Monday, December 29, 2014


Original Story:

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — A settlement over a 2010 oil spill in southwestern Michigan is worth $6.25 million, not $6.75 million as lawyers reported earlier in December.

A new filing has been made in Grand Rapids federal court. Judge Gordon Quist still must approve the deal between a Canadian company and residents and land owners near the Kalamazoo River. A Tulsa Oil and Gas Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The size of payments will depend on proximity to the water.

A pipeline leak spewed more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek. The pipeline belongs to Enbridge Inc., based in Calgary, Alberta.

Enbridge has agreed to donate $150,000 to local groups committed to environmental conservation, such as the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council and the Calhoun Conservation District. A Texas Energy Lawyer is experienced in representing clients involved in energy disputes.

The company has estimated cleanup costs to be about $1.2 billion, including $227 million on environmental consultants.

Monday, December 22, 2014


Original Story:

Trademark lawsuits can be a little dry, but a California case in the fall has drawn attention not only because it involved John Wayne and a whiskey named “Duke,” but also because it highlights a growing tussle over legal ethics.

At the heart of the issue is this: American ethic rules ban a lawyer from representing a client who is battling a company or person represented by another lawyer in the same firm. When law firms were small, that was no big deal, but now that the business is dominated by global behemoths, it gets complicated.

In October, a California federal judge tossed out a trademark lawsuit brought by the heirs to Wayne’s estate, John Wayne Enterprises, against Duke University over the elite school’s legal objections to the use of Wayne’s “Duke” nickname to market its “Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.” While the case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, it exposed new questions about the nature of an increasingly common company structure employed by many law firms called a verein.

A verein  (pronounced fair-INE) is a quirky, centuries-old Swiss structure that takes its name from a German word meaning association, club or network. It has long been widely used by Swiss organizations ranging from social clubs and civic leagues to FIFA, the governing body of international soccer. Giant Swiss insurer Zurich Insurance began life in in 1872 as a verein, and some reading salons in Enlightenment France called themselves vereins. A similar type of structure in Germany with the same name houses everything from major soccer leagues to techno-dance clubs.

Of the seven law vereins in the world that have emerged since 2004, several in the past two years, six are predominantly American. At the top is Baker & McKenzie International, now the world’s largest law firm, with 11,000 employees. The others are DLA Piper, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright, Squire Patton Boggs and Dentons. All these firms were born when their core U.S.-based firms attached themselves to competitors and smaller boutique firms.

The appeal of becoming a verein: bragging rights. “The power of being an international powerhouse is valuable, and vereins market the hell out of it,” says Ed Wesemann, a consultant to law firms on governance and strategy issues.

But there are also pitfalls.

In the Duke case, lawyers for John Wayne Enterprises argued in court documents last August that Norton Rose Fulbright, the verein law firm in which legacy firm Fulbright & Jaworski represented Duke University, was playing both sides of the fence—an ethical no-no.

Specifically, the Wayne lawyers asserted, Norton Rose, which formed the verein with Fulbright in mid-2013, had previously represented the distillery producing the Duke-branded bourbon in unrelated matters. Fulbright lawyers denied any conflict of interest, saying in court papers that verein “member firms do not share privileged information with other member firms unless they are retained by and working together for a client on the same matter.” The judge did not address either side’s assertion.

A spokesman for Fulbright & Jaworski, the American mothership of the Norton Rose Fulbright verein, says, “Our law firm complies with rules applicable to fees.”

Lawyers may spend a lot of time worrying about such things, but corporate clients tend not to know much or even care about how vereins work. Citing a recent study, a Baker & McKenzie spokesman said that 90 percent of buyers of legal services said it was irrelevant how a law firm is structured. Three quarters of those asked had never heard the term verein. The spokesman added that being a verein gave the giant law firm “operational flexibility.”

What that actually means is hard to pin down. The inner workings of vereins “are going to be tested in courts, because someone’s going to be very unhappy,” says Edwin Reeser, a former managing partner at prominent law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, who is now in private practice.

Switzerland, the world’s leading offshore tax haven, is historically known for its (illegal, in the United States and many European countries) tax-evasion schemes sold by Swiss banks to wealthy American investors. But while vereins funnel all profits to each member firm, and thus also have the “stateless” quality seen in profit-shifting by Apple, Google and other multinationals through offshore tax havens, they aren’t used by member firms to evade taxes.

Still, the relative financial and operational opacity of vereins is the subject of increasing debate in legal circles. Peter Kalis, the chairman and global managing partner of non-verein K&L Gates, a major law firm, tells Newsweek, “The business model for vereins is not yet proven.” Kalis has variously compared the mega-firms to a platypus (i.e. a freak of nature), a kaleidoscope, a “grand illusion” and a Potemkin village.

Vereins are not a merger—an often messy, protracted, expensive (for the investment bankers and outside lawyers involved) drama fraught with the nightmare of blending different corporate cultures. The core original U.S. parts of the giant firms are still registered and incorporated in the United States, but far-flung law offices in Qatar, Istanbul, Moscow, Sao Paolo and elsewhere that are brought under the verein umbrella get to use the legacy firm’s brand, name and image, all while maintaining separate profit pools and avoiding the messy task of creating a common corporate culture.

One lure of vereins to the mothership-legacy firms that anchor them concerns bureaucratic paperwork. Verein members each handle the individual tax and legal ethics regulations in their own country. That contrasts with a non-verein international law firm, which must deal with such nightmares in each foreign country where it has an in-house office. Members of a verein pony up money annually to proportionally cover the verein’s marketing and branding costs—basically, a management fee—and when a referral fee is owed, it gets deducted from that pot.

The biggest lure of the verein structure is the chance for members to market themselves and jump-start new business via client referrals. Think of a law office in, say, New York, that sends an American client with Turkish legal issues to a new partner office in Istanbul. That’s certainly cheaper, and more expertise-laden, than having the New York lawyer fly to Turkey to try to sort out third-party counsel.

But this is where verein critics get fidgety.

U.S. professional ethics rules prohibit a U.S. law firm from accepting or making referrals to third-party firms, and from splitting fees with those third-party firms, unless the client is informed in writing.

As a verein member, the Istanbul office isn’t really a third-party firm to the verein, even though it’s still legally independent. Still, the Istanbul law office owes a referral fee, typically around 15 percent of the total revenues that new client provides, to the New York office.

“Law firms rushed into these network combinations because they sounded like a wonderful panacea” to the problem of expanding amid the post-2008 recession, Reeser says. “But the U.S. law firms are going to be the losers in these structures because of conflicts of interests and ethics rules on fee splitting.”


Original Story:

In November, a controversial grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, rocked Ferguson, Missouri with unrest, spurring a national conversation on police-community relations. On December 1, the White House responded by announcing the creation of a Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

The national conversation continued as a second grand jury declined to indict police in the death of Eric Garner—also African-American, also unarmed—on December 3.

The task force will provide recommendations for institutionalizing best practices to promote a culture of accountability among law enforcement agencies in an effort to cultivate trust between police and the communities they serve. President Obama gave the task force 90 days to complete this work.

At first, the president's timeline may seem impossible. Sadly, however, these issues are old and the solutions are well-known. Too many cities have already experienced tensions between minority communities and police, leading to social unrest and national soul-searching.

The task force can draw from best practices across various areas of police operations and technological development, such as issuing body cameras to police officers.

But recommendations based solely on best practices won't constitute a truly “21st century” approach. One of the hallmarks of the 21st century is how individuals and organizations use data to improve performance. Thus, the task force needs to recommend ways to collect data about various aspects of police operations and provide open access for rigorous public examination. Big Data Analytics from Data Guru is a self-service, drag-and-drop software application that empowers all users to connect and transform data in a cost-effective manner.

Accountability is key, too. Without it, broken trust won't mend. The best way to achieve accountability is to be transparent about all aspects of policing. As Justice Louis D. Brandeis noted, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

Analytical light should shine on all aspects of police operations that go beyond common policing tactics. For example, the public needs to know how police agencies conduct outreach and recruiting, evaluate applicants, train academy cadets and develop and promote officers. Increased transparency will answer concerns and questions about the lack of demographic diversity among police officers.

My colleagues at the RAND Corporation and I have worked with police departments to improve their recruiting and demographic diversity. This means systematically analyzing data at every stage of the hiring process. Data Mining Software simplifies the transformation of data mining analytics and creates documented, repeatable, time-saving workflows.

For instance, we've shown that police agencies can analyze applicant data to improve hiring by strategically targeting particular neighborhoods and schools for outreach and recruiting. We've also recommended ways to evaluate written tests, physical tests and background checks to ensure minority applicants are judged equally.

