a 2010 survey by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. A 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that a lack of sick time helped spread 5 million cases of flu-like illness during the 2009 swine flu outbreak.

To be sure, many employees entitled to sick time go to work ill anyway, out of dedication or at least a desire to project it. But the work-through-it ethic is shifting somewhat amid growing awareness about spreading sickness.

"Right now, where companies' incentives lie is butting right up against this concern over people coming into the workplace, infecting others and bringing productivity of a whole company down," said John A. Challenger, CEO of employer consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Paid sick day requirements are often popular in polls, but only four places have them: San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and the state of Connecticut. The specific provisions vary.

Milwaukee voters approved a sick time requirement in 2008, but the state Legislature passed a law blocking it. Philadelphia's mayor vetoed a sick leave measure in 2011; lawmakers have since instituted a sick time requirement for businesses with city contracts. Voters rejected a paid sick day measure in Denver in 2011.

In New York, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer's proposal would require up to five paid sick days a year at businesses with at least five employees. It wouldn't include independent contractors, such as Zavala, who supports the idea nonetheless.

The idea boasts such supporters as feminist Gloria Steinem and "Sex and the City" actress Cynthia Nixon, as well as a majority of City Council members and a coalition of unions, women's groups and public health advocates. But it also faces influential opponents, including business groups, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who have virtually complete control over what matters come to a vote.

Quinn, who is expected to run for mayor, said she considers paid sick leave a worthy goal but doesn't think it would be wise to implement it in a sluggish economy. Two of her likely opponents, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Comptroller John Liu, have reiterated calls for paid sick leave in light of the flu season.

While the debate plays out, Emilio Palaguachi is recovering from the flu and looking for a job. The father of four was abruptly fired without explanation earlier this month from his job at a deli after taking a day off to go to a doctor, he said. His former employer couldn't be reached by telephone.

“I needed work, but, I needed to see the doctor because I’m sick, “ Palaguachi stated after the Friday City Hall rally.

Germany taking back gold from U.S. and French vaults

Story first appeared on USA Today

Germany is currently in the process of transferring $36 billion in gold bars to its vaults in Frankfurt, from Paris and New York City.  A Washington DC Import and Export Lawyer are closely monitoring the transaction.

The move is part of an effort by Germany's central bank to bring much of its gold home after keeping big reserves outside the country for safekeeping during the Cold War.

Shipping such a large amount of valuable cargo between countries could be a serious security headache. A gold robbery — the subject of such movies as Die Hard 3 and The Italian Job — would be embarrassing and expensive for Germany.  A Washington DC Corporate and Transactional Lawyer have been reviewing the process.

The high-stakes, high-security plan is to move the precious metal — 374 tons kept in vaults in Paris and 300 tons stored at the New York Federal Reserve Bank — to the Bundesbank in Germany's financial center over the next eight years.

For obvious reasons, the central bank won't say whether the estimated 50,000 bars are being moved by air, sea or land or how it intends to keep the shipments safe.

During the Cold War, Germany kept most of its gold abroad for fear it could fall into the hands of the Soviet Union if the country were invaded. Another reason was to have the precious metal close to the foreign currency markets in London, Paris and New York, where gold is traded.  Washington DC Government Relations Lawyer firms are monitoring the exchange.

Once the shipment is complete, Frankfurt will hold half of Germany's 3,400 tons of reserve gold — currently worth about $183 billion — with New York retaining 37% and London 13%.

The decision to bring some of the gold back home also follows criticism last year from Germany's independent Federal Auditors' Office, which concluded that the central bank failed to properly oversee its reserves. The auditor suggested the bank carry out regular inspections of gold stored abroad.

The auditors' report stunned Germany, where the Bundesbank routinely tops polls of the nation's most trusted institutions, and politicians pushed for the gold to come home.

The New York Federal Reserve's gold vault, for example, is about 80 feet below street level in lower Manhattan, its only entry protected by a 90-ton steel cylinder 9 feet high. Whenever gold enters or leaves the vault, a handling fee is charged by the New York Fed, however, there is no fee charged to account holders for storing their gold.

