Monday, October 27, 2014


Original Story:

NBCUniversal and a group of former “Saturday Night Live” interns have reached an agreement to settle a class-action lawsuit contending the interns should have been paid for their work. An Atlanta Employment Lawyer is experienced in drafting employment agreements and negotiating employment contracts.

The $6.4-million settlement, subject to court approval, will be shared by thousands of "SNL" interns who worked in New York and California.

In documents filed with New York's Southern District Court, lawyers for the plaintiffs said Comcast-owned NBCUniversal had agreed to special bonuses for the litigants who led the class-action lawsuit, first filed in July 2013.

While those individuals would receive $5,000 to $10,000 each, other unpaid interns who qualify to be included in the settlement may see as little as $500 apiece.

The plaintiffs and their attorneys had contended that the internships involved doing work that would ordinarily be done by paid workers, by "improperly classifying them as non-employee interns exempt from federal and state minimum wage ... requirements." A San Antonio Business Lawyer has experience representing clients in employment disputes.

NBC declined to comment.

The original complaint involved New York interns Jesse Moore and Monet Eliastam, and grew to include plaintiffs from other states.

The interns asserted that the work they did on the late-night comedy paid them "no compensation or compensation at a rate less than the applicable minimum wage law," and that they were doing work for which wages were appropriate. A Houston Employment Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The "SNL" interns lawsuit is one of several that have roiled the entertainment industry in New York and Los Angeles, where unpaid internships have long been a cost-saver for TV networks, movie studios, production companies, music labels and talent agencies -- and also a foot-in-the-door opportunity for ambitious Hollywood hopefuls.

The glamorous-sounding positions might involve assisting a filmmaker or record producer, but typically require the intern to make coffee, photocopy documents, run errands or make travel arrangements for company principals.

In similar court cases, interns have sued the 21st Century Fox subsidiary Fox Searchlight Pictures, Warner Music Group, Atlantic Records and the publishing houses Conde Nast and Hearst Corp.


Original Story:

The giant oil company BP doesn't do small-scale.

Not only is it responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill -- "unprecedented" in its "volume, depth, and spatial scale," in the words of the National Research Council -- but the firm has mounted what certainly looks like an unprecedented PR campaign to minimize the damage, along with a years-long effort to dodge the financial consequences of its spill.

This week, Politico provided the company with another valuable platform for its PR -- a two-page online spread titled "No, BP Didn't Ruin the Gulf." The piece was written by one Geoff Morrell, who turns out to be the oil company's spokesman, as you'll discover if you read down to the bottom of the screen.

As we honor the life and career of the just-departed former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, we should mark this groundbreaking advance in Washington journalism: a corporate advertisement presented as "opinion." It's not evident that BP paid for its placement in Politico, but whether it forked over nothing, a little or a lot, it scored well: as we write, Morrell's piece is demurely sharing space on Politico Magazine's home page with reported articles on Ebola policy, the Supreme Court's influence on election rules, and the fall of Atlantic City. A Corpus Christi Energy Lawyer is experienced in legal issues that arise from energy disputes.

But it's not Politico's credibility that's at issue here; it's BP's. Let's examine whether the oil company has any.

Morrell begins by posing an overarching question: "What impact did the spill actually have on the Gulf Coast environment?"

The answer, if you study the findings of experts, is that the spill has had massive impacts. These include immediate effects on sea fowl, marine mammals, and coral; and long-term effects on dolphins, sea turtles, fish and wildlife populations, and the gulf food web. Moreover, many effects are still imponderable at this time, because no one has studied an oil spill of this magnitude in a unique ecosystem such as the gulf. Assessing the damage may take decades, covering generations of animals. A Charleston Environmental Lawyer has experience representing clients in all areas of general environmental law.

BP sidesteps that point. Morrell mentions several predictions that were made in the immediate aftermath of the spill, and that were manifestly conjectural -- "tar balls...all the way to Europe," "a permanent end" to the gulf seafood industry, tourism revenues depressed for years.

"None of those things happened," Morrell states, as if that proves that there were no major effects. The only effects he acknowledges are short-term--11 workers killed, birds, fish and wildlife killed. "And with a camera trained 24/7 on the wellhead," he writes, "a sense of alarm was understandable while the well was flowing." (Yes, durn that camera -- if only the spill unfolded without witnesses, things would have been so much better.) A Boston Business Lawyer is experienced in providing legal advice to business clients on a variety of legal matters.

As for longer-term effects, Morrell attributes many of the reports to "advocacy groups (that) cherry-pick evidence and promote studies that paint an incomplete and inaccurate picture." He then proceeds to cherry-pick ostensibly exaggerated impacts: "For example, these groups claim the spill harmed the Gulf’s oyster population," he writes. "What they don’t say is that government sampling in 2010, 2011 and 2012 did not document a single visibly oiled oyster bed.

Here's what Morrell didn't say: The gulf oyster harvest is today near a historical low. Because oysters take three years to reach maturity, according to the Gulf Seafood Institute, gulf harvesters fear that they're seeing the oil spill impacts right now. According to historical cycles, oyster landings "currently should be trending upwards; but they’re not." Is this a consequence of the Deepwater Horizon spill? The most anyone can say is that the jury is still out. But it's certainly way too early to declare the impact "fiction," as BP would prefer.

In short, the questions about the impact of the oil spill haven't yet been answered. Not even close. BP has an obvious corporate interest in treating the spill as yesterday's news. It's not. BP has been adjudicated the legally responsible party for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It's a litigant facing billions of dollars in claims and penalties. It doesn't have an "opinion" worth reading, only a legal interest to promote. When a news organization such as Politico helps it promote its own interest, neither partner looks good.


Original Story:

Kaci Hickox treated Ebola patients in West Africa. She’s a hero.

Since she got home to America, she’s been treated like a criminal.

Hickox is a nurse who specializes in infectious disease, and the first American to be isolated under New Jersey’s new 21-day quarantine on Ebola aid workers. She worked for Doctors Without Borders — the aid group fighting West Africa’s Ebola epidemic — before flying home on Friday and being rushed into a surprise isolation that she’s described as scary, disorganized, and even cruel.

Let’s be clear: Hickox’s not sick with Ebola right now, and even if she was, she wouldn’t be at a stage of the disease where she’d be able to accidentally infect anyone else. To be on the safe side, she’d planned to spend the next few weeks in isolation at her home in Maine.

Stuck in a tent at a Newark hospital for three weeks instead, Hickox doesn’t have a flushable toilet. She can’t see her friends or family. She initially wasn’t even allowed to talk to a lawyer, although she’s hired one to try and get her out of quarantine.