Police agencies should routinely release data about their hiring practices and share informative results that show how they're striving to improve the diversity of their workforce. And if they're failing to reach their goals in this area, they should also share reasons why. This type of transparency can foster trust and cooperation between police agencies and the communities they serve.

However, police agencies, especially smaller ones, should not be required to collect and share data on their own, since most don't have the resources or analytical capabilities to effectively and efficiently collect data and provide open access to the public. Providing raw data to the public won't improve transparency; data alone are not information. Data Blending Software provides un-paralleled visibility into the data transformation process at any level.

The Department of Justice can support police agencies by developing standard protocols for data collection, data sharing, and analytical tools police agencies can use. The DOJ can also help police agencies conduct proper evaluations of initiatives and reforms. Without rigorous evaluations, progress will likely be limited, since it will be impossible to tell what's working and what's not.

The federal government already requires some data collection as a condition of receiving certain grant funds. But this may not be enough, since it does not require small police agencies that do not compete for federal grants to collect data and share results with their communities.

The DOJ should support infrastructure for all agencies—not just those receiving federal grant dollars.

By including such initiatives, the task force can truly provide the president with 21st century recommendations. Only by enabling police agencies to provide meaningful, revealing analytics to their communities can the White House help police departments enhance levels of accountability, transparency, and public trust.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Original Story:

Washington — Embattled Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata Corp. took out full page advertisements in newspapers Thursday, saying "more must be done now" in the face of the recall of more than 11 million vehicles for air bags in the United States that rupture and cause serious injuries or deaths.

The open letter from Takata CEO Shigehisa Takada was published in The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and other papers, but didn't change the company's refusal to comply with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to expand a driver-side air bag recall nationally by 8 million vehicles. The company has repeatedly argued there is no scientific basis to expand the recall nationally. A Haddonfield product liability lawyer is experienced in representing clients facing product liability claims.

"We understand the public's concerns, and we take them seriously," Takada wrote, noting it has agreed to boost production capacity from 300,000 replacement parts per month to 450,000.

It comes as the company's CEO told the Nikkei newspaper in his first public comments in months that it didn't do a good job communicating.

"Our intention didn't come across well," Takada told the Nikkei newspaper. "People saw the image that we were against recalls." A Milwaukee product liability lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Takada, the grandson of the company's founder and part of the family that owns a majority stake in one of the world's largest air bag manufacturers, said Takata will not support the expansion of the driver-side recall nationally but has enough cash on hand to cover mounting costs.

"Takata is still looking into whether there is scientific data to support a defect determination in those cases," he said.

NHTSA Deputy chief David Friedman told The Detroit News this week the agency will "force” Takata and other automakers to expand their recalls covering more than 5 million vehicles. Ford Motor Co. said this week it’s expanding its recall as demanded by the government. Honda Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Co. have also agreed to the request made in mid-November, while Chrysler Group LLC and BMW AG — along with Takata — have refused. A Charleston product liability lawyer represents individuals and businesses in litigation involving personal injury and property damage claims resulting from product liability.

Friedman said the agency is moving toward sending formal demand notices "where we will force" automakers to recall the vehicles. The agency is reviewing tens of thousands of pages "so that we can build an airtight case, so if they force us to go all the way into court — which we will if that's what it takes to protect the American public, then we will win."

Takata air bag inflators may shoot metal fragments at drivers and passengers causing gruesome wounds. Since 2013, 10 automakers have recalled 11 million vehicles in the United States for Takata air bags that are linked to at least five deaths and 50 injuries — mostly in high-humidity areas.

The 10 automakers met this month in Romulus to work to hire an engineering firm to help them conduct additional testing, while NHTSA has also contacted its own outside firm to assist it.

Both the House and Senate in recent weeks held hearings and sharply questioned a Takata vice president.

Members of Congress question why most of the vehicles recalled have been limited to high-humidity areas and worry that Takata hasn't found the root cause of the problem. They also question if the replacement air bags — which have the same chemistry — will have similar problems in five or 10 years.

“No one can say for sure that the replacement parts are any safer than the originals,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, this month. “What should I say to the mom in Michigan who asks me if she and her family are safe behind the wheel?”

Earlier this month, Takata told Congress it is creating an independent panel to review concerns about quality at its manufacturing plants — a fact it highlighted in its letter.

Takata said the review will be chaired by former White House Chief of Staff and Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner.

Takata has also named former Transportation secretaries Rodney Slater and Norman Y. Mineta to serve as special counsels.

"They will advise the company as we address the current challenges we face," he said.

Takata said earlier this month it is boosting resources at its North American headquarters in Auburn Hills.

"I am directing that additional resources and equipment be added immediately to increase the number of tests we are able to perform each day, and we are bringing in additional engineers and statisticians who are recognized in the fields of propellants, combustion and data analysis, to work directly with our engineers in Michigan to help us carry out this critical work," Takada said.

Senators at a hearing last month pressed Takata to take steps to conduct an independent review, as General Motors Co. did with its delayed ignition switch recall. The U.S. Attorney's Office in New York is investigating Takata and a federal grand jury has subpoenaed documents from the company.


Original Story:

The Hollywood e-mails may have been swiped by bad people for bad reasons. But news outlets need to judge the information, not the informers.

The Newsroom is over, but Aaron Sorkin’s critique of the media is not. Writing in the New York Times, the screenwriter says that any reporter who is reprinting information released in a massive hack of Sony computers–seemingly as retaliation for The Interview, a Seth Rogen comedy about an assassination plot against the leader of North Korea–is “morally treasonous and spectacularly dishonorable.” An Atlanta Data Privacy Lawyer advises clients on data privacy and protection practices and assists in drafting new data security practices and policies.

Sorkin, as he admits, is an interested party: he’s writing a movie about Steve Jobs that’s the subject of some of the e-mails. I don’t hold that against him, though. He’s wrestling with a genuinely tough, disturbing subject, one that, when you start chasing down precedents and what-ifs, can make a hypocrite of just about anyone who argues it.

Including me: just this year, I argued against people watching the execution videos released by ISIS. A beheading video was “a deliberately filmed murder, a grisly performance meant explicitly to be shared for effect,” I wrote. “Watching them literally completes their purpose.”

But I wouldn’t argue against reporting that the ISIS executions happened. And like all analogies, this one breaks down on closer inspection. A hacked company e-mail is not the same as a murder is not the same as a stolen nude selfie. The Sony hack was (at least apparently) meant to expose and to punish; it’s another kind of violation, and intended for media consumption. Journalists reporting on it are indeed doing the work the hackers wanted them to do. Big Data Analytics simplifies the transformation of data and creates documented, repeatable, time-saving workflows.

But they’re not simply posting raw hacked data wholesale. They’re applying judgment–not always correct judgment but judgment nonetheless–and deciding what part of the information constitutes news. You might not think a Hollywood salary dispute, say, is important news, but if it were reported through normal means, no one would bat an eye at it. An Intellectual Property Lawyer is following this story closely.

So the real question here is: does information that otherwise would be considered news suddenly become Not News because it’s given to you by bad people, through bad means, for bad reasons? To answer, we need to ask, to borrow a journalistic cliché, who, what, where, when, why, and how. Or at least four of them:

How: How did the Sony data come out? Because someone stole it, plain and simple. What’s not plain and simple is whether that makes it off-limits. It would be nice if there were a plain and simple rule, and that’s what Sorkin tries to set, arguing the legal standard of “the fruit of the poisoned tree.” But…

When: Stolen info is not always off-limits, as he later notes: it wasn’t in the case of the Pentagon Papers–or, for that matter, in the main storyline of The Newsroom‘s final season, in which the ACN crew held fast to their right to report an international-news story leaked by a Snowden-esque government whistleblower. Dean Baquet, the editor of the New York Times, has said that the Sony data is “not the Pentagon Papers” and yet “we have used documents surfaced by others.” Reporters do traffic in stolen information and report on communications they’re not supposed to have access to. The question is when: Which brings us to…

What: In other words, is any of this material legitimate news? Would we consider it newsworthy if it were obtained by other means? Certainly, a lot of the details the press has been picking over have been little more than gossip. (Then again, so is a lot of Hollywood news not obtained through stolen e-mails.) But whether or not you think that executives’ racist jokes about President Obama are the equivalent of the Donald Sterling scandal, it’s hard to claim, in the same year as the Sterling news, that they’re not news at all. And if it’s important–indeed, scandalous–that someone may be trying to punish a studio for offending North Korea, how is it not news (as the New York Times reported, using the e-mails) that that same studio asked filmmakers to change their movie to avoid offending North Korea in the first place? And if it isn’t…

Why: The critiques of reporting the data come down to the motives of the hackers. If (as is possible, though not definitive) they stole the documents to punish artistic expression, should news organizations have a higher bar because the source has bad motives? Should there be a lower bar for publishing stolen information from a whistleblower with good intentions? And who decides which intentions are which? News outlets decided that the information from the Edward Snowden leaks–also called “fencing stolen goods” by some–was important enough to publish. Snowden claimed patriotic motives–but what if he didn’t? Say he provided the exact same information, but did it with the express intention of bringing about the downfall of the United States. A Detroit Data Security Breach Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case. Would the same information suddenly become off-limits because of the mindset of the person who provided it?