Texas Asking Supreme Court to Settle Water Disputes with Neighboring States

Article first appeared on The Wall Street Journal

Texas officials are heating up the water wars with neighbors New Mexico and Oklahoma over river water rights and allotments in an attempt to alleviate some of the continually growing demand.  A Washington DC Agricultural Lawyer is monitoring this case.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this month to take up a dispute between Texas' Tarrant Regional Water District, an agency that supplies water to 1.7 million people in north Texas, and Oklahoma, over water that flows into the Red River. So far, lower courts have ruled for Oklahoma.  A Chicago Environmental Lawyer firm has been reviewing the details in these proceedings.

Drought-plagued Texas also asked the Supreme Court this month to consider a separate lawsuit alleging that New Mexico isn't giving Texas its allotted share of water from the Rio Grande as spelled out under a 1938 compact. No other court has ruled on that case.

Texas officials maintain they had to take action against New Mexico because farmers and ranchers are illegally siphoning off some of Texas' share of the river, which provides about half of the drinking water for El Paso.  A Boston Environmental Defense Lawyer has been reviewing court decisions as the case progresses.

Legal and political battles over river water are common in Western and Plains states, especially over the water in the Colorado River, which is rationed among seven states and Mexico, and used by more than 30 million people.

But the skirmishes are becoming more serious across the nation because of current drought conditions. Texas was experiencing moderate or greater drought in 84% of its territory as of Jan. 8, according to federal monitors.  Birmingham Environmental Defense Lawyer offices are aware of the battle between the states.

Texas has been one of the fastest-growing states for years and gained more people in the year ended July 1, a total of 427,400, than any other state, according to the Census Bureau. Texas officials forecast it will need an additional 8.3 million acre-feet of water by 2060, when its population is expected to surpass 46 million, up from 25 million now. (An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre a foot deep.)

Some state water agencies have already been forced to make tough decisions about who should receive limited supplies. For an unprecedented second straight year, many rice farmers in Texas, the nation's fifth-largest rice producer, will probably not receive enough water to flood their fields. An agency overseeing reservoir management in central Texas, the Lower Colorado River Authority, voted this month to withhold deliveries to the farmers if rainfall does not increase substantially by March.  A Denver Environmental Lawyer has also been monitoring the case.

Fearful that water shortages could stunt growth in Texas, the legislature is considering tapping the state's rainy-day fund to finance water projects. A leading proposal by state Rep. Allan Ritter, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee in Texas, would use $2 billion from the rainy-day fund to create a revolving loan program for water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Texas officials say they are taking legal measures to ensure the state receives all the river water to which it is entitled under interstate compacts. That has become increasingly important because some other water sources, such as the Ogallala Aquifer, are slowly being depleted, according to state forecasters.

The amount of water that trickles down to the state from mountain snows also has fallen in recent years. Federal forecasters warned this month that snowfall so far this winter in the upper Rio Grande basin was less than 70% of the average for the past three decades, an ominous sign for downstream reservoirs supplying Texas.  A Valrico Environmental Lawyer has been keeping tabs on this case as well.

Water in the Red River is divided among four states—Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. The Tarrant Regional Water District is trying to force Oklahoma officials to allow it to capture water in Oklahoma, where it is less salty, and pipe the water into Texas.

Texas argued in a friend-of-the-court brief that the state could lose $49 billion in annual income by 2060 if its agencies can't meet the water needs of north Texas, and claimed Oklahoma didn't even need the water in dispute.   There is an Atlanta Environmental Lawyer monitoring the ongoing battle.

"The result of Oklahoma's economic protectionism is the ongoing flow of billions of gallons of water, unused, into the Gulf of Mexico," the state's lawyers wrote.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit sided with Oklahoma, which passed a law in 2009 barring water from being transported to other states without the consent of Oklahoma's legislature.   In Pennsylvania, there is a Philadelphia Environmental Lawyer as well as a Philadelphia Environmental Defense Lawyer that are watching the progressing multi-state water legal fight.

This deal between the states does not allow Texas to enter Oklahoma to take water, Oklahoma officials argue, instead, Texas should be taking its share of the water from farther downstream.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Official: Justice considers joining Armstrong suit

originally appeared in USA Today:

As Lance Armstrong admits to doping during his famed cycling career, Justice Department officials are recommending that the agency join a federal whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong, a federal law enforcement official briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak told USA TODAY Sports.