The planned argument: That quarantining Ebola aid workers who aren’t actually sick is a civil-rights violation.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who imposed the quarantine — and who Hickox plans to sue — isn’t backing down. In a press conference on Saturday, Christie said he was “sorry” if Hickox was inconvenienced, “but inconvenience that could occur from having folks that are symptomatic and ill out amongst the public is a much, much greater concern of mine.”

“When I left this morning she still had a fever and she was being tested for other illnesses after the Ebola test came back negative,” Christie added, “I hope she recovers quickly.”

Hickox, to put it mildly, thinks Christie doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

“I am not, as he said ‘obviously ill.’” Hickox told CNN. Two separate tests have cleared her of Ebola.

“I am completely healthy and with no symptoms,” she added. “And if he knew anything about Ebola he would know that asymptomatic people are not infectious.”

Several leading public health experts have suggested that Christie’s decision to confine Hickox is an attempt to score political points, given the public’s fear of Ebola. There’s no evidence that a mandatory quarantine will help fight the disease’s spread, and the CDC hasn’t called for one.

Hundreds of other American aid workers have encountered Ebola patients in Africa and were not quarantined upon their return to the United States. There are no current plans to quarantine the thousands of U.S. military personnel headed to West Africa to fight Ebola, either.

Hickox says she hasn’t been told how long she’ll be forced to stay at the hospital. “To put me in prison,” she told CNN, “is just inhumane.”

The emerging backlash over quarantining health workers has gotten politicians to back down, a bit. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who initially stressed that New York City’s first case of Ebola wasn’t cause for panic, before reversing and claiming it was a major concern — on Sunday relaxed the quarantine to say that aid workers in New York could go back to their homes.

Christie made a similar announcement, suggesting that New Jersey residents could be quarantined in the homes too. But according to Christie’s statement, “non-residents would be transported to their homes if feasible and, if not, quarantined in New Jersey.”

Hickox is from Maine.

Public health groups and volunteers have stressed that states’ decision to confine Ebola aid workers under mandatory quarantines will hurt the global fight against Ebola, because it will convince some workers not to go in the first place. It also could be a source of stress for health workers as they return to America, emotionally spent and seeking comfort of their own.

As Vox’s Sarah Kliff poignantly noted, Hickox spent her last night at an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone, trying to save a 10-year-old girl from dying.

“I had spent a month watching children die, alone,” Hickox told the Dallas Morning News. “I had witnessed human tragedy unfold before my eyes. I had tried to help when much of the world has looked on and done nothing.”

Now back in America, Kacie Hickox spent last night confined to a tent.

Chris Christie spent last night at home in his mansion.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Original Story:

If you live in Michigan and want to buy one of those hot, $71,000 Tesla electric cars, be prepared to drive to Chicago, Indianapolis or Columbus to get one.

Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday signed a bill banning automakers from selling vehicles directly to customers in Michigan.

The new law closes a loophole that California-based Tesla Motors Inc. has used in other states to maintain company-owned retail stores, bypassing the dealership route.

Snyder said the bill, approved overwhelmingly by both houses, “clarifies and strengthens” an existing law that prohibits direct sales of new cars in this state.

“This bill does not, as some have claimed, prevent auto manufacturers from selling automobiles directly to consumers at retail in Michigan — because this is already prohibited under Michigan law,” Snyder said in a letter to lawmakers.

Snyder, citing a legal analysis from GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office, contended that the new law merely appears to let manufacturers without their own franchised dealers sell through another carmaker’s dealer network. An Atlanta Franchise Lawyer is experienced in advising clients on business opportunity, business developmnet, and litigation issues.

Tesla executives, however, weren’t buying that explanation.

“Why would they make a change if it had no legal import?” said Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s vice president for business development.

He and Tesla’s general counsel, Todd A. Maron, disagreed with Snyder’s contention that the bill didn’t make a major change in existing law. O’Connell said the suggestion that auto dealers, a powerful lobbying group in Lansing and Washington, would push the Legislature to approve a bill that only clarified existing law doesn’t pass the “basic sniff test.”

The previous state law prohibited an automaker from selling new vehicles directly to retail customers except through its franchised dealers. The new law removes the word “its,” which Tesla officials said was a last-minute, monopolistic strike at their upstart company that has no traditional dealerships.

Maron said the law Snyder signed was comparable to deleting the word “not” — and “turns the entire sentence on its head.” Tesla believes the bill may restrict its ability to even open a gallery — often found in shopping malls — where cars are displayed but not sold.

O’Connell, in an interview Tuesday, said Tesla had been in talks for a year with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office to open a store in the state. A Boston Franchise Lawyer provides legal counsel on many aspects of franchising law.

He said Tesla hasn’t decided if it will legally challenge the new law.

Maron said the automaker wants to work with Snyder and the Legislature next year to “get a law that makes more sense.”

The governor urged the Legislature to engage in a “healthy, open” discussion in the 2015-16 session about whether the business model in Michigan is working.

GM, Ford back ban

General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., both of which have large dealer networks to sell their products, supported the direct-sales ban.

“We believe that House Bill 5606 will help ensure that all automotive manufacturers follow the same rules to operate in the state of Michigan,” GM said in a statement.

Added Ford: “We applaud Gov. Snyder’s action of signing HB 5606. The bill will provide a level playing field for all automobile manufacturers selling vehicles in Michigan.”

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had no comment.

In a blog post, Tesla blasted GM for its stance; O’Connell said GM’s actions were anticompetitive.

What if, he asked, decades ago computer companies such as IBM had tried to block upstart computer companies Apple and Gateway from selling directly to consumers?

GM has weighed in against Tesla in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and O’Connell called GM’s effort “unsurprisingly regressive” on the part of a dominant player in the market.

GM, he said, has “decided to press a regulatory point to a competitive advantage.”

“What we are doing is creating a new market for everyone to exploit,” O’Connell said, noting that Tesla has published its patents and made them available to inspire competition. “This has never been about us versus them (Detroit automakers).”

GM spokeswoman Heather Rosenker denied the automaker was being anticompetitive. “We know our customers want assurances that they are taken care of,” she said, saying the company supported its dealers and franchise laws.

“The playing field should be competitive and balanced.”

Not scared of Tesla senior analyst Michelle Krebs said Michigan dealers and the mainstream auto industry aren’t necessarily scared of Tesla, but are instead concerned about what comes after Tesla, such as Chinese auto companies that may opt to enter the state to sell cars here with a cheaper business model.

“Automakers and dealers worry that foreign automakers will enter the U.S. — perhaps from China — and set up operations that skirt franchise laws by having factory-owned stores. Existing automakers and their dealers fear that would put them at a competitive disadvantage and open the flood gates to even more such operations,” she said.

“That’s why they are trying to close those gates securely to Tesla and any of those that follow.”