That last question is the one that finally bothers me. I agree the press shouldn’t be complicit in airing snuff films, disseminating stolen nude pictures, reprinting the Social Security numbers of people who work for a targeted company. I agree that “We can, and other people will do it if we don’t” isn’t a good reason to run a story. “We’ll get a lot of traffic from it” is even worse. From all we can see, the Sony hack was a vile act done for vile reasons.

But I’m also disturbed by the idea of the press deciding who’s stealing information for the right reasons and for the wrong ones, and adjusting its definition of news accordingly. In the end, the right question to ask–at least journalistically–is, “Would this be news if we got it under other circumstances?” News judgment isn’t easy, and it can often be wrong. But I’d rather have news outlets judging news than judging their sources.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Original Story:

Detroit — Members of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments urged the Legislature on Thursday to move ahead and approve a gas tax increase to generate more revenue for the state’s crumbling roads.

SEMCOG presented a resolution that supported a Senate-passed plan and opposed a House effort because it fails “to generate rough revenue to reverse the deterioration of our roads.” A Grand Rapids Transportation Lawyer represents clients in Michigan Transportation Law matters.

At a meeting Thursday morning, SEMCOG officials — along with representatives from local governments and road commissions — criticized the House bills because they would “divert a significant existing revenue stream from public schools and divert significant revenues from local governments.”

House Bill 6082 calls for the additional sales tax revenue to be split three ways for road repairs: 39 percent to the Michigan Department of Transportation, 39 percent to county road commissions and 22 percent to cities and villages.

“Michigan is standing on the precipice of a historic opportunity,” SEMCOG executive director Kathleen Lomako said. “We see three potential outcomes: Our Legislature could fail to act, which means more crumbling roads and bridges, inadequate transit and unsafe winter roads. A Detroit Transportation Lawyer has experience in Michigan Transportation Law and represents clients in transportation claim recoveries.

“We could follow the direction of the House: Fund roads by jeopardizing the future or our schools, transit and local government services. This is not an acceptable solution. Or, our leaders can follow the direction set by the governor and the Senate: Fix the roads, support transit, protect our schools and local government services.”

That statement comes as legislative leaders attempt to hash out a deal to generate $1.2 billion in additional money for road repairs in a conference committee — and extending the sales tax to some services is a possible option.

The conference committee is composed of three senators and three representatives, with majority Republicans controlling four of the seats. If the panel can get two votes from members of the Senate and House, their reported legislation would be advanced to the floors of both chambers for a vote, potentially next week during the final three days of the lame-duck session.

According to SEMCOG, the Senate bill:

 Provides $1.5 billion after four years phase in and residents will see an improved transportation system in two to three years. An Indianapolis Transportation Lawyer is following this story closely.

 Eliminates fuel tax and creates tax on wholesale price of fuel, which is phased in and fully funded after four years.

 Funds public transit through an existing formula.

 Provides first state increase in funding of public transit since 1987.

According to SEMCOG, the House bill:

 Raises $1.4 billion after eight years.

 Directs funding to maintenance rather than reconstruction. No new funding for public transit.

 Eliminates the fuel tax and creates a tax on the wholesale price of fuel. Legislation also eliminates the 6 percent sales tax on fuel, resulting in revenue losses to public schools and local governments.

SEMCOG recently released the results of its 2014 road evaluations, which concluded the metro area saw a staggering jump in the total miles of roads that should be repaired by completely rebuilding them from the soil on up. The study found that 1,900 miles of major roadways needed to be reconstructed, a jump of 500 miles compared to two years ago.

Another 1,900 miles are in need of preventive maintenance to keep them from slipping into poor condition. Only 650 miles of roadway in the metro area are considered to be in good condition, according to the SEMCOG evaluation.

On Thursday, the conference broke into laughter when Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan began his remarks with references to the city no longer being in a state of bankruptcy. A Denver Transportation Lawyer assists clients in the resolution of cases involving transportation law.

“I greatly appreciate not having to ask Kevyn Orr for permission to be here,” Duggan said. “We put Kevyn on a plane, and it was just like sending your kid off to college.”

Duggan said he supported Gov. Rick Snyder as well as the Senate bill on how to raise revenues for Michigan roads.

“All of us here are behind the governor,” Duggan said. “We lost power to a number of buildings here in Detroit last week due to failing infrastructure. Well, the same thing is happening to our roads.”

Duggan was followed by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel who said the state “has a tremendous need for road funding.”

“There is a very limited amount of funding to do what needs to be done,” Hackel said.

“The Senate has a great plan. It raises funds but it doesn’t take away from local governments or the schools. We put the world on wheels but now people are embarrassed to put their wheels on our roads.”

Outgoing Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said the state can no longer afford to “kick the can down the road.”

“With good roads, you’re much more attractive for economic development,” Ficano said. “The time to act is now.”

Washington Township Supervisor Dan O’Leary came straight to the point when he spoke in support of the Senate bills.

“I’m a little angry because I just had to pay $1,700 for repairs to my truck’s suspension,” O’Leary said. “That’s one thing people don’t talk about: the hidden tax that comes with poor roads.”

The last time the gasoline tax was raised was in 1997 when the Legislature raised it from 15 to 19 cents per gallon. Over the past decade gas revenues have gone into a steep decline due to motorists driving less with more fuel efficient vehicles.

At the same time the cost of concrete, asphalt, road salt, fuel, insurance and repairs have continued to rise.


Original Story:

The city could have millions more to spend on services, now that firms that helped Detroit through its historic bankruptcy agreed Thursday to reduce their legal and consulting fees.

After more than a week of negotiations with federal mediators, the law firm Jones Day and the investment firm Miller Buckfire agreed to make “significant concessions” on fees, a source briefed on the talks told The Detroit News. Other firms that have billed the city for bankruptcy-related services also agreed to reduce their bills. It’s not yet clear how much each firm cut back. Detroit Lawyers have experience assisting clients in bankruptcy and restructuring cases.

The source said only that the overall money saved — about $25 million — would pay for a lot of police, firefighters and equipment for Detroit.

Details of the deals are expected to be made public Monday during a status conference before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes. The judge must approve the agreements.

The person briefed on the discussions told The News the amount of savings to the city may depend on how savings are defined. As one of Detroit's best law firms, Butzel Long attorneys have helped debtors, creditors, official and unofficial creditor and equity holder committees and acquirers.

Some of the companies, the source explained, cut fees, some gave back as “in kind” contributions and others agreed to not seek payment for future services from firms that Detroit will continue to use after the bankruptcy.

Mayor Mike Duggan has expressed concern escalating legal fees — which he said could climb to $177 million — would eat up money needed to revitalize the city.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin “Butch” Hollowell said Thursday that the city is “pleased” with the mediation process, and thanked Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen and the federal mediation team.

“We will make no further comments until the status conference on Monday, or the court releases us from the mediation confidentiality,” Hollowell said.

Before the deals were reached, federal mediators held at least four formal sessions over the reasonableness of more than $140 million in fees billed to Detroit by its bankruptcy lawyers and restructuring consultants. The team held talks with about a dozen firms, while the city held earlier talks with about a dozen smaller firms to reach settlements.

The city’s lawyers and consultants pointed out during mediation they had already made significant concessions on fees.

By late October, Jones Day had charged Detroit $52.3 million.

Miller Buckfire renegotiated its contract with the city twice, most recently in June. In the newest contract, the firm was to receive a flat fee of $28 million for all of its services. Prior to revising its contract, the firm had already given the city a discounted rate, according to former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s office.

The resolution comes one day after Detroit’s official exit from bankruptcy. Orr told The News on Wednesday that some administrative matters still need to be wrapped up, and that the legal fee mediation would not affect the exit date.

The mediation team, in a statement released Thursday, noted that representatives for the firms, Orr and Snyder — along with Duggan, City Council members and the city’s top attorney — “fully and vigorously” participated in the discussions.

“Their agreements reflect what the mediators hope will be their final work in the Detroit bankruptcy,” the statement reads. “As we have been from the inception of our work, the mediators are privileged and proud to have played a role not only in these agreements, but in all of the agreements that have led to the expeditious and successful resolution of the Detroit bankruptcy in which the city has been able to resolve its disputes with virtually all of its creditors and professional service providers on a consensual basis.” As one of Detroit's biggest law firms, Butzel Long has represented clients in every aspect of in-court and out-of-court restructurings.