The case was initiated by a former cyclist and Armstrong teammate under the False Claims Act. At issue is whether Armstrong and others defrauded the U.S. Postal Service of around $30 million when it sponsored his team.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the Justice Department's recommendation.

Armstrong has sought a reconciliation with his former teammate as part of his overall strategy in confessing to using performance-enhancing drugs, two people with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The people requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

So far, the reconciliation attempt has not been successful. The former teammate has been hostile to Armstrong because of his former teammate's previous attacks against him. He was among the first to accuse Armstrong of doping, prompting Armstrong and his attorneys to fire back and portray him as a fraud.

Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles last year, confessed to Oprah Winfrey on Monday that he doped during his career, one of the people said.

The former teammate has previously admitted to doping and lost his 2006 Tour de France title.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Armstrong ready as Oprah comes to town

originally appeared in The Associated Press:

Days of preparation dwindled to hours for Lance Armstrong whose scheduled interview with Oprah Winfrey transformed his quiet upscale neighborhood into a destination for media waiting for word of an apology and onlookers snapping pictures of it all for souvenirs.

After more than a decade of denying that he doped to win the Tour de France seven times, Armstrong was set to sit down Monday for what has been trumpeted as a no-holds barred, 90-minute, question-and-answer session with Winfrey.

The cyclist will make a limited confession about his role as the head of a long-running scheme to dominate the prestigious bike race with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs, a person with knowledge of the situation has told The Associated Press.

Winfrey and her crew said they would film the interview at Armstrong's home and broadcast it Thursday on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Local and international news crews were staking out positions in front of Armstrong's Spanish-style villa. News crews began arriving before dawn, hoping to catch a glimpse of Winfrey or Armstrong.

If he was feeling any pressure, Armstrong hardly showed it during a jog under bright skies Sunday, even as members of his legal team began arriving one-by-one at his home.

I'm calm, I'm at ease and ready to speak candidly, he told the AP, but declined to reveal how he would answer questions about the scandal that has shadowed his career like an angry storm cloud.

Armstrong was stripped of all seven Tour titles last year following a voluminous U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that portrayed him as a ruthless competitor, willing to go to any lengths to win the prestigious race. The USADA chief executive labeled the doping regimen allegedly carried out by the U.S. Postal Service team that Armstrong once led was the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.

Yet Armstrong looked like just another runner getting in his roadwork when he talked to the AP, wearing a red jersey and black shorts, sunglasses and a white baseball cap pulled down to his eyes. Leaning into a reporter's car on the shoulder of a busy Austin road, he seemed unfazed by the attention and the news crews that made stops at his home. He cracked a few jokes about all the reporters vying for his attention, then added, but now I want to finish my run, and took off down the road.

The interview with Winfrey will be Armstrong's first public response to the USADA report. Armstrong is not expected to provide a detailed account about his involvement, nor address in depth many of the specific allegations in the more than 1,000-page USADA report.

In a text to the AP on Saturday, Armstrong said: I told her (Winfrey) to go wherever she wants and I'll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That's all I can say.

After a federal investigation of the cyclist was dropped without charges being brought last year, USADA stepped in with an investigation of its own. The agency deposed 11 former teammates and accused Armstrong of masterminding a complex and brazen drug program that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of other performance-enhancers.

After he was stripped of his Tour titles, Armstrong defiantly tweeted a picture of himself on a couch at home with all seven of the yellow leader's jerseys on display in frames behind him. But the preponderance of evidence in the USADA report and pending legal challenges on several fronts apparently forced him to change tactics, and he still faces legal challenges.

Armstrong's former teammate who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping, has filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit that accused Armstrong of defrauding the U.S. Postal Service. The Justice Department has yet to decide whether it will join the suit as a plaintiff.

The London-based Sunday Times also is suing Armstrong to recover about $500,000 it paid him to settle a libel lawsuit. On Sunday, the newspaper took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, offering Winfrey suggestions for what questions to ask Armstrong. Dallas-based SCA Promotions, which tried to deny Armstrong a promised bonus for a Tour de France win, has threatened to bring yet another lawsuit seeking to recover more than $7.5 million an arbitration panel awarded the cyclist in that dispute.