Tesla sells in about 20 states — but is legally barred in about four major states, including Texas and Arizona.

Palo Alto, California-based Tesla expects to be able to build 100,000 vehicles annually by the end of 2015, up from 35,000 this year. Elon Musk, Tesla’s co-founder and chief executive officer, believes the company’s advanced electric cars are best sold by the manufacturer.

There are 50 Teslas registered in Michigan, according to research firm IHS Automotive, despite the absence of dealers.

Coincidentally, the Tesla S gets 208-265 miles on a charge, depending on model, and that’s just about the distance between Detroit and the closest company-owned Tesla stores: Chicago (280 miles from Detroit) and Columbus (200 miles from Detroit).


Original Story:

Detroit — City leaders are borrowing a page from scrappers and thieves by selling old copper wire to boost Detroit's finances.

The city will scrap 13 million pounds of copper wire left over by decommissioning the Public Lighting Department, a city consultant testified Tuesday during the Detroit bankruptcy trial.

The copper wire will generate as much as $40 million, though Detroit is conservatively budgeting for $25 million in revenue, city consultant Gaurav Malhotra testified.

The revenue approach emerged during the city's bankruptcy trial, which Tuesday featured testimony from Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr about how Detroit avoided a potentially "catastrophic" outcome by settling with a bond insurer owed $1.1 billion.

The city has fought copper thieves and scrappers for years in hopes of stemming blight, particularly, in city neighborhoods.

The Detroit Police Department created a Copper Theft Task Force about 10 years ago, but the unit was scrapped so the department could put more officers on street patrol.

In April, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a scrap metal bill intended to make it harder for thieves to convert stolen items into cash — particularly in Detroit.

Mayor Mike Duggan has made tightened scrap metal regulations a high priority. Detroit is plagued by thieves stripping catalytic converters from vehicles and metal siding, copper wire and fittings from unattended and even occupied buildings.

Under the new law, scrap metal dealers can pay for items worth $25 or more that thieves regularly swipe, such as air conditioners, copper wire and catalytic converters, only by mail to valid addresses provided by the sellers.

Scrap dealers also have to take photos or video of what they buy, according to the law. Sellers must be paid by check, money order, or special cards and receipts they can redeem at on-site automatic teller machines that take photos of them getting the cash.

Detroit is moving away from providing electricity to customers. During the next five to seven years, Detroit will be completely out of the business of supplying power to about 115 large nonresidential customers at 1,400 sites throughout Metro Detroit.

DTE Energy will take on the city's customers, which include the Detroit Public Schools, Joe Louis Arena, Cobo Center and the DIA. DTE will expand its system to handle the extra load, and the lighting department will decommission its equipment.

Earlier Monday, a bankruptcy lawyer revealed a group of hedge funds is expected to sign off on a breakthrough deal between Detroit and a bond insurer, pushing the city a step closer to exiting bankruptcy court.

The funds' lawyer, Thomas Moers Mayer, told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes Tuesday that he expects the financial creditors will approve the deal by Thursday.

The hedge funds are owed $1 billion and would split $141 million in new notes as part of a bankruptcy settlement Detroit reached with bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. on Thursday.

The FGIC deal includes a plan to replace Joe Louis Arena with a hotel, condominium and retail development.

If Detroit had continued to battle FGIC in court, and lost, "it would be fairly catastrophic from my perspective," Orr testified Tuesday.

Testimony continues Wednesday from Martha Kopacz, the judge's handpicked expert who is expected to say Detroit's plan to shed more than $7 billion in debt is feasible.

She concluded in a July report that Detroit needs a larger and better-trained workforce and commitment from its elected leadership to carry out the massive restructuring. Closing statements in the trial are set to begin on Monday.

The judge said he intends to deliver a decision during the week of Nov. 3 on whether he will confirm the city's plan.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Original Story:

A pregnant woman sentenced to jail time for a DUI conviction involving the death of her friend will be allowed to stay out of prison until the birth of her baby.

Sarah Courtney, 34, from Orrington, Maine, was sentenced to ten years in prison after pleading no contest to manslaughter and aggravated criminal operating under the influence of intoxicants. A Westchester County DWI Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

She was driving her SUV in Hampden last year when she missed a curve and crashed the vehicle. Her friend Sarah Eason, 28, was sitting in the passenger seat and died as a result of the crash.

According to prosecutors, Courtney, who is now eight months pregnant, was nearly twice over the legal alcohol limit at the time, Bangor Daily News reported. She also was driving at 57mph in a 45mph zone. A Nyack DWI Lawyer represents clients involved in drunk driving cases.

The women had been visiting bars in Bangor and Brewer just before the crash.

Courtney was sentenced to ten years in prison, with all but two and a half suspended, followed by four years probation for manslaughter.

But she will not have to enter prison until March 1 on account of the fact she is expected to give birth to a baby girl next month.

Courtney's due date is November 22 but her daughter is expected to be delivered earlier due to gestational diabetes. She remains free on $2,000 bail.

The prosecution said that although they thought the plea agreement was fair, he opposed a stay longer than 42 days, the maternity leave granted to female members of the military.

Mary-Lynne Eason of Brewer, the victim's mother, told the judge that 'since the crash, my life has become a nightmare from which I will never wake up'.

She said that because of her daughter's death she could no longer work and was struggling emotionally and economically.

The mother added that Courtney's 'continued refusal to accept responsibility reveals a lot about her character' and urged the judge to impose 'a longer sentence to send a stronger message to the community so no other mother has to stand here'.

Just before being sentenced, Courtney apologized to her friend's family.

'My sorrow and remorse is overwhelming,' she said.

In her obituary, published in April 2013 in the Bangor Daily News, Sarah Eason was described as loved and as someone who accepted people without judgment.


Original Story:

General Motors Co. said Friday that its general counsel, and one of GM CEO Mary Barra's closest advisers, has chosen to retire early next year.

The Detroit automaker said it immediately will begin an external search to replace Michael Millikin, who has held the top legal job at GM since 2009. He holds a key position in GM's executive team as the company continues to face legal challenges and investigations in wake of its ignition switch recall crisis this year. GM faces investigations by Justice Department, 45 state attorney general's offices and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. An Atlanta Corporate Governance Lawyer is experienced in resolving disputes to minimize risk and disruption of corporate matters.

In July, GM CEO Mary Barra stood by the company's top lawyer, saying she had no plans to fire him after he was harshly criticized by a Senate panel investigating GM's delayed ignition switch recall.

"Mike has had a tremendous career, spanning more than 40 years, with the vast majority of it at GM," Barra said in a statement issued Friday. "He has led global legal teams through incredibly complex transactions, been a trusted and respected confidant to senior management, and even led the company's global business response team following the tragedy of 9/11.