On Wednesday, the mayor noted that the role of consultants in the city will be “dramatically reduced” as full-time employees are brought in to take over.

“All of the consultants are being phased out pretty quickly,” he said.

Orr, a former Jones Day attorney, told The News on Wednesday that the fees may seem high, but he said he didn’t believe they were out of line for a case of Detroit’s magnitude.

The bankruptcy allowed the city to shed $7 billion in debt and to restructure another $3 billion, he said.

“I’m sensitive to the fact that the fees are high. But everyone says this is a historical, outstanding result. Some mediators even called it miraculous,” Orr said. “You have to recognize there’s a cost to getting that kind of result in this time frame to deal with 50 years of issues.”

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Original Story:

For years, the world's two largest shoe and apparel companies -- Nike and Adidas -- have battled for supremacy, with the competition occasionally leading to a lawsuit over a particular design or material, which one considers proprietary.

But on Monday, Nike took it to the next level, suing three former designers who had left the company, alleging they used Nike's trade secrets to sell themselves to Adidas. A Portland Intellectual Property Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The lawsuit, filed in the county in Oregon where Adidas has its U.S. headquarters, alleges that some of its biggest designers, Denis Dekovic, Marc Dolce and Mark Miner, while still employees of Nike, began to build a blueprint to replicate Nike's famous Innovation Kitchen and stole secrets from inside its walls to take elsewhere. The Kitchen is where Nike's top designers build out shoes years in advance, testing new materials and concepts. Only a select few on Nike's sprawling campus have access to open its doors.

The lawsuit, which asks for more than $10 million in damages, alleges that before the three left Nike, they were already consulting with Adidas. To further sell themselves and capitalize on their position, Nike says Dekovic had the contents of his laptop duplicated, which gave him access to "thousands of proprietary documents relating to Nike's global football (soccer) product lines" where Adidas and Nike most fiercely battle. A Boston Intellectual Property Lawyer have experience representing clients in intellectual property litigation.

Among other things, the documents included specific designs, including models of team uniforms and products for the 2016 European Championships, plans for Nike-sponsored athletes in at least seven countries, unreleased financial information and projections concerning the company's business and information about Nike's planned launches in the marketplace.

"All of this information is among the most important and highly confidential information in Nike's athletic footwear business, particularly its global football business," the lawsuit reads. "Disclosure of any of this information would irreparably harm Nike, by, among other things, enabling a competitor to effectively undermine and counter Nike's performance in the athletic markets for the next three to four years."

Before leaving the company, Nike alleges the three designers erased emails from their computers and text messages on their phones to destroy any incriminating data that would lead back to their scheme.

"We find Nike's allegations hurtful because they are either false or are misleading half-truths," the designers said in a statement provided to the Portland Business Journal by their law firm. "We did not take trade secrets or intellectual property when we departed Nike in September. The athletic footwear industry is fast moving and rapidly changing and, as creative people, we thrive on innovation and freshness. We are looking forward to bringing new and innovative ideas and designs to Adidas when our non-competition agreement expires." An Atlanta Trade Secrets Lawyer is skilled in the development of trade secret protection programs, buying and selling trade secrets, and licensing trade secrets.

Dekovic was the senior design director for Nike football (soccer), Dolce worked on the shoes for LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and managed historic brands such as the Air Force One and the Dunk shoe and Miner was the senior footwear designer for Nike running, one of the company's biggest growth categories.

Nike says the three had signed a noncompete contract that spanned to September 2015. Yet less than two weeks after the three resigned, Adidas announced that it would back a Brooklyn-based design studio managed by Dekovic, Dolce and Miner.

Even though Adidas said at the time that the three wouldn't work for them until 2015, Nike remained concerned about the trade secrets it claims were stolen from them.

The company says it has spent more than $1.5 million in the past three years alone to ensure that its employees keep information confidential, and said in a statement Tuesday night that "Nike is an innovation company and we will continue to vigorously protect our intellectual property."

Adidas officials did not specifically address the allegations.

"Many of our employees have storied careers and rich experiences, but we have no interest in old work or past assignments as we are focused on shaping the future of the sporting goods industry, not looking at what has been done in the past," the statement said.

Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton and Adidas' U.S. headquarters in Portland are located about 13 miles from each other.

Friday, December 5, 2014


Original Story:

The National Labor Relations Board has upheld a ruling that Mercedes violated federal labor laws by stopping United Auto Workers union supporters from handing out literature inside its Alabama plant.

The ruling by the three-member NLRB panel requires Mercedes to update its employee handbook to say that workers are allowed to discuss union issues during non-work times and that they can solicit their colleagues in mixed-use areas like team centers and atriums. A Maine Labor and Employment Lawyer is experienced in managing a variety of labor and employment cases for a wide range of clients.

Mercedes must also post notices at the plant near Tuscaloosa to acknowledge the violation and to reaffirm that management won't "interfere with, restrain, or coerce" workers seeking to unionize the plant.

Kirk Garner, who has worked at the Mercedes plant since 2000, was a witness in the NLRB case and is a member of the newly formed UAW Local 112 that is trying to gain representation at the factory.

"We appreciate the ruling by the National Labor Relations Board," Garner said in an email Monday. "Still, it's unfortunate that Mercedes-Benz had to be ordered to simply allow workers to discuss their right to organize." A Boston Employment Lawyer assists companies in setting up policies to avoid legal problems in employment and labor situations.

"We're hopeful it can be a turning point for honoring workers' rights in Alabama, as Daimler does elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world," he said of the ruling, issued late Wednesday.

Mercedes parent Daimler has long declared that it is neutral on union questions. Plant spokeswoman Felyicia Jerald on Monday noted that the NLRB panel had agreed with the previous decision to throw out other worker complaints that they had been threatened or harassed for supporting the union. She added that the 2014 employee handbook had already been updated to address "unclear" provisions.

Jason Hoff, the plant's president and CEO, told reporters in September that the dispute did not reflect an anti-union position by management.

"We clearly feel there are certain places in the plant that are work places, and not places where we would want materials like that being distributed, regardless of whether that's for or against the union," Hoff said at the time. "It has nothing really to do with being against or for the UAW or any other union." A Tulsa Employment Lawyer represents employment clients in district and appellate courts and are skilled in employment litigation.

The UAW has been ramping up its efforts at Mercedes and at fellow Volkswagen's plant in neighboring Tennessee. Under German law, half of both companies' boards are made up of worker representatives who are putting pressure on management because the U.S. plants stand alone among either company's global factories without formal labor representation.

Organizing foreign-owned auto plants has been seen as key for the UAW to revive its fortunes. Union membership stood at about 391,000 at the start of this year — a far cry from its 1979 peak of 1.5 million.

The Alabama plant this summer began producing Mercedes' bestselling C-Class — making Mercedes the first German automaker to assemble a luxury Sedan in the United Sates. The company is adding 1,400 full-time positions at the plant in connection with the production of the C-Class and a new SUV.

The plant, which opened in 1997, employs about 3,400 workers, though company officials declined to break down how many of those are temporary or outsourced workers. The U.S. is Mercedes' biggest market, with 312,534 vehicles sold in 2013.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Original Story:

The Special Master tasked with investigating the Deepwater Horizon settlement process filed a motion this week urging the District Court to order the return of fraudulent payments made to Gill Johnson, Sr., who received over $440,000 from the Deepwater Horizon Economic Claims Center (“DHECC”).  The motion alleges that Johnson’s claims were based on falsified tax returns that were never even filed with the IRS.

In his motion, the Special Master informed the Court that in January 2013, Johnson filed claims seeking compensation for losses associated with his commercial fishing business based on his 2008 and 2009 tax records.  The rub?  Johnson didn’t file or pay taxes with the IRS in either of those years.

The 2008 tax return Johnson provided to the claims facility was undated and unsigned – and false, according to the Special Master’s motion.  The claims facility accepted his return despite the fact that the Settlement Agreement specifically requires claimants to file signed tax returns with their claims.  And the motion also stated that the 2009 tax record he provided to support his claims was prepared in July of 2010 for the sole purpose of allowing Johnson to file his Deepwater Horizon claim.  Johnson, the motion explains, allegedly based his 2009 return not on any source documents, but rather on a verbal summary given by Johnson’s girlfriend to the tax preparer Johnson had hired.

The claims facility accepted Johnson’s misrepresentations and his falsified forms, and awarded him over $440,000.  For their efforts in helping Johnson prepare his claim, his attorneys received over $109,000 – fees that the law firm returned the very same day that the Special Master filed his motion.