The lawsuit most likely to be influenced by a confession might be the Sunday Times case. Potential perjury charges stemming from Armstrong's sworn testimony in the 2005 arbitration fight would not apply because of the statute of limitations. Armstrong was not deposed during the federal investigation that was closed last year.

Many of his sponsors dropped Armstrong after the damning USADA report - at the cost of tens of millions of dollars - and soon after, he left the board of the Livestrong cancer-fighting charity he founded in 1997. Armstrong is still said to be worth about $100 million.

Livestrong might be one reason Armstrong has decided to come forward with an apology and limited confession. The charity supports cancer patients and still faces an image problem because of its association with Armstrong. He also may be hoping a confession would allow him to return to competition in the elite triathlon or running events he participated in after his cycling career.

World Anti-Doping Code rules state his lifetime ban cannot be reduced to less than eight years. WADA and U.S. Anti-Doping officials could agree to reduce the ban further depending on what information Armstrong provides and his level of cooperation.

Number of workers 75 and older rising

originally appeared in USA Today:

Sixty-five is the normal retirement age, but many Americans are working much later in life, and it's not just because they need the money.

The number of workers who are 75 and older has skyrocketed by 76.7% in the past two decades, according to research by the AARP Public Policy Institute. We are living longer, healthier lives, according to the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+. And the types of work that people do is not as labor intensive as it was in our parents' generation.

There are a number of reasons why Americans workers may decide to put off retirement. Some may just love their jobs; others may need more money. But even those who have socked away plenty of cash are often terrified about rising medical bills and want to keep earning.

While the 75-plus group of workers has jumped, it's still a small percentage of the American labor force. It represented 7.6% last year, up from 4.3% in 1990.

But there might be more 75-plus workers if it were easier for them to keep their jobs. I really love my work, and I feel quite useful, according to a juvenile court judge in Westmoreland County, Pa. But because he turned 70 last year, he now faces mandatory retirement.

Instead of quietly retiring in January, Driscoll joined five other Pennsylvania judges in a lawsuit seeking to have the right to continue working past age 70. The case, filed in November, claims that Pennsylvania's mandatory retirement provision discriminates against people on the basis of age.

It's hard to know how many older workers are also forced to retire. But there is a growing number of older Americans who are not retired and are in search of a job. The number of unemployed Americans age 75 and older increased from 11,000 in 1990 to 75,000 in 2011, according to AARP.

Some might have lost their jobs during the recession and haven't been able to find another. The longer you have been out of the labor force, the less likely you are to come back in, according to the senior strategic policy adviser at the AARP Public Policy Institute. There is the question about skills, whether you have what employers want because technology has kept changing while you've been out of work.

American who are 75 and older tend to have certain types of jobs. For example, 25% have professional occupations, such as doctors and lawyers, while another 25% have jobs in retail trades, she says.

Older Americans in search of jobs should consider growing fields, such as health, education and not-profit organizations, according to the author. All kinds of small businesses need people with expertise, she says. Then you can have a part-time gig with flexible schedules.

Hurricane-Flooded Cars Lure Unwitting Buyers

originally appeared in The New York Times:

At the far end of an enormous hangar, used cars rolled up one by one to the auction block. They had been buffed to a shine, but some carried telltale signs of damage. Puckered leather seats, a hint of mildew, headlights beaded with condensation. Just over two months ago, they had filled with seawater during Hurricane Sandy.

One buyer at the Manheim car auction last Wednesday, kept his hands in his pockets. He was looking for totaled vehicles to export to Nigeria, where they would be fixed up and resold; but these, he said, were too far gone. Saltwater destroys cars, he explained, and even when rebuilt they can be unsafe. I never buy the flooded ones, he said. One resource is Lemon Law Attorney Milwaukee Wisconsin which provides expert service.

But all around him, other buyers showed no such compunction. The flooded cars sold briskly, for prices like $2,600, $5,300, $3,000. Some were to be dismantled into salvageable parts, like wheels and fenders; some were to be melted down for their rubber and steel. And yet, while all have titles branding them flood cars, not all were destined for the scrap heap.