"For me personally, Mike has been incredibly helpful over the past two decades. I find him a man of impeccable integrity, respectful candor, and unwavering loyalty. He will be missed. I wish him and his wife, Karen, much happiness in this next chapter of their lives."

Millikin, 66, will remain in his position until a new general counsel is in place, the company said.

Several employees from GM's legal department were among those Barra fired following results of GM's internal investigation into why it took more than a decade to recall nearly 2.6 million older Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and older cars for faulty ignition switches. The bad switches have now been tied to 27 deaths. A Boston Business Litigation Attorney is experienced in handling commercial disputes.

Barra and Millkin were cleared of any wrongdoing in the investigation, but at least four GM lawyers were fired of 15 whom Barra terminated. The report showed GM lawyers were allowed to settle lawsuits without notifying Millikin. GM said in July it had retained an outside law firm to review how it responds to lawsuits and other legal matters.

Earlier this year, during the fourth Congressional hearing into GM's ignition switch recall, Barra strongly defended Millikin. Millikin said he didn't learn until early February of the ignition switch problem, even though the legal department was warned of a potential problem in a lawsuit dating back to April 2013.

"How in the world in the aftermath of (the GM internal) report did Michael Millikin keep his job? This is either gross negligence or gross incompetence on the part of a lawyer," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said at the time. She headed the Senate Commerce panel hearing testimony from Barra, Millikin, Delphi Automotive CEO Rodney O'Neal, compensation adviser Ken Feinberg and Anton Valukas, the outside attorney who led GM's internal investigation.

GM's culture of "lawyering up ... killed innocent customers of General Motors," McCaskill added. "I think the failure of this legal department is stunning."

Barra said she "respectfully" disagreed, and defended Millikin as a man of "incredibly high integrity." "I need the right team," Barra said. "He's the person I need on this team."

Some people have said to change GM's culture, it needs new blood, including in the legal department.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), back in the July Senate hearing, said Millikin should resign.

"With Mr. Millikin's retirement, GM has an opportunity to bring in fresh leadership and sever another tie to the Old GM," Blumenthal said in a statement Friday.

GM Chairman Tim Solso, in a statement, said the board wishes Millkin well in his retirement.

"Mike has served the Board extremely well," Solso said in a statement. "He has been a valued adviser, a strong leader and a consistent and honest voice over the past several years."

Millikin served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Detroit, concentrating on the prosecution of drug and drug conspiracy cases before joining in GM in 1977. With the automaker, Millikin held a number of legal positions for the company, including heading in-house litigation in 1987 where he led the company's response to theft of confidential data and documents by Jose Ignacio Lopez and others. He also served on the strategy board for GM's International Operations and was named to the Opel Supervisory Board in the late 1990s.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in New York — aided by a federal grand jury and the FBI — is investigating whether GM lawyers misled the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in its investigation into the ignition switches, among other issues under review by the Justice Department.

The recall of the cars was delayed more than a decade after some in the company became aware of the problem. Ignition switches in Cobalts, Ions and other older cars turn too easily and can allow the key to shut off the engine inadvertently in a crash or when bumped. That can disable power steering and power brakes, creating control problems. And in a front-end crash, air bags won't inflate.


Original Story:

Advocates for the disabled and elderly today settled a lawsuit against Detroit Metropolitan Airport with an agreement to make it more convenient for the disabled and the elderly to get to the terminal from public buses and vans.

The Wayne County Airport Authority has agreed to modify the Ground Transportation Center with an indoor information counter for the service providers, direct dial phones for passengers who need assistance, better signage and wider lanes for buses.

The agreement was announced in U.S. District Court in Detroit Friday morning after days of negotiations. At issue was the airport’s decision last month to no longer allow public transportation services to pick up and drop off passengers at the McNamara Terminal.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit contended they would be forced to navigate their way to the terminal from a long distance in inclement weather.

The move prompted a flurry of protest letters and a call from Gov. Rick Snyder for both sides to achieve an amicable outcome.

In return for the improvements, the buses for Michigan Flyer-Air Ride agree to continue operating out of the Ground Transportation Center. Passengers who are disabled or elderly will have help getting to and from the transportation center. That will be provided by either a representative of the transit service or a contractor of Delta Airlines, the agreement states.

Michael Harris, one of the two plaintiffs in the case who is involved with the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America, called it a “win-win for everyone involved.”

“We’re really getting what we wanted to get,” Harris said. “We’re getting an airport that people will be able to access in a safe environment. I believe it’s a win for (the airport) because the traveling public, able and disabled, will have an enjoyable flying experience. Both sides were willing to compromise and at the end of the day we have outcome that both sides can live with.”

Airport officials, who had remained silent about the lawsuit, said they are happy with the agreement.

“We are pleased to work in a spirit of cooperation with representatives of the plaintiffs, as well as Michigan Flyer, to reach a consensus we all accept,” said airport authority CEO Thomas Naughton in a statement. “This is a great example of reasonable people working together to create a safer and more customer-friendly environment.”

Jason Turkish, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the disability rights community, said the airport was wrong in thinking that moving the drop-off and pick-up sites to the transportation center promoted safety.

Turkish said the biggest change is the presence of permanent staff in a climate- controlled part of the airport to help monitor when people need help to and from the public transportation buses.

“This is going to allow disabled and non-disabled passengers alike to not have to go wait outside for the bus,” he said. “They are going to be able to stay in the comfort, convenience and safety of a climate controlled environment until the time when the bus is going to arrive.”

Although the walk is still 600 feet from the drop off location to the terminal, the pathway that passengers will walk along will be completely remodeled so it complies to Americans with Disabilities Act, Turkish said.

Naughton, who along with other airport officials contended the move from the increasingly congested McNamara Terminal was needed, was “always about customer safety.”

“We are comfortable that the GTC enhancements, to which we have all agreed, maintain a safe environment for our customers,” he said.


Original Story:

Detroit — Two fez-wearing drug dealers involved in one of the most prolific narcotics rings in Metro Detroit history were sentenced to life in prison Friday.

Drug kingpin Carlos Powell of Washington Township and his brother, Eric Powell of Franklin, received the stiff sentences from a federal judge who became enraged in May when the men disappeared ahead of jury verdicts, triggering a nationwide manhunt.

"It's the largest case I've ever seen," U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy said. "There's little else to say without being insulting."

The sentences cap a criminal case that drew national attention due to the drug ring's size, scope and profits and because the men wore fezzes during the trial. The sentences also end an uncomfortable episode for the federal court and prosecutors, who did not seek pretrial detention for the brothers or a third drug dealer despite a history of running from police, violating probation or committing crimes while free on bond.

The brothers apologized Friday for jumping bond. Carlos Powell vowed to turn his life around if given a break.