This motion, like others filed by the Special Master, underscores a simple fact: settlement funds paid for improper claims should be repaid.  Restitution is important in cases like this, not only so that fraudsters don’t benefit from their fraudulent acts, but also “to safeguard the integrity of an important public institution administering a fund for the benefit of an injured segment of society.”  In addition, the Special Master also urges the Court to enforce a one strike, you’re out policy with regards to Johnson, arguing that allowing claimants who have filed fraudulent claims the opportunity to resubmit their claims using different documentation would only encourage them to take a chance on fraud – knowing that they could submit different data if they got caught.

Of course, this is exactly what the PSC's lead lawyer appears to want: in a recent letter to Judge Freeh and the Court, Steve Herman argues that when fraud is alleged or suspected, the claimant should be notified that the "claim might be fraudulent" and given a chance to withdraw the Claim or otherwise attempt to explain it.  Unfortunately, this process would have the effect of giving unscrupulous claimants a risk-free chance to get their fraudulent claims paid.  In the world he appears to be urging, there's no apparent downside to taking your best shot at free money.  Such attempts at fraud would not be treated so leniently anywhere else in the world - not by employers, not by merchants, and definitely not by the IRS.  The policy at a court-supervised claims facility should reflect that attempts to commit fraud will not be tolerated.

Fraudsters should take note: BP certainly did not agree to pay for claims tainted by fraud or corruption.  The Special Master’s latest motion sends a clear message that attempts to take advantage of the settlement process are being investigated, and that those caught red-handed should expect to answer for their fraud.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Original Story:

Northeastern Pennsylvania could soon see a shale drilling boom along the Utica formation. Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE:RDS.A) this week announced prolific results at two of its discovery wells in Tioga County, an area as yet untapped by most oil companies.

The Utica Shale underlies major parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York. So far, operators have mostly focused on Utica’s gas reserves in western Pennsylvania or southeast Ohio, the latter now one of the fastest-growing natural gas production areas in the United States, according to federal energy statistics. A Corpus Christi Mineral Rights Lawyer is following this story closely.

In the northeastern part of the Keystone State, most of the gas drilling has targeted the Marcellus Shale, the formation that lies on top of the deeper Utica Shale. Shell is among the first companies to bet on the Utica play in this area, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted.

Shell said its Gee well, in production for nearly a year now, had an initial flowback rate of 11.2 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. The Neal well, which went online in February, observed peak flowback rates of 26.5 million cubic feet daily. The discoveries “extend the sweet spot of the Utica formation” into an area where Shell holds about 430,000 acres, according to the Dutch oil giant. An Austin Energy Lawyer represents clients assist companies in negotiating the terms of domestic and international exploration.

Marvin Odum, Shell’s upstream Americas director, said the Gee and Neal wells are part of the company’s latest shale gas strategy, which concentrates on a smaller number of plays with a certain scale and economic profile. “The Appalachian basin is one of those areas, and these two high-pressure wells both exhibit exceptional reservoir quality,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

Shell’s discovery will likely open a new chapter in deep Utica exploration in Pennsylvania, research analyst Richard Zeits wrote on Seeking Alpha, an online investment platform. “The play may add many years of economically competitive inventory to the region's natural gas resource base.”

Utility companies are betting on a continued production surge in the region. Earlier this week, utilities Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE:DUK) and Dominion Resources Inc. (NYSE:D) announced plans for a $5 billion natural gas pipeline that will cut through the shale formations. A Houston Oil & Gas Lawyer provides expert legal guidance in producing wells, title opinions, mineral rights, output claims, oil and gas production, proceeds and distribution cases.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Original Story:

Lansing — The state Department of Education unveiled an online exam Thursday that will replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program starting next spring.

The new Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress was developed to meet mandates set last summer by state lawmakers, who nixed plans to use a computer-adaptive test, Smarter Balanced.

State education officials said M-STEP meets all of the Legislature's requirements. It is an online assessment but has a paper-and-pencil option. The new exam is aligned to the state standards and expands writing assessments to additional grades. An Atlanta Education Lawyer has extensive experience in education law.

The new test includes a higher number of "constructed response" questions that will allow students to demonstrate skills such as problem-solving.

Thursday's action means districts can plan to administer the new exam next spring.

"This is great news for our local school districts," said state school Superintendent Mike Flanagan. "They've been very anxious to hear what the new assessment will be, as we developed a new test to comply with legislatively mandated changes." A Binghamton Education Lawyer is reviewing the details of this change.

M-STEP was developed after lawmakers derailed Smarter Balanced. That test was going to be online only. Smarter Balanced was controversial because conservatives associated it with Michigan's Common Core, which they believe threaten local control of education.

In scrapping Smarter Balanced, lawmakers ordered education officials to create a revised MEAP for 2014-15 and an entirely new exam for 2015-16.Education officials will still develop a new exam for 2015-16.

"The changes in law diverted what the department and local school districts had been developing and preparing for over the past three years," Flanagan said. "It put schools in some unwelcomed limbo while our experts scrambled to find testing content that met the legislative requirements."

The Department of Education said M-STEP will include questions developed by state officials and educators as well as some developed by the Smarter Balanced consortium of states.

The new exam will test grades 3-8 in math and English language, grades 4 and 7 in science, and grades 5 and 8 in social studies. It will include an assessment for grades 3-8 and the Michigan Merit Exam for 11th-graders.

The Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan think tank in Royal Oak, called the new assessment a promising replacement for the "antiquated" MEAP, which has been given to students for four decades.

"We know from leading education states that the path to a brighter educational future for all of our students begins with raising educational standards and implementing an aligned assessment," said Amber Arellano, executive director.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Original Story:

Southfield — The SUV driven by Kayla White when she was killed Tuesday in a fiery crash on the Lodge Freeway had been recalled because of risk of catching fire during a rear-end collision.

White was killed when her 2003 Jeep Liberty was struck from behind near Telegraph, causing it to overturn and catch fire. She died of injuries caused by flames that engulfed her car, according to the Oakland County Medical Examiner's Office. An autopsy determined the cause of death was burns and smoke inhalation. A Milwaukee Wrongful Death Attorney is experienced in representing clients involved in wrongful death cases.

White, 23, of Ferndale was pregnant and in her third trimester at the time of the crash, according to police.

The SUV was part of a Chrysler Group LLC recall campaign last year of 1.56 million 2002-07 Jeep Libertys and 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees at risk of catching fire when struck from behind. The automaker issued the callback following a request from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after an investigation found the defect was connected to 37 fatal rear-end collisions resulting in 51 deaths — including at least five fatal crashes involving Libertys that resulted in seven deaths.A Milwaukee Product Liability Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Southfield attorney Gerald Thurswell, who is representing White's family, said Friday the family is aware of the recall. He declined to answer questions about the police crash investigation and vehicle fire, but said the family is pursuing a lawsuit against the automaker.

"We're investigating a products liability case against Chrysler," he said.

Chrysler declined to comment on the White family's decision to seek counsel.

According to a search of the vehicle's VIN number through NHTSA, White's Jeep had not been fitted with a trailer hitch as a result of the recall to better protect the gas tank during collisions. It is unclear if the vehicle already had a factory-installed hitch before the recall. A Westchester County Auto Accident Lawyer represents clients involved in car accident cases in which victims have been seriously injured or killed.

The Jeep had two previous owners, according to a CarFax vehicle history report. The recall was issued while White owned the vehicle. The SUV, according to the report, was involved in a rear impact with another vehicle causing "minor to moderate damage" in 2005.

White's family members reached Friday declined to comment about Tuesday's crash, referring The Detroit News to Thurswell.

Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne, in a statement about the accident, said the company is "working with law-enforcement officials to gather the relevant facts."

The crash investigation may take four to six weeks before results are submitted to the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office to determine whether charges will be filed against the 69-year-old driver who rear-ended White's vehicle, said Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw. State police declined to provide further information Friday afternoon.

It was not clear if the fire began with the fuel tank or how fast the other vehicle was traveling when it struck White's car.

Police called to the crash scene around 4:45 p.m. determined the driver of a 2002 Cadillac, a Beverly Hills man, traveling north on the Lodge was unable to stop as traffic slowed in the right lane. Police said the driver was not paying attention.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman, in a statement late Friday to The News, said the organization continues "to urge Chrysler to accelerate efforts to bring owners in to get their vehicles repaired and to ensure that parts are in stock when they do."

"It is also heartbreaking to see another victim of a distracted driver," he said. "We urge all drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel."

Chrysler said Friday it had fixed or inspected nearly 130,000 vehicles since August. The company said it had more than 427,000 hitches in stock as of this week. It expects to have more than 550,000 by Dec. 1.