Many were headed to out-of-state resale markets where, because of inconsistencies in state laws, buyers will have no inkling that the vehicles were so damaged by floodwater that insurance companies deemed them a total loss. Another resource is to use a Grand Rapids Car Accident Lawyer which can deliver excellent representation.

People masquerade those things as perfectly good vehicles without any hint that they had been flooded or exposed to water, according to a representative of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an industry-financed nonprofit organization that investigates insurance fraud and vehicle theft. There is a market for these vehicles, even though we might never want to see them on the road again.

Though this practice provoked outrage in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other major storms, dealers and industry experts said the brisk trade in flood-damaged cars since Hurricane Sandy had highlighted how legislative efforts at the state and federal levels have failed to stem the resale market.

The Insurance Crime Bureau said over 230,000 cars were damaged by the hurricane, predominantly by the ocean water that surged into seaside communities, filling engines and interiors with sand and corrosive saline.

In Broad Channel, Queens, scores of dead cars sat at crazy angles for weeks after the storm all along Cross Bay Boulevard, a reminder of the brute strength of the waves. In areas like Lower Manhattan and Hoboken, N.J., car owners returned to expensive parking garages to find their cars floating in the soup of sewage and river water that had poured into the underground lots. Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service lost cars, according to line items in Congress’s hurricane-relief package.

One woman had watched in shock as water poured into her garage on Cherry Street in Lower Manhattan during the storm; her 2011 Prius sank underneath. By the time the water was pumped out nearly a week later, the car was a total loss. It still had water inside it when I opened the door, in the glove compartment and the cup holders, she said.

She was fortunate: she had total-loss insurance. A few weeks ago, her 2012 Prius arrived. But for the destroyed car, like the 150,000 other New York cars that were flooded, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the odyssey had just begun.

Once the cars are declared a total loss, specialized firms swoop in on behalf of insurance companies to tow away, spruce up and resell the cars. One of those companies, Insurance Auto Auctions, which estimates that it is handling about 40 percent of the region’s storm-damaged cars heading to the salvage market, employs people to study weather forecasts and predict where the next disaster will be.

For the hurricane, the company dispatched 400 tow trucks to the area and leased huge holding facilities even before the storm hit. One of those was an airport in Calverton, on Long Island, where the runways were leased at a rate of $2.7 million for the year, according to the town supervisor of nearby Riverhead. Since the storm, about 18,000 cars have packed the tarmac end to end, he said. When you sit there and look at these cars with their children’s seats in them and the briefcases and the uneaten lunches — it’s just surreal, he said.

Cars that had sustained storm damage can arrive at auction branded improperly, or have their titles fudged after they leave. In most states, cars destroyed by flooding are required to have their titles marked, or branded, to indicate that fact. But clearing that scarlet letter can be as easy as re-registering for a title in another state that does not require the flood brand carry-over, a process known as “title washing.” Unscrupulous dealers pile their purchases on flatbeds and head straight for those states, like Colorado and Vermont.

The prospect of title-washed cars from Hurricane Sandy entering the market raised alerts thousands of miles from New York. Officials warned consumers in Georgia, North Carolina and Illinois, where the secretary of state’s office is scrutinizing all new title applications for cars coming in from states affected by the storm. A foreign market for these cars is also booming, unfettered by American regulations.

Federal legislation that would require total-loss status to be affixed permanently to a car’s title was introduced in Congress before and after Hurricane Katrina, but was never passed. In 2009, the Justice Department rolled out the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, a database fed by insurers and states. It contains reports on the movement of cars sold at salvage auctions but is limited by sporadic reporting and incomplete data.

These shortcomings have provoked certain groups to warn about a deluge of unsafe cars hitting the market in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, including the National Automobile Dealers Association, which represents car dealers; and companies that sell reports on vehicle histories, like CarFax. Watchdog groups say insurance companies sometimes contribute to the problem by underplaying at auction the damage to a car. In 2005, the State Farm insurance company reached an agreement with the attorneys general of 49 states and the District of Columbia for failing to properly title cars, reimbursing over 30,000 affected consumers. A spokeswoman for State Farm, said the company was complying with the laws in each state affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The explosion of car sales over the Internet, where vehicles can be sold person to person and bypass official channels, has made the problem harder to resolve.