"I want to say I did not mean any disrespect to the court," Powell, 39, said.

Instead, he got a life sentence and could be bound for the Supermax federal prison in Colorado. That's the most secure federal prison in the country and filled with convicted terrorists, including Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Metro Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

The sentencing hearings were tension-filled. Seven deputy U.S. Marshals and security officers flanked the men and closely watched a gallery filled with relatives, friends and agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Powell brothers were dressed in red jail uniforms — no fezzes — and shackled at the wrists and ankles.

Carlos Powell was reflective and apologetic while reading a prepared statement.

"I miss my children," the father of three said. "I will be leaving them in their time of need."

During a years-long investigation, DEA agents seized more than $21 million in cash, 66 pounds of heroin, 12 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana.

"The amounts of drugs this man injected into this region are just staggering. It's just breathtaking," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Cares said. "He knew it was illegal to inject poison into this region."

The Washington Township man's drug ring allegedly laundered profits and purchased $800,000 worth of jewelry, real estate in Michigan and Georgia and luxury vehicles, including two Bentleys, a Ferrari, a Rolls Royce, and boats. Most have been seized.

The brothers were free on bond and appeared in court every day for their trial until May 12. That's when they jumped bond and disappeared before jurors returned guilty verdicts.

When Murphy learned of their escape, the red-faced judge ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to find the men and fellow drug dealer Earnest Proge, who also jumped bond.

Carlos Powell was captured in a home in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 4. He had more than $750,000 in cash on him and numerous cellphones, prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

Eric Powell was arrested by a fugitive task force at a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, the same night as his brother. He was carrying more than $50,000 cash and a fake birth certificate.

Proge was arrested June 18 in St. Louis. The Detroiter will be sentenced Dec. 5.

The judge was calm and abrupt before sentencing Carlos Powell. Right away, Murphy told the man he would get a life sentence.

"The behavior was long-term, it was entrenched and it was deserving of a life sentence," the judge said.

Unlike his brother, Eric Powell, 36, said nothing.

"He would like to apologize for running away," defense lawyer Dominick Sorise said. "It was panic and fear of a life sentence."

He urged the judge to give his client a break. Eric Powell appeared to be a friendly person, the judge said. Murphy wanted to give the four-time felon a shot at redemption.

"The problem is, I have less discretion," the judge said. "The choices he's made are abominable."

So Murphy sentenced Eric Powell to life in prison. A woman rushed out of the courtroom, crying.

Eric Powell didn't react to the sentence. Instead, he shuffled out of the courtroom, flanked by federal agents.

"I love you Eric," a woman told him as he walked past the courtroom gallery.

"I'll be alright," he said.

Monday, October 13, 2014


Original Story:

Detroit — Legal proceedings are over, for now, in the case of a Detroit police officer who killed 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, but those most affected say the pain will linger.

For the second time a mistrial was declared in the case, this one on the remaining charge — a misdemeanor — in the trial of Officer Joseph Weekley, who killed Aiyana during a May 2010 police raid. Like the jury in the first trial last year, the panel Friday said it was unable to reach a verdict. A Westchester County Police Brutality Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Wayne County prosecutors will decide next month whether to try the misdemeanor case again. They will only be able to charge Weekley with careless discharge of a firearm causing death, because Wayne County Circuit Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway earlier threw out the involuntary manslaughter charge against the officer.

But Aiyana's great-uncle said the family has had enough.

"The mom is hurt again," Londell Fields said of his niece, Aiyana's mother, Dominka Stanley, who sat quietly in the back row of the courtoom for most of the trial. "She don't want to go through it again. ... She wants it to be over with. There's nothing left to be said about it; it's done."

Weekley said in a statement that he will be haunted by Aiyana's death for the rest of his life.

"My life has been ruined irreparably by the events that occurred on May 16, 2010," he said. "There has not been one single day that has gone by since that day where I have not thought about the loss of Aiyana, and I will be haunted by this tragedy for the rest of my life. No family ever deserves to lose a child, and I have nothing but sympathy for the family of Aiyana Jones. A Dutchess County Police Brutality Lawyer has experience managing a variety of police brutality cases.

"No parent ever deserves to lose a child, regardless of the circumstances. I know in my heart and before God that what transpired that day was out of my control, but I will still have terrible grief weigh upon me every day for the rest of my life," Weekley said.

The jury at Weekley's retrial told the court it was deadlocked twice Friday. The judge urged them to continue deliberations after the jurors sent an initial message to the court Friday afternoon, saying: "Judge Hathaway, we are stalemated over the same things as we were on Wednesday. We have discussed this from every possible angle and are unable to come to a unanimous decision."

In June 2013, a mistrial for Weekley also was declared after no verdict could be reached on the involuntary manslaughter charge.

"These things happen. We would rather they didn't happen, but it's not something we are unfamiliar with," Hathaway told the jurors Friday after they informed her they were unable to reach a verdict.

This jury only had to weigh the misdemeanor charge after a ruling last week by Hathaway dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge. The manslaughter charge, a felony, carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The directed verdict by Hathaway was upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of a $2,000 fine and two years in prison.

Roland Lawrence, chairman of the Justice for Aiyana Jones Committee, blasted the judge for tossing the felony count before the jury got the case.

"Judge Hathaway's dismissal of felony charges ... we believe poisoned the jury's ability to reach a verdict," he said in a statement.

Two versions of events

The trial came down to whether the jury believed Weekley or Aiyana's grandmother about what happened in the seconds after police threw a "flash-bang" grenade into the house and Weekley led a Detroit Police Special Response Team squad inside looking for a murderer.

Weekley has said the girl's grandmother, Mertilla Jones, slapped at his submachine gun, causing him to accidentally shoot Aiyana.

Jones has testified that Weekley walked into the house on Lillibridge, put his gun to the sleeping girl's head and shot her on the living room couch.

Prosecutors have said the shooting was an accident, but say Weekley was negligent because he kept his finger on the trigger of his gun, causing it to fire.

"I think that Mr. Weekley should apologize, and just say he made a mistake," Fields said Friday. "I don't think that it's fair because he's a police officer that he gets to get away with this again."

After failing to reach a verdict in the misdemeanor case after four days of deliberations, jurors met with reporters Friday in the jury room.

Hathaway, who said this case has been the longest she's presided over in more than 20 years on the bench, advised them not to release their names.

The jury foreman, a minister, said it was a difficult decision. After three votes, he said the jury tally was five guilty, seven not guilty.

"This was an emotional case," he said, his voice catching. "There were tears in this room. I think we all felt this deeply.

"It really came down to the definition of 'negligence.' Three words were separated by 'or' – careless, reckless or negligence. We really wrestled with the language. We spent an endless amount of time talking about the difference between ordinary and slight negligence."