In July, under government pressure, Chrysler said it would be able to produce enough hitches to complete the June 2013 recall by mid-March 2015 — far faster than the original timetable of up to 4.7 years.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of Washington, D.C., advocacy group the Center for Auto Safety, said that the design of the vehicles leaves the gas tanks vulnerable in the event of a rear-end collision.

"If you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, the vehicles are going to explode and you're very likely to burn to death," he said Friday.

Ditlow also said Chrysler's fix of adding a hitch may not adequately protect the fuel tank.

"Looking at the one photo I saw of (White's) Liberty, it appears that the striking vehicle went under the bumper and hit the fuel tank," he said. "All bets are off if you go under the bumper and the trailer hitch."

NHTSA opened an investigation into the Jeeps in August 2010 at the request of the Center for Auto Safety. The organization said the vehicles' gas tanks were positioned below the rear bumper and behind the rear axle, making them susceptible to rupturing and spilling gasoline in a rear-end crash.

Chrysler, at first, opposed the recall. The company last year issued a statement and three-page white paper report supporting its decision not to voluntarily recall the vehicles, saying the company did "not agree with NHTSA's conclusions and does not intend to recall the vehicles cited in the investigation."

The company's analysis showed the incidents "occur less than one time for every million years of vehicle operation. Additionally, these vehicles met or exceeded all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards in place at the time they were built."

Chrysler on Friday maintained the SUVs are safe: "These vehicles are not defective and are among the safest in the peer group," it said in a statement. "Of the 26 most severe accidents cited in the NHTSA investigation and for which there is sufficient data to calculate kinetic energy, all exceeded the threshold for compliance with today's more-stringent crashworthiness regulations."

The cited regulations cover the level of integrity fuel tanks must maintain in a crash.

The automaker did move gas tanks on the Grand Cherokee in front of the rear axle in 2005, and did the same thing with the Liberty in 2007. Both moves were in connection to the vehicles being redesigned with new platforms, which automakers plan years in advance.

In Tuesday's crash, the Cadillac struck White's Jeep, forcing it into a 2014 Nissan Cube, which then struck a 2015 Lincoln MKZ as it slowed for traffic.

Police said alcohol does not appear to be a factor. No other injuries were reported.

White graduated from Ferndale High School in 2009 and was a hostess at Andiamo in Bloomfield Hills.

Her Facebook page was flooded after the crash with messages expressing shock and asking for prayers for White and her unborn baby, who White called Braedin in posts.

Visitation for Kayla White will be 2-7 p.m. Sunday, followed by a 7 p.m. service at Hopcroft Funeral Home at 31145 John R in Madison Heights.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Original Story:

ALBANY – New texting-while-driving laws take effect Saturday in New York.

The new laws increase the penalties and fines for drivers found talking or texting while driving.

Also on Saturday, new laws go into place that crack down on drunken drivers, as well as increase penalties for sex-related crimes, assaults and directing a laser point at an airplane. A Westchester County DWI Lawyer represents clients charged with felonies, misdemeanors, violations and DWI.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pushed for tougher texting laws since taking office in 2011, saying the activity is extraordinary dangerous, particularly among young drivers.

“Driving habits are developed early, and we are sending a message that texting while driving is unsafe, unacceptable and downright dangerous,” Cuomo said in a statement Friday. “There have been far too many avoidable tragedies due to texting while driving, and with these new penalties, we are seeking to change the behavior of young drivers now, and make New York’s roadways safer for all.”

Under the new driving-related laws, first-offense convictions of texting or talking while driving will impose a 120-day license or permit suspension for young drivers under 21 with junior licenses.

Young drivers also will face a one-year license or permit revocation for those who commit a second violation within six months of their license’s or permit’s restoration.

The new law increases the maximum fines for texting and talking while driving. A maximum fine for a first offense will increase from $150 to $200.

For a second offense — committed within 18 months of the previous offense — fines will increase from $200 to $250. A third violation or subsequent violations committed within 18 months will increase from $400 to $450.

The legislation was approved earlier this year by the Legislature as part of the state budget for the fiscal year that started April 1.

Last year, Cuomo and the state Legislature agreed to increase the number of points — from three to five — on a license for a conviction of cellphone use or texting violations. Drivers who receive 11 points within an 18-month period may have their licenses suspended.

Texting tickets have soared in recent years after the state moved to make it a primary offense rather than a secondary offense — so drivers could be pulled over directly for the violation.

The number of tickets jumped 83 percent between 2012 and 2013, to nearly 56,000.

As of July, 19,291 tickets were issued to drivers outside of New York City for texting while driving, compared to 23,808 tickets for all of last year.

Highway-safety advocates praised New York’s efforts.

“It’s encouraging to see the laws being strengthened, particularly on distracted driving,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Adkins said the state should be praised for rest areas on highways called texting zones, which encourage people to pull over if they need to use the phone.

“It’s not surprising that the laws are being strengthened because it’s been a pattern of leadership in New York, and other states look at New York as a leader,” he said.

Monroe County issued 1,593 texting-while-driving tickets this year and gave out 1,996 tickets in 2013.

There are also tougher DWI laws going into effect Saturday.

The new law for driving-related crimes also will increase the penalty for drivers convicted of DWI or DWAI three or more times within 15 years, making the violation a class D felony; drivers could also be fined anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. A Hudson Valley DWI Lawyer represents clients facing DWI charges.

Other laws include new penalties for public lewdness, unlawful surveillance and sexual abuse. One law broadens the charge of “assault in the second degree” to make an assault on a school crossing guard a class D felony.

Another new law creates the offense of “directing a laser at an aircraft in the second degree,” creating misdemeanor and felony charges for the act.


Original Story:

GOSHEN — A controversial new law that would allow police in Orange County to seize a defendant's property in misdemeanor drug cases moved a step forward last week.

The Public Safety Committee unanimously approved the law sought by the district attorney, David Hoovler. It would give police the authority to seize cash, phones, cars, and other property from people arrested for drugs. An Orange County DWI Lawyer represents clients charged with felonies, misdemeanors, violations and DWI.

The law had previously been withdrawn by legislators concerned about its broad nature. The law was sent back to committee by the full legislature again on Nov. 6.

The law will have a “disproportionate impact on the poor and the least well-to-do in the county," said Brett Broge, the new chair of the Orange County Democratic Party. He said Hoovler, with the support of county Executive Steve Neuhaus, is "shooting for this low-hanging fruit and attacking the poor.”

Legislator Shannon Wong (D-Goshen) says the proposed law gets the “innocent until proven guilty” basis of American law “backwards.” She said she’s worried about the burden on the accused, who will have to defend themselves twice, and about the pursuit of non-criminal defendants who obtain property as a result of a criminal transaction. Seizures could affect people's ability to get to work, she said. A Westchester Couny DWI Lawyer has managed a variety of DWI cases.

Committee chair Ken Hines (R-Cornwall) had opposed the law as initially written. "We don't want to be in the repossession business," he said. But last week, he voted with the rest of his committee members to approve it.

The initial law would have allowed assets to be seized in all misdemeanor cases, including DWI. The revised law limits seizures to drug cases.

At the meeting, Hoovler and fellow prosecutors offered to remove marijuana from the law. But Hines questioned this, and, with support from legislators John Vero (R-Chester) and Christopher Eachus (D-New Windsor), marijuana was put back in.

Legislators Melissa Bonacic (R-New Hampton), James DiSalvo (R-Highland Falls), Michael Paduch (D-Middletown), and Dennis Simmons (R-C-Port Jervis) also approved the law. Bonacic said she would have supported the broader law as originally drafted.

"I'd like to see this built up," she said.

Hoovler said the law was warranted by the high number of heroin offenses in the county.

"We intend to use it judiciously," Hoovler said.

Sussman: Threat to 'due process'

Eachus said some members of his party had concerns about the "difficulty or ease" by which defendants could get their property back. Some cases can take months to more than a year to resolve, he said.

"Sometimes, exonerating somebody who is innocent can take some time," he said.

Hoovler defended the law by saying that property can be taken as evidence now.

A "phone is evidence," Hoovler said. "The clothes you're wearing could be evidence. We may take your car" or negotiate for the fair market value of the drugs.

Eachus was satisifed.
"I thank you for doing this," he said. "I have no problem doing this."

Local defense attorney Michael Sussman said the law would challenge “fundamental due process.” Forfeiture should not begin until after a conviction has been reached or the appeals process exhausted, he said.

“It’s absolutely improper,” he said. “You could have property confiscated even if you are not a defendant.”

Qualms about 'income-generating' law

Hoovler described the law as a deterrent and “a law enforcement tool to make the community safer.” He also said forfeiture laws have been found to be a “successful revenue tool for law enforcement so that taxpayer money doesn’t have to be used."

“I don’t want the taxpayers of Orange County paying for something the criminals should be paying for," said Hoovler.