One New York resident never bothered to buy replacement insurance for the 1996 Nissan Altima he had used to ferry his two dachshunds around his Belle Harbor neighborhood in Queens. After it was soaked, he sold it for $250 to a junk-car buyer who had left a flier under the windshield wiper. Such uninsured cars are even more susceptible to ending up back on the road with no indication of their soggy history — they are often rebuilt, reinspected and retitled, without their true affliction ever being reported.

Not all owners are ready to discard their waterlogged cars, to be rolled out potentially into a commerce of deception. Though her insurance company deemed her 1969 Land Rover a total loss, one woman took the vehicle, which was steeped in water in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to a mechanic for a second opinion.

But just last week, she gave in, and her beloved car, which she calls “Landy,” was towed to a salvage auction. It’s hard to wrap your head around it, she said. And what happens to all that stuff? Where does it go?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Self-portraits: Holmes sticks out tongue, has guns

originally appeared in The Associated Press:

The photos were chilling and enigmatic, just like their subject. In the pictures, taken on his IPhone hours before the Aurora movie theater massacre, accused gunman James Holmes mugs for the camera, sticks out his tongue and smiles as he holds a Glock under his face and displays his arsenal arrayed on his bed.

Prosecutors who displayed the pictures at a hearing that ended Wednesday argued the photos display "identity, deliberation and extreme indifference."

Holmes' attorneys - who have been setting up an insanity defense and said they might present testimony about the defendant's mental health - decided not to call any witnesses.

A judge is due to rule by Friday whether prosecutors presented enough evidence to justify Holmes standing trial for more than 160 felony counts stemming from the July 20 attack, which killed 12 people and injured 70. Holmes, 25, may enter a formal plea that day.

The three-day hearing occurred as the nation still recovers from the shock of last month's shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults. It wrapped up just as the Colorado Legislature began its session and pledged to tackle gun violence, and Vice President Joe Biden met with families of victims as part of the White House's own gun control push.

Prosecutors presented the most detailed description of the attack and Holmes' alleged months of preparation. But they never addressed the mystery of why Holmes opened fire six weeks after leaving a neuroscience graduate program.

Legal experts say evidence against Holmes is so strong that the case may end in a plea deal. That would make the hearing the only detailed presentation of the evidence that victims, their families and the public will hear.

Holmes sat impassively through much of the proceedings, watching intently as a surveillance video showed him entering the theater lobby. Family members, who had a better view of Holmes' face than the media did in the packed courtroom, said he smiled multiple times, especially when the photos were shown.

He's not crazy, he's evil, according to the father of one of the victims, whose 24-year-old son was killed in the attack. He's an animal.

The prosecutor argued that Holmes meticulously planned the attack, starting with the online purchase of two tear gas canisters on May 10, followed by buying online 6,295 rounds of ammunition, and body armor, as well as going to local sporting goods stores to purchase an assault rifle, shotgun and two Glock pistols. He bought his ticket for opening night of "The Dark Knight Returns" nearly two weeks before the attack and visited the theater early, photographing the layout.

He rigged an elaborate booby-trap system in his apartment with three different triggers, hoping the detonation would distract police from the carnage he planned a few miles away, investigators testified. The trap was never sprung.

About six hours before the attack, Holmes took a series of photos on his phone. In one he wears black contact lenses and a black stocking cap, with two tufts of his dyed-red hair sticking out like a pair of horns. In another he holds a pistol beneath his face, twisted into a grin. In a third, much of his arsenal - the assault rifle and shotgun, magazines for ammunition, tactical gear and bags to carry rounds - is displayed on a red sheet on his bed.

When Holmes burst into the theater and opened fire just after midnight July 20 there were as many as 1,500 people crowded into the seats and in the auditorium next door, prosecutors said. Some of Holmes' bullets pierced the wall and injured people in the adjacent theater. Holmes fired about 70 rounds, many of which apparently hit multiple people, and was only prevented from shooting more because his rifle jammed, prosecutors said.

He didn't care who he killed or how many he killed, because he wanted to kill all of them, according to the prosecutor.