Jurors said race not an issue

When asked if race played a part in their deliberations, several jurors quickly insisted it hadn't.

One juror said those who thought Weekley was guilty felt he should have controlled his weapon.

"They go through all that training and are supposed to have muscle memory," one man said.

Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality director Ron Scott said he was upset with the outcome of the case.

"This is a defining moment in the history of Detroit," he said. "There has to be some justice for Aiyana Jones."

Wayne County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Maria Miller said prosecutors will decide whether to recharge Weekley at a Nov. 21 hearing.

"This multi-racial, multi-ethnic jury did the very best they could to reach a verdict in this case," said Steve Fishman, Weekley's attorney, in an email. "This case has now been before two juries, once on a felony charge and once on a misdemeanor charge, and neither of them have been able to reach a verdict. In my opinion, twice is enough. The case should be dismissed."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Original Story:

Raleigh-based law firm Smith Debnam received the 2014 International Compliance and Ethics Award, presented by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE). For 10 years running, the SCCE has presented the International Compliance and Ethics Award to individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions in the areas of compliance and ethics in business. The SCCE selected Smith Debnam for being the first law firm in the U.S. to implement a comprehensive compliance program under the guard of a full-time compliance officer.

In 2013, Smith Debnam took the lead in formalizing a compliance program amidst the growing complexity of information security and increasing regulatory scrutiny affecting many of the firm’s financial clients. The firm hired Jennifer Quillen, an experienced compliance professional, to fully develop and implement the firm’s compliance management system. Quillen monitors all activities across the firm in accordance with firm policies, client industry regulations, and state and federal regulatory agencies. She has 19 years of risk management and FDIC bank examiner experience, and has implemented numerous, highly successful internal auditing programs for a number of leading banks and financial services institutions.

The 10th Annual International Compliance and Ethics Awards were presented during the SCCE’s 2014 Compliance & Ethics Institute at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Other award recipients included Donna C. Boehme, principal at Compliance Strategists, LLC; Daniel R. Levinson, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and The Wall Street Journal’s Risk and Compliance Journal.

About the SCCE 
The Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics (SCCE), established in 2004, is headquartered in Minneapolis, MN. SCCE is a non-profit professional member association that serves more than 4,000 compliance and ethics professionals globally. The association provides resources and training to compliance professionals and champions ethical practices and compliance standards. Visit the SCCE website at

About Smith Debnam 
Founded in 1972, Smith Debnam is a full-service law firm dedicated to providing clients with the depth of knowledge and sophisticated legal analysis and planning expected of larger firms, combined with the prompt attention, responsive service, and competitive fees available at smaller firms. Headquartered in Raleigh NC, Smith Debnam provides legal expertise in the following practice areas: Corporate and Business Law, Business Litigation, Commercial Bankruptcy and Reorganization, Foreclosures, Creditor Representation, Collections, Commercial & Residential Real Estate, Construction Law, Employment Law, Equipment Leasing & Finance, Family Law, Estate Planning & Administration, Immigration Law, and Professional Negligence.

Smith Debnam is a member of the International Society of Primerus Law Firms.


Original Story:

Gestures of futile nobility seem mostly confined to the movies these days. And yet the directors of Darden Restaurants, the owner of Olive Garden and other quintessentially American restaurant chains, may have decided that they would rather commit corporate suicide than give in to the demands of two activist shareholders, Starboard Value and the Barington Capital Group. It would be touching if it didn’t appear to be so inexplicably foolish. An Atlanta Corporate Governance Attorney has experience advising officers, directors, and shareholders about their rights and obligations in corporate governance disputes.

For almost a year, Darden has paid a steep price for refusing to meet Starboard and Barington’s sometimes shifting demands. Clarence Otis Jr., Darden’s chief executive and chairman, announced in July he was resigning, eight of Darden’s directors have agreed to step down, and the four remaining board members are engaged in an uphill contest to keep their seats. Against this onslaught, the Darden directors, who once refused to speak to the shareholder activists, have been reduced to pleading with Starboard to negotiate a face-saving resolution. A Boston Stockholder Disputes Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

One has to wonder how the Darden board allowed the situation to get to this point.

In December, Starboard announced that it had taken a 5.6 percent position in Darden a few months after Barington announced its 2.8 percent stake. Starboard proposed spinning off Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse into a company separate from Darden’s higher-growth chains like Capital Grille. It also suggested the usual dash of corporate reorganization because of the company’s poor results. An Austin Corporate Lawyer has experience advising clients on corporate matters involving stockholder disputes and corporate governance issues.

There was nothing unusual about this; shareholder activists love to propose spinoffs as a way to earn a quick buck. But Darden and Mr. Otis had performed well until the financial crisis. The company had only recently begun to underperform while being accused of overpaying its executives.

In short, there was room for compromise, familiar terrain for companies dealing with the increasing prevalence of shareholder activists.

But Darden also has a history of not appreciating criticism, to put it politely. Mr. Otis, for example, has been accused of barring analysts who were overly negative in their views from participating in future Darden events.

The result was that Darden’s board initially tried to ignore the activists, refusing to speak to them. The company also adopted a host of unfriendly measures to fight off the activists, including bylaws intended to inhibit shareholder nominations of new directors.

But perhaps the Darden board’s most controversial move was to propose spinning off Red Lobster, but not Olive Garden, as a stand-alone company.

Shareholders led by Starboard protested this maneuver, arguing that it would sacrifice value by leaving Red Lobster too small to survive while failing to capitalize on its real estate. Fifty-seven percent of Darden’s shareholders called a special meeting to vote on the Red Lobster spinoff. It would not take a rocket scientist to figure out that if those shareholders made the effort to call for such a meeting, they most likely did not favor the idea.

It was at this point that the Darden directors may have drunk their metaphorical hemlock.

Before the shareholder meeting on the spinoff, Darden’s board agreed abruptly in May to sell Red Lobster for $2.1 billion to Golden Gate Capital.

This was a stick in the eye for shareholders. In a situation that seemed ripe for compromise, the sale of Red Lobster only infuriated the protesting Darden shareholders led by Starboard. Starboard complained that the deal was at a fire sale price because $1.5 billion of the value was for Red Lobster’s real estate, thus valuing the nation’s pre-eminent fast seafood chain at only $600 million with a tax bill that was $500 million. Starboard has asserted that after payments related to debt, the proceeds from the actual Red Lobster business were only $21 million, a fact that Darden heatedly disputes.

This prompted Starboard to try to replace all of Darden’s directors.

Darden’s board has been on the appeasement trail ever since, overhauling corporate governance, appearing to push out Mr. Otis and then desperately pleading with Starboard to negotiate while offering it four seats and proposing to add four new independent directors for a fresh perspective. The company’s argument has essentially devolved into one that says, “We don’t want too much change at Darden, so please keep at least four of us.” It’s not the best defense, frankly, to say that the reason you should stay is because you oppose change.