However, the law explicitly states that seizures can’t be used to supplant “ordinary departmental budget costs including salaries of personnel.” Federal forfeiture law also restricts seizures from being used to fund the salaries of enforcement personnel.

Hoovler has called that part of the law “complicated." Sussman said using seizures to fund departments is “a bit slippery.”

Berkman said his party objects to the law as “an income-generating proposal.”

The law is backed by the Police Chiefs’ Association of Orange County and Orange County Sheriff Carl DuBois, who have cited the law's revenue-generating possibilities.


Original Story:

Unpaid internships are a bit of a devil’s bargain: Every summer, college students donate their labor and time for experience in a chosen field, the chance to get noticed — and perhaps even hired.

The bad pay package is a given. But my guess is that very few interns also factor in a lack of legal protection: Under the laws of most states, including Michigan, unpaid interns are uniquely vulnerable to sexual harassment or other discriminatory practices. A Memphis Sexual Harassment Lawyer is dedicated to helping victims of sexual harassment, stop the harassment and recover damages for emotional damages and physical injuries that may have occurred.

In a few notorious cases, including Lihuan Wang’s 2013 lawsuit in New York, judges refused to hear cases involving unpaid interns and sexual harassment, ruling that the interns aren’t employees and thus aren’t covered by workplace laws. A Boston Employment Attorney help businesses set up policies and systems to avoid legal problems in labor and employment matters.

Syracuse University graduate student Wang claimed she’d been ushered into a hotel room by her boss, grabbed and forcibly kissed. But she lost her day in court when the judge decided there could be no hostile work environment since she wasn’t an employee.

Even the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed that federal law against sexual harassment doesn’t apply to unpaid interns. A Memphis EEOC Lawyer represents clients facing employment rights violations.

These rulings helped pass protective laws for interns in Washington, D.C., Oregon and New York. They also outraged David Knezek, a Democratic state rep from Dearborn Heights, who was elected to the state Senate last week; and Matthew Marks, who spent last summer as an intern at a Lansing lobbying firm.

Knezek, a 28-year-old former Marine sergeant, introduced a bill. Today Marks, a Michigan State University senior, is organizing a legislative day for college students to “raise awareness” among legislators and Knezek’s bill. He expects more than 30 students to converge on the state Capitol.

“We are bringing in students from all over the state,” says Marks, who created the Michigan Equal Protections for Interns Coalition ( last summer. Knezek and staff members from other legislative offices are giving the students a crash course in how to talk to legislative staff members.

“We’re hoping to raise awareness and get the bill moving,” says Marks, a Deerfield, Illinois, native majoring in political theory and constitutional democracy. Marks, who interned for a Lansing lobbying firm last summer, is practicing what he learned. “I had a good situation,” he says, “But I’ve talked to students who say they did experience sexual harassment.”

The bill (HB 5691) amends the Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Act to give equal protection under the law to volunteers and unpaid interns. “Right now, Michigan State and other universities are sending thousands of students into positions where they have no recourse,” Marks says.

Knezek applauds Marks and other students at MiEPIC. “I’ve been so impressed by their commitment. They refuse to allow someone else to make decisions for them. They’ve really become instrumental in this process and are an example for students across the state,” he told me.

Even with a law, of course, students looking for employment are unlikely to challenge their employers’ conduct. But passing a law is one way to tell employers there is no open season on interns: They’re people, too.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Original Story:

The Michigan couple at the center of the same-sex marriage debate vowed Thursday to "continue the fight" after a federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld the state's gay marriage ban.

"We're going to fight for the rights of our children and do whatever it takes to ensure our children have rights here in Michigan," April DeBoer, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said during a press conference Thursday evening surrounded by a room of supporters in Ferndale.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld laws prohibiting gay marriage in Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, breaking ranks with other courts that have considered the issue and setting the stage for review by the U.S.Supreme Court.

"There are so many people in Ann Arbor and Lansing who are gathering behind us saying little prayers hoping this goes forward," said Jayne Rowse, DeBoer's partner. "We are so proud to represent you."

Carole Stanyar, co-counsel for the couple, said the U.S. Supreme Court could decide as soon as January whether to hear their appeal, which she plans to file in two weeks.

Stanyar, who argued the case before the appeals court in August, said the Michigan case could be precendent-setting for the country because it has gone to trial.

The three-judge appellate panel split 2-1 with Judge Jeffrey Sutton writing the majority opinion.

Sutton said it was pointless "to invalidate laws every time a new and allegedly better way of addressing a policy emerges."

Judge Deborah Cook concurred.

Dissenting Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, who made her support of same-sex marriage known during the trial, slammed Sutton and Cook for taking what she called a "wait and see" approach, noting women still wouldn't have equal rights if other courts had adopted similar reasoning.

"If we in the judiciary do not have the authority, and indeed the responsibility, to right fundamental wrongs left excused by a majority of the electorate, our whole intricate, constitutional system of checks and balances, as well as the oaths to which we swore, prove to be nothing but shams," wrote Daughtrey.

At issue was the constitutionality of the so-called Michigan Marriage Amendment, passed by voters in 2004, which declares marriage is between "one man and one woman."

In March, after a nine-day trial in Detroit, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that Michigan's ban was unconstitutional because it denies same-sex couples equal protection under the law. A Cleveland Transgender Doctor is reviewing this case closely.

His ruling came after a lawsuit was brought by DeBoer and Rowse, two Hazel Park nurses raising, as a couple, children they had individually adopted. They sought to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage and the ban on joint adoption for gay couples.

Same-sex marriages are legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia. On Oct. 6 the U.S. Supreme Court issued orders that it would not review any of the seven marriage cases it had before it from five states that had appealed to the court for a review. That decision effectively made gay marriage legal in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In addition, the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, the 10th Circuit in Denver, the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, and the 7th Circuit in Chicago have all overturned statewide gay marriage bans in the South, the Midwest and the West since the summer.

Larry Dubin, a law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, said it seemed as though the appeals court wanted to allow the Supreme Court to decide on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

"The court covers a lot of legal arguments, but in the end, gives deference to the voice of the voters of Michigan who passed the ban on same-sex marriage and the traditional definition of marriage being between a man and a woman," Dubin said. "This decision is a minority voice among all of the other courts that have reviewed this issue, and now this decision will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court."

With the Supreme Court overturning the Defense of Marriage Act last year, Frank Aiello, a professor at Cooley Law School, said the justices may have hinted at how they would rule on the issue.

Same-sex couples such as Amanda and Kay Shelton were hoping for a different outcome.

"It's incredibly disappointing for hundreds of families," said Amanda Shelton, a Royal Oak attorney who is hoping to legally marry Kay. "I'm disappointed but not disheartened. This is not the end. We're not done yet."

Shelton called the court's ruling "absolutely ridiculous" since the "tide is changing" in other parts of the country where gay marriage bans have been lifted.

"This is an anomaly," she added. "I think the 6th Circuit is going to get smacked down by the U.S. Supreme Court."

But Michigan pastor Stacy Swimp was encouraged by the ruling.

"I'm very happy that the courts decided to uphold the voting rights of 2.7 million voters who under the Michigan and the U.S. constitutions exercised their voting rights," said Swimp of the National Christian Leadership Council and a member of the National Coalition of Black Pastors and Christian Leaders, which filed amicus briefs in the case opposing gay marriage. "No court had the right to usurp their God-given rights."

In its 64-page opinion, the appellate court also said the traditional perception of marriage cannot simply be overruled.

"A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of states," the ruling states.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who brought the appeal on Friedman's ruling, said he welcomes a Supreme Court review.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has ruled, and Michigan's constitution remains in full effect," Schuette said. "As I have stated repeatedly, the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final word on this issue. The sooner they rule, the better, for Michigan and the country."


Original Story:

The students at Burton Elementary School in Huntington Woods were expected to have a new playground on which to romp in early November.

Instead, school principal Maribeth Krehbiel projects the $460,000 state-of-the-art playground will not open until closer to the end of the month. The reason? A shortage of cement, a key component of concrete, is squeezing construction projects in Michigan and across the Great Lakes region.

If a homeowner wanted to get a driveway poured in the coming weeks, he or she might be told to wait a month or longer, said Daniel DeGraaf, who heads the Michigan Concrete Association. A Construction Lawyer is experienced in representing clients in wide range of construction cases.

"There are projects that may not get built this year because of this," DeGraaf said.

The cement industry, which provides the binding material for concrete in roads, sidewalks, housing foundations and all kinds of building projects, is in the midst of a "perfect storm," blamed in part on the hangover from last winter, when the Great Lakes nearly froze over completely.