The hearing is a legal formality to establish the prosecution's case. Defense attorneys rarely mount a full-blown case during such hearings, preferring to save their witnesses for the trial. The defense attorney offered a limited, but notable, preview when she questioned an ATF agent who had listed Holmes' extensive online purchases.

The defense attorney asked whether any Colorado law prevented a severely mentally ill person from buying the ammunition, body armor and handcuffs that Holmes purchased online. The answer: No.

Holmes had seen a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado, Denver. There was no testimony about his year at the school during the hearing. He left the neuroscience graduate program after failing a key exam.

If Holmes is found sane, goes to trial and is convicted, his attorneys can try to stave off a possible death penalty by arguing he is mentally ill. Prosecutors have yet to say whether they will seek the death penalty. They will have 90 days from Holmes' arraignment to hold Holmes for trial to decide.

If Holmes is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would likely be sent to the state mental hospital, not prison. Such a defendant is deemed not guilty because he didn't know right from wrong and is therefore absolved of the crime, according to the former Jefferson County District Attorney. His case would be reviewed every six months until he's deemed sane and released.

Last year, Bruco Strong Eagle Eastwood was acquitted by reason of insanity of attempted first-degree murder in the wounding of two eighth-graders outside a school not far from Columbine High School. Eastwood is spending time in a mental hospital.

Colorado theater shooting case enters new phase

originally appeared in The Associated Press:

A judge has ordered the Colorado theater shooting suspect to stand trial, but his attorneys say they're not ready to enter a plea.

The District Judge ruled Thursday night that prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence to proceed with charges alleging James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others at a suburban Denver movie theater July 20.

Holmes is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

The next major step is for Holmes to enter a plea during an arraignment hearing. The District Judge scheduled the arraignment for Friday but noted that defense lawyers will likely ask for a delay.

His defense attorneys filed papers earlier Thursday saying he's not ready to enter a plea.

Holmes' attorneys also objected to news media requests to bring cameras into the courtroom during the arraignment. Cameras have been barred from court since Holmes' initial appearance in July.

If Holmes, 25, is convicted of first-degree murder, he could face the death penalty. Prosecutors have not said whether they would pursue that sentence.

At a preliminary hearing this week, prosecution witnesses testified that Holmes spent weeks amassing an arsenal and planning the attack at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises." They also detailed an elaborate setup at Holmes' apartment designed to explode at the same time as the theater attack several miles away.

Prosecution witnesses testified that Holmes began acquiring weapons in early May and by July 6 had two semi-automatic pistols, a shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle, 6,200 rounds of ammunition and high-capacity magazines that allow a shooter to fire more rounds without stopping to reload.

Holmes' lawyers called no witnesses this week. They have said he is mentally ill.

The defense motion suggested the possibility of more delays in the case.

One possible reason that Holmes' attorneys could ask for a delay is to seek a mental health evaluation by a doctor of their choosing. If Holmes enters an insanity plea, an evaluation would be done by doctors at the state mental hospital.

Either side also could argue that Holmes is not mentally capable of assisting in his own defense. If that happens, the judge would order a mental competency evaluation. Sylvester also can order an evaluation if he has his own questions about Holmes' competence. Doctors at the state mental hospital in Pueblo would conduct such an examination, which can take months.

If Holmes were to be found incompetent, the case would come to a halt while he receives psychiatric treatment at the state mental hospital. He would remain there until doctors can restore him to competency, at which point the case would continue.

Once the judge rules Holmes is competent - either immediately after a competency hearing or after psychiatric treatment - and any other delays are resolved, Holmes would then enter a plea.

This happened with Jared Loughner in the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that killed six people and wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. A federal judge ruled Loughner was incompetent to stand trial. After more than a year in treatment, Loughner was ruled competent, the case proceeded, and he entered guilty pleas. He is serving life in prison.

Ultimately, Holmes was widely expected to plead either not guilty or - more likely - not guilty by reason of insanity. In the latter case, too, Sylvester would order a psychiatric evaluation by doctors at the state hospital in Pueblo. A jury would consider that evaluation, along with testimony by expert witnesses, any other court-ordered evaluations and other evidence, in deciding at a trial whether Holmes is or is not guilty by reason of insanity.