The question is why the Darden board would sell Red Lobster so rashly, knowing there was a strong possibility it would end up in the mess it finds itself in right now. After all, the board was aware that a majority of Darden’s shareholders most likely opposed the sale.

Over the last few months, I have spoken to several people close to Darden. They tell a uniform tale: The board felt that Red Lobster was a melting ice cube and that if it didn’t sell quickly, it would not get a good price. Moreover, the directors felt that the board’s fiduciary duties required them to sell Red Lobster at the time. Darden also tried to make the sale contingent on shareholder approval, but Golden Gate, as might be expected, refused, so nothing more could be done.

Darden has spent a lot of money on advisers with stellar reputations, including Goldman Sachs for financial advice and the law firm Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz for legal advice. But the directors’ justification is still puzzling to me.

The idea that a board is forced to sell something because of fiduciary duties may be warranted, but that would mean no alternatives existed, like in the sale of Bear Stearns to JPMorgan Chase. That was the only option for Bear Stearns to avoid bankruptcy.

Under corporate law, the sale of an asset like Red Lobster is the board’s decision, and it has wide latitude to sell or not. I certainly know of no case that would support the Darden board’s contention that it had no choice. In fact, one of the seminal cases in corporate law involves the sale of the TransUnion Corporation in the 1980s to the Pritzkers. In that case, the lawyer for TransUnion told the directors that if they refused to agree to the sale, they could be held personally liable for passing up on the bid. A court found the directors personally liable for following that lawyer’s advice. Since then, lawyers have been careful to avoid this type of all-or-nothing advice.

We don’t know what was discussed in the Darden boardroom, but one hopes it wasn’t phrased the way the directors seem to say it was. We will most likely never know what caused the board to take this inexplicable path, particularly because anyone who has watched the shareholder movement over the last few years could have predicted an all-consuming shareholder backlash.

When asked for a comment, a representative of Darden pointed me to a previous statement that the decision to sell was about maximizing value. “After careful evaluation,” the statement said, “the board was certain that halting a robust Red Lobster sale process midcourse would have negative consequences for the value” received for Red Lobster.

In any event, it doesn’t appear from the evidence that Red Lobster needed to be sold immediately. Institutional Shareholder Services, the big proxy advisory firm, called the Red Lobster sale “very close to a giveaway.” The Darden board has also not benefited from the fact that Red Lobster’s management said in a document prepared by Red Lobster’s buyer related to the financing of the acquisition that it believed that the chain’s problems “are temporary in nature.”

In its battle with Darden, Starboard, whose stake is now at 8.8 percent, seems to have momentum. I.S.S. and the other main proxy adviser, Glass Lewis, have taken the unusual step of recommending that all of the directors be thrown out at the shareholder meeting, which is scheduled for Oct. 10.

Absent a last-minute, face-saving compromise, the likelihood of a full-scale ouster raises the glaring question: Why would the board pointlessly and perhaps foolishly invite its own demise?


Original Story:

MetLife announced on Friday that it would fight a proposal by a government body to designate it a systemically important financial institution, a category that would subject it to more intensive regulation than most other life insurers.

The Financial Stability Oversight Council, which was created in the Treasury Department but includes top officials from other regulators like the Federal Reserve, has the authority to vote on the designation under new rules established by the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law. MetLife had already said publicly that it did not consider itself systemically important under the Dodd-Frank criteria. A Nashville Insurance Defense Attorney is experienced in insurance dispute cases.

In a regulatory filing on Friday, MetLife said it had requested a hearing so the firm could contest the proposed determination.

Under the regulations, the council will schedule a hearing within 30 days. The council will then have 60 days to make a final determination on the company’s status. If MetLife is still designated systemically important, the company could bring a lawsuit in federal court. A Charleston Insurance Lawyer is experienced in handling insurance related lawsuits.

Already, three nonbank institutions have been designated so-called SIFIs, or systemically important financial institutions: the American International Group, Prudential Financial and GE Capital. When Prudential was first named to the list, it filed an administrative appeal but did not prevail. Prudential did not take the issue to court.

Much of the insurance industry is regulated by the states, and even the insurers that are designated as systemically important will continue to follow state regulations. But the SIFIs are subject to additional oversight by the Fed and tougher new capital requirements, rules that reduce the institutions’ degree of leverage. MetLife has long said that the coming capital requirements will make it uncompetitive with other life insurers.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Original Story:

Pressure could be building against Wisconsin’s caps on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.
Two Milwaukee County cases are challenging the state’s $750,000 cap on non-economic damages, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported this month.

A Dane County case challenging a separate $250,000 cap on total damages against UW-Madison doctors is pending in the state Court of Appeals. A Milwaukee Medical Malpractice Lawyer has experience managing injury cases involving medical malpractice.

One of the Milwaukee cases involves Ascaris Mayo, a 53-year-old mother of four who had to have all of her limbs amputated in 2011 after a strep infection went undetected at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee, the Journal-Sentinel reported.

In July, a jury awarded Mayo and her husband $25.3 million. That included $15 million for pain and suffering and $1.5 million for his loss of companionship, non-economic damages limited by state law to $750,000.

Tyree Roberts, 23, was awarded $2.2 million in June after a jury said nurses failed to recognize symptoms of compartment syndrome, which caused him to undergo several surgeries and lose sensation in his left leg. A Milwaukee Personal Injury Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

That award includes $1.5 million for pain and suffering, limited to $750,000 under the state cap adopted in 2006 after the state Supreme Court threw out the previous cap of $350,000, which was adjusted for inflation.

In hearings this month about the validity of the cap in the Milwaukee County cases, judges called into question the state’s $1.15 billion Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, which has grown in recent years as the number of malpractice cases has declined.

The fund, supported by premiums from doctors, covers malpractice awards over $1 million.

The $1.15 billion is an “obscene amount,” the Journal-Sentinel quoted Circuit Court Judge David Hansher as saying.

Wisconsin Medical Society lobbyist Mark Grapentine defended the size of the fund, saying it has to be robust to handle potential outlays.

The Milwaukee County cases appear to be headed to the state Supreme Court, the Journal-Sentinel reported.

In the Dane County case, Terri Fiez of Verona won a $1.8 million jury award last year for her husband’s death after he was treated at UW Hospital. The jury found Dr. Jonathan Keevil, who works for UW-Madison, negligent.

The state limits total damages against UW doctors and other state employees to $250,000.

Circuit Court Judge John Markson upheld the cap, citing a state Supreme Court’s ruling maintaining a similar $50,000 cap against municipalities.