That delayed the start of shipping for the state's cement in the springtime even as the economy was heating up, and an oil boom in North Dakota has tied up freight trains, leading to a logistical nightmare for a slew of companies. A Boston Construction Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Lafarge North America, a major cement producer in Michigan with a plant in Alpena, issued a statement blaming the harsh winter weather in early 2014 that led to a "steep drop in construction activities and the demand for cement."

"As the polar vortex continued, cement storage facilities remained full. When the weather warmed, construction picked up as did the demand for cement. However, transportation bottlenecks resulted in cement sufficient to meet pent-up customer demand was not able to make it to the Great Lakes region in what was an usually heightened and compressed seasonal demand period," the company said.

Some concrete customers have been told their projects must wait because the Michigan Department of Transportation has first dibs for road construction.

But DeGraaf said that concrete companies have been trying to balance the importance of all kinds of projects. He pointed out that the massive I-96 reconstruction should not be blamed as contributing to the shortage because it had been planned for before this construction season began.

"There's a myriad of priorities and, of course, every customer's project is most important to every customer," said DeGraaf, whose Okemos-based organization claims 200 members, including ready-mix concrete and cement companies. "I believe the ready-mix companies, they're more than just listening to somebody screaming the loudest, they're mindful of the importance of the (projects), and they're trying to prioritize."

Jeff Cranson, an MDOT spokesman, said contractors have to plan for any material shortages and order accordingly. Cranson pointed out that the cement shortage was not having an effect on MDOT projects.

The cement shortage this year is like nothing Bunky Wheatley's family owned concrete company in southwest Detroit has experienced since its founding in 1991.

Wheatley, a co-owner of Detroit Ready Mix Concrete, said customers in need of concrete might wait up to one or two days in a normal year, but this year, the wait could be two weeks or longer.

"Unfortunately, if you're not a regular customer of mine, we're taking you and putting you on a waiting list," Wheatley said.

In addition to the effects of the cement shortage, other factors are having an impact on Wheatley's business. The burgeoning economic recovery has made it harder for Wheatley to find qualified employees, he said.

Cement production and consumption in Michigan, which is an exporter to other states, has been on the increase in recent years after substantial declines during the financial crisis.

In 2007, production was at 5.3 million metric tons and consumption was at 2.2 million metric tons. By 2010, production had dropped to 3.1 million metric tons and consumption was at 1.6 million metric tons, with production and consumption increasing steadily after that to 3.6 million and 1.6 million metric tons respectively in 2013, according to U.S. Geological Survey information supplied by the Portland Cement Association.

There are some mixed messages on the cement-supply outlook for the rest of the year. Wheatley and others describe a frantic push to complete projects before colder weather and snow arrive. However, officials note that the road construction season typically wraps up by about Nov. 15, which could free up equipment and materials for other projects.

And Lafarge said in its statement that "conditions are now returning to normal and the supply situation is stable."

The company said it is "identifying additional storage facilities and reviewing options to expand our transportation network to avoid future occurrences of this type."

DeGraaf said industry authorities are hopeful that the cement shortage is limited to this year, but he acknowledged that forecasting the future can be a challenge, saying "we really don't know exactly what's going to be going on this winter."

But DeGraaf noted that the situation has not been completely negative.

"The good part of it is you see houses going up in the Detroit area," DeGraaf said. "There are signs of life in Michigan now, so the demand's going up. That's the good part of the message, but it has created a difficulty for the producers. They cannot supply all of the requests for cement."

The shortage means delays for the Burton playground, which requires concrete for its walkways, the area under a gazebo and the perimeter of a sensory garden.

The delay is disappointing but not devastating, Krehbiel said. She said that delays on any type of construction project are not uncommon and the 520 students in kindergarten through fifth grade eventually will have a modern, showplace playground to replace a 20-year-old, wooden structure, thanks to assistance from the city and community groups.

"I would love to have had it (done earlier), but what are you going to do if you don't have the product available?" Krehbiel said.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Original Story:

Richard Bernstein will likely earn attention as the nation's first blind state Supreme Court justice. But in the raw, gray drizzle of his Election Day campaign, the 40-year-old Bernstein easily distinguished himself as the most huggable.

"You've already got my vote," said Brenda Mitchell, a Southfield voter and retired AT&T employee, flinging her arms around Bernstein and posing for a keepsake photo. It was a scene repeated again and again during his final day tour of polling places.

As dusk fell, and voters gradually recognized the candidate standing in the rain and his white cane, the exchange of warm greetings would become predictable.

"Give me a hug," he would eventually say, with a zest and warmth nobody seemed able to refuse. "You just made my day."

By virtue of his ebullient personality and television commercial-induced familiarity, the disability rights lawyer projects something quite different from the austere, black-robed image that justices — the campaigning or already elected — typically adopt. For Bernstein, the matter of human connection isn't just an idea: It's the essence of a life that might otherwise be led alone and in the dark.

In his campaign commercials, he allied himself with "the people," rather than with corporations, to the ire of political conservatives and legal traditionalists. Yet his message resonated. When voters describe his appeal, they tend to say things like, "He's for the middle-class person." Or, "He's done so much for people," or even, "his whole family cares about people."

Campaigning for a job whose requirements are intellectual and academic, he didn't hesitate to lead by force of personality — and more than $2 million in campaign funds to reinforce himself as a symbol of "blind justice," one of his campaign slogans.

Who dreamed up that bold catch-phrase? "That's all mine," says Bernstein. "Because you have to deal with it and it really expresses what justice is. I am blind, and justice — real justice — is blind. Programs and services are great, but people also have to understand on a personal level ... a blind person can't prejudge others. I want to confront who I am directly, because people want to understand how I do what I do. It's a way to have a discussion."

The slogan, he says, is a pun, meant to be "funny and serious."

He is blind, he is different, and he is irrepressible: A failed bid for a Democratic Party nomination for attorney general didn't slow him down ("That's politics," he shrugs). A shattering accident in New York's Central Park two years ago — he was mowed down by a bicyclist — crushed his hip and pelvis and left him with chronic pain and new physical challenges. But he has always known how to convert pain and hurt into other modes, from lawsuits on behalf of the disabled to marathon-running to inspirational speaking.

Overcoming hardship is a necessity for Bernstein, but it is also his thing, it's what he does. And he has no plans to check his life experience in the Supreme Court lobby once he dons official robes.

The state's highest court isn't typically thought of as a populist platform: High courts cultivate an aura of intellect and impartiality, not impassioned advocacy. But the Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University Law School has multiple gifts: Most lawyers use written notes. Bernstein memorizes.

Whether or not you buy the argument that a lawyer with no judicial experience should be elevated to the state's highest court (plenty of non-judges have served on the U.S. Supreme Court), Bernstein is insistent that lacking a few resume lines has little bearing on his fitness for the job — an opinion shared by the 1.3 million people who voted for him.

"You can't have all of the same people doing the same thing. You don't need seven people on the court, each amplifying the same message," he insists. "I really, truly believe I can make life better for people."

Late Tuesday night, he stayed calm as the results trickled in. All day, he seemed resigned to potentially fatal "ballot drop-off," as straight party ticket voters failed to darken the ovals for non-partisan races: He'd been warned he could lose 30 percent of his constituency that way.

He hadn't won yet, and as friends and family gathered in a 12th floor suite at the MGM Grand Hotel Tuesday night, he never assumed victory. Anything could happen, he knew. In the corner, Sam Bernstein, patriarch and 1-800-Call SAM founder, awaited results. His mother, Susan Bernstein, said she wouldn't presume victory until every vote was counted.

"It's remarkable," she said, as early results flashed on a TV screen, showing Bernstein among the top two finishers. "When Richard was born, I didn't know if he would ever write his own name. Everything he does is 10 times harder for him than it is for us."

He will tell you that standing in the rain isn't so bad and even helpful because he can hear voters approaching when their feet are wet. He will tell you that being Richard Bernstein — fighting for a place without being able to visually see it, pushing through every day — is quite difficult but absolutely worth the effort.

As he explained outside a Southfield recreation center in the last moments of his last 12-hour day at polling places, shaking hands, "I will stay out here until 8 o'clock, until the polls close. That's what I do. I keep going to the very end."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Original Story:

TULSA, Okla. (AP) The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says a driver was seriously injured when a piece of concrete crumbled off of a bridge, smashed through her windshield and struck her in the head.

Troopers say 37-year-old Shannon Durham of Collinsville was driving on U.S. Route 75 in Tulsa on Monday when the debris fell from the Archer Street bridge. They say she hit the guard rail multiple times and traveled about 100 yards after being hit. A Tulsa Construction Defect Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Durham was transported to an area hospital. Troopers describe her condition as stable.

An Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokeswoman says the concrete broke off in a chain reaction when a driver on the bridge hit a wall. She says the bridge is structurally sound and is scheduled for cosmetic repairs.