If found not guilty by reason of insanity, Holmes would be committed to the state mental hospital for treatment. His case would be reviewed every six months. He conceivably could be released if he ever is deemed no longer insane.

Insanity is what this case is going to turn on, according to a Denver criminal defense attorney. This is not a whodunit case.

Jenni Rivera's company sued over plane crash

originally appeared in USA Today from The Associated Press:

Relatives of four passengers killed last month with Jenni Rivera in a plane crash in Mexico filed a lawsuit against Rivera's company Thursday alleging the singer was negligent when she hired a faulty Learjet 25.

The civil lawsuit filed in a Los Angeles court seeks unspecified financial compensation from Jenni Rivera Enterprises. It claims Rivera picked the aircraft owned by Las Vegas-based Starwood Management and should have known the state of the plane and the pilots' status.

There are a lot of doubts about why Jenni Rivera chose that aerial clunker, according to the  attorney of Kiel & Larson, who represents the plaintiffs.

Rivera's publicist, her makeup artist, her stylist, her lawyer, and the two pilots were among the seven people killed when the aircraft crashed Dec. 9 in northern Mexico.

Authorities have not determined what caused the plane to plunge, killing all onboard.

Jenni Rivera Enterprises collects royalties and copyright payments for Rivera, 43, and it manages the singer's other businesses and assets.

The Encino-based company was taken over by Rivera's sister, according to their brother.

Her brother didn't return a message requesting comment Thursday.

The lawsuit also accuses three other companies that own or once owned the Learjet 25 of negligence, alleging they knew or should have known the plane was not safe to fly and it was likely to injure or kill any person or persons who used it. It also alleges negligence by 100 unidentified people who took part in the plane's design, testing, sale, maintenance, repairs and checks.

The companies are Starwood Management, which owned the aircraft, Rodartz Financial Group Inc., which owns Starwood, and McOco Inc., which owned the plane for two decades before Starwood bought it.

The lawsuit also alleges the three companies and the unidentified people knew that the pilot and co-pilot did not have the necessary training and were not apt to safely fly the plane.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the same plane was substantially damaged in a 2005 landing mishap at Amarillo International Airport in Texas. It hit a runway distance marker after losing directional control. There were four aboard but no injuries. It was registered to a company in Houston, Texas, as the time.

Starwood has been the subject of a lawsuit and investigations, though none so far have centered on the plane that carried Rivera. Another of its planes was seized in September by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in McAllen, Texas.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Attorney seeks $100M in Conn. shooting

Story originally appeared in USA Today

The child heard "conversations, gunfire and screaming" over Sandy Hook's intercom after someone in the office apparently switched on the system, according to the filing.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A lawyer who's asking to sue Connecticut for $100 million on behalf of a 6-year-old Newtown school shooting survivor who heard violence over the school's intercom system says the potential claim is about improving school security, not money.
"It's about living in a world that's safe," New Haven attorney Irving Pinsky told the Associated Press on Saturday. "The answer is about protecting the kids."
Pinsky asked this week to sue the state, which has immunity against most lawsuits unless it gives a party permission to go forward with a claim. Connecticut's claims commissioner couldn't be reached for comment Saturday.
Pinksy's client, whom he calls "Jill Doe" in the claim, sustained "emotional and psychological trauma and injury" on Dec. 14 after gunman Adam Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and gunned down 20 children and six adults inside in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.
The child heard "conversations, gunfire and screaming" over Sandy Hook's intercom after someone in the office apparently switched on the system, according to the claim. Pinsky said Saturday he didn't know whether his client saw anyone die.
The state Board of Education, Department of Education and state education commissioner failed to protect the child "from foreseeable harm," including by failing to provide a safe school setting, the filing said.
It also said the parties failed to review and carefully scrutinize annual strategic school profile reports from the local school district and Sandy Hook Elementary as well as "other submissions with respect to student safety and emergency response planning and protocol."
It says the parties also failed to require the school and local Board of Education to formulate and implement an effective student safety emergency response plan.
Pinsky said Saturday he didn't want to reveal more about the 6-year-old or details about her experience during the shooting because of privacy concerns.
The attorney said he hasn't gotten a reply from the state yet. The Hartford Courant first reported the filing.