But, Markson wrote, “I believe the plaintiffs provide cogent arguments that deserve close examination by our Supreme Court, which is the only court that can modify or overrule the decisions that I believe are controlling.”

Markson said the Legislature set the state employee cap in 1979 at $250,000, equal to $72,000 today. An equivalent cap today would be $800,000, he said.
Guy DuBeau, an attorney for the Wisconsin Hospital Association and the Wisconsin Medical Society, wrote in a brief in the appeal that the Legislature “crafted these policies consistent with the well accepted principle that it, and not the courts, is better suited to weigh the policies involved.”

William Gleisner, an attorney with the Wisconsin Association for Justice, wrote that the $250,000 cap is “an insult to the citizens of Wisconsin because it encourages public employees to believe that there is no downside to their failure to adhere to those basic standards, regulations or guidelines.”

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Original Story:

Four people have been charged in the US and one in Australia for their alleged involvement in a hacking ring that stole pre-release video game data. A Hudson Valley Burglary Lawyer has experience in intellectual property theft cases.

Prosecutors have claimed that members of the group managed to use some of the information to create counterfeit versions of the Xbox One console.

One of these is said to have been sold on eBay for $5,000 (£3,085) ahead of the machine's official launch.

US Army helicopter training software is also alleged to have been pirated.

The US Department of Justice said that the value of the intellectual property and other data stolen totalled between $100m to $200m. An Atlanta Intellectual Property Lawyer is experienced in managing IP theft cases.

It added that two of the suspects - Sanadodeh Nesheiwat, from New Jersey, and David Pokora from Ontario, Canada - had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer fraud and copyright infringement.

Copies of the Xbox One - then codenamed Durango - development kit appeared on eBay in August 2012

They face up to five years in jail when a judge sentences them in January.

"Electronic breaking and entering of computer networks and the digital looting of identities and intellectual property have become much too common," said US government lawyer Charles Oberly.

"These are not harmless crimes, and those who commit them should not believe they are safely beyond our reach."

Unreleased games
Court documents state that the computer systems of Microsoft, Epic Games, Valve, Zombie Studio and the US Army were all breached as part of the attacks.

They suggest that this was achieved by a combination of adding code to web applications used by the firms, in what is known as SQL injection attacks, as well as obtaining stolen log-in credentials belonging to the companies' employees, and some of their software development partners.

It is alleged that the accused rented and used computers in the UK, US, Hong Kong, Australia and the Netherlands to commit the crimes in 2011.

Among the files said to have been stolen were:
  • the technical specifications and source code for the Xbox One console
  • Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 video game
  • Epic Games's Gears of War 3 video game
  • Square Enix's Thief video game
  • Zombie Studios' AH-64D Apache Simulator, which had been created for the US Army
Investigators allege that Nathan Leroux - a 20-year-old from Maryland, subsequently ordered components from online retailers to build a counterfeit version of the Xbox One's development kit.

Court papers state that one copy was sold via eBay in August 2012, and the sale of a second unit was arranged to an individual based in Seychelles the same month,

This latter machine was, however, intercepted by the FBI before it left the US.

The development kit represented a PC loaded with a pre-release version of the Xbox operating system. Legitimate versions of this would have been used by trusted software houses at the time to create and test games for the console.

Microsoft did not formally unveil the Xbox One until May 2013, and it did not go on sale until November.

The papers also note that the Australian alleged to be part of the hacking ring appeared to have spoken about his exploits to the editor-in-chief of the Kotaku news site, who published an article about him last year.

Stephen Totilo reported that as well as having tried to help sell copies of the Xbox One kit, the Perth-based man - who used the nickname SuperDae - had also claimed to have played pre-release versions of Sleeping Dogs 2 and Homefront 2.

The man is reported to have added that he had searched for Half Life 3 on Valve's servers, but had not managed to find anything.


Original Story:

President Barack Obama rode in a lift with an armed security contractor who had assault convictions, in another security lapse.

It happened on 16 September when Mr Obama visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The incident came to light on Tuesday, hours after the boss of the Secret Service was grilled by Congress about a security breach at the White House.

A Secret Service official confirmed the incident but declined to comment.

The incident contravened a protocol that only members of the Secret Service are allowed to carry weapons in the presence of the president.

Tuesday's revelations led to calls from one senior US congressman for a "top-to-bottom" review of the agency.

The gun was found when the man was questioned by agents after taking a video of the president in the lift.

He was immediately sacked by his supervisors, who arrived on the scene shortly after the incident, reports said.

Litany of lapses

November 2009: A Virginia couple filming a reality show make it past Secret Service checkpoints into a dinner for visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh without an invitation.

November 2011: A man parks a car directly south of the White House and opens fire with a rifle, striking the residence at least seven times. Secret Service supervisors fail to realise the White House has been struck for four days - until a housekeeper discovers the damage.

April 2012: Eleven Secret Service employees preparing for the president's visit to the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Columbia, bring sex workers back to their hotel. An altercation ensues when one agent reneges on an agreement to pay $800 (£500) for the night, one woman tells a newspaper. Investigators later reveal agents violated protocol by "consuming excessive amounts of alcohol and patronising questionable local establishments while off duty".

November 2013: A senior supervisor on the president's protective detail starts a row after demanding access to a woman's room at the Hay Adams Hotel overlooking the White House. He leaves behind in the room a bullet from his service weapon.

March 2014: Three agents on the elite counter assault team are sent home from the Netherlands, where they have been preparing for a presidential visit, after one is found passed out drunk in a hallway. The agents had been drinking until about 02:30 and were scheduled to be on duty at 10:00.

16 September 2014: An armed security contractor with a felony criminal record is allowed to board a lift with the president in a government building in Atlanta.

19 September 2014: Omar Gonzalez, a troubled Iraq War veteran, scales a fence at the White House, evades agents during his dash across the lawn, and enters the White House through an unlocked and unalarmed door.

A supervisor asked the man to hand over his gun, surprising the Secret Service team who had not known he was armed.

The Washington Post said the man had three convictions for assault and battery.

"This person was within arm's length of the president with a gun," said Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz, who was told of the incident by a whistleblower. An Atlanta Whistleblower Lawyer protects whistleblowers against retaliation for bringing about action.

It will come as another embarrassment on the day after the director of the US Secret Service, Julia Pierson, took responsibility before a hostile House oversight committee hearing for an "unacceptable" security breach at the presidential residence.

On 19 September Omar Gonzalez, 42, scaled a fence at the White House, ran across the lawn, entered an unlocked door and was eventually tackled inside.

On Wednesday Republican congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the House of Representatives committee with oversight of the agency, called for a comprehensive review.

"This latest episode adds to the growing list of failures from an agency plagued by operational challenges, cultural problems and reporting difficulties," he said.