Monday, September 29, 2014


Original Story:

Detroit's bankruptcy judge today said he lacked the authority to issue a restraining order to stop water shutoffs over delinquent bills, saying that there is no constitutional right to water and a moratorium would be a financial hit to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

"Chapter 9 strictly limits the courts' power in a bankruptcy case," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes said as he read a ruling from the bench this morning.

While Rhodes' ruling made it clear he understood the scope of the problem of water shutoffs in a city with deep poverty, he said the plaintiffs in the case — advocates including Moratorium Now, the Peoples Water Board and the National Action Network — did not make the case that a six-month moratorium was necessary or within his powers.

He also noted that Detroit and Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties are in the process of approving a new Great Lakes Water Authority under which Detroit would maintain ownership of the region's water and sewer system but lease the pipes that largely serve the suburbs, in exchange for $50 million a year for 40 years dedicated to fixing aging water and sewer lines.

Given that Detroit is in bankruptcy and under intense pressure to make every operation in the city as cost-effective and efficient as possible, "the last thing it needs is this hit to its revenues," Rhodes said.

Alice Jennings, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs who sought a moratorium on water shutoffs, said she is disappointed in Rhodes' ruling and will look to appeal his decision.

"No one ever said the water had to be free," Jennings said. "Our position is the water had to be affordable. We're still looking for affordable water."

Jennings said the most important part of Rhodes' ruling was his admission cutting off water service causes irreparable harm. Jennings pointed out the city does not have specific data on how often water has been cut off at homes with children or disabled people.

Jennings said federal mediators and the state came up with a plan to save art at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Why not a plan to save people without access to affordable water, she asked.

"We need to evaluate how many people are without water and the safety and health risks involved," she said. "Come up with the grand bargain to save the health and safety of the children and seniors."

The testimony came this morning in the hearings on Detroit's bid to get out of bankruptcy.

Rhodes also is likely to hear updates from city lawyers about the agreement reached last week to keep emergency manager Kevyn Orr on the job until the bankruptcy exit strategy is approved, yet restore power to run city government to Mayor Mike Duggan and the City Council.

During a meeting of the city's financial advisory board on Friday, Orr outlined the arrangement that will keep him in charge of shepherding Detroit through the final stages of its bankruptcy.

Orr will technically remain emergency manager until the plan of adjustment is confirmed, but he relinquished control of city government back to elected officials in a deal announced Thursday. Without the powers of emergency manager, he told the board, it wasn't clear he'd have the authority to conclude bond deals crucial to the city emerging from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Orr said he expects testimony to last only a couple more weeks.

"Hopefully sometime between the end of the trial and Thanksgiving we'll have a final ruling," Orr told the board.

Orr is among the next four witnesses Jones Day lawyers for the city plan to call this week. An amended witness list the city filed last week said that, before Orr appears on the stand — for what's likely to be some of the most critical testimony of the case — the city plans to call:

■ Gaurav Malhotra, a managing partner at the accounting firm Ernst & Young's Chicago office, who has been a key financial adviser to the city.

■ Ken Buckfire of Miller Buckfire, the investment banker who has been advising Detroit on matters like creation of a regional water authority.

■ James Doak, a managing director at Miller Buckfire.

Rhodes said last week, after a day and a half of testimony on the water shutoffs, that he would issue a ruling this morning.

Advocacy groups who sought a moratorium on shutoffs testified last week that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department's policies of mass shutoffs — 19,000 in recent months — are leaving low-income households with seniors and children without water service.

They asked Rhodes to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the shutoffs until the city can come up with a better way to address the unaffordability of water service in a city where more than half of households live at or below 150% of the federal poverty level.

Also last week, Rhodes agreed to hear an appeal from labor activist Robert Davis. He asked the judge for permission to file a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court on allegations that the Detroit council illegally met in closed session to debate the agreement that keeps Orr on to manage the bankruptcy.


Original Story:

General Motors is warning Chevrolet Corvette buyers and owners not to use one of the car's most exotic high-tech features because it could inadvertently result in committing a crime in some states.

The feature involves "Valet Mode," an aspect of the Performance Data Recorder in the 2015 Corvette. It allows owners to secretly record conversations in their cars and performance data when they're not along for the ride, such as when the car is being parked by a valet.

GM has apparently discovered that secret recordings are illegal in many states.

A notice to dealers explaining the problem was posted last week on, a website for Corvette owners. It says GM is working on a software update, due next month, that should take care of the problem.

In the meantime, the notice says, "You must advise any customers who take delivery of an impacted vehicle that they should refrain from using Valet Mode until the update takes place."

If they choose to use it anyway, they need to make sure anyone in the car is aware their conversations will be recorded and make sure that their consent is obtained.

The notice says that Corvette owners are being contacted.

Besides recording conversations, Valet Mode also shows how the car was driven while in the hands of another. It disables the entertainment system and locks storage compartments to deter thefts. Valet Mode is just one part of the Performance Data Recorder, which has the main purpose of being a fun way for owners to make video and audio recordings of their more exhilarating drives in a Corvette, including their choice of some of the car's performance indicators.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Original Story:

Eric Holder’s time as attorney general will be remembered for many things, most recently his forceful response to the upheaval that followed a police shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo. On Wall Street, however, he will always be the guy who extracted billions of dollars in settlements from banks.

As he has been hinting for several months, Holder intends to resign his post as attorney general, although he plans to remain in office until his successor is fully in place. “Attorney General Holder has discussed his plans personally with the president on multiple occasions in recent months, and finalized those plans in an hour-long conversation with the president at the White House residence over Labor Day weekend,” according to an official at the Justice Department who was quoted in news reports.

In 1999, when Holder was deputy attorney general under President Clinton, he wrote a now-infamous memo (pdf) outlining guidelines for bringing criminal charges against corporations, in which he argued that companies should be treated no differently than individuals. An Atlanta RICO Lawyer has experience advising clients of the racketeering and RICO issues involved in corruption. He added this precedent-setting caveat, however: “Prosecutors may consider the collateral consequences of a corporate criminal conviction in determining whether to charge the corporation with a criminal offense.” He went on: “prosecutors may take into account the possibly substantial consequences to a corporation’s officers, directors, employees, and shareholders.” And: “Virtually every conviction of a corporation, like virtually every conviction of an individual, will have an impact on innocent third parties.” He was basically saying that the government should hesitate before charging companies with committing a crime, because it could hurt innocent bystanders.

When Holder was appointed attorney general by President Obama in 2009, he was dropped right into the esophagus of the financial crisis, and those words came back to haunt him. As months slid by, during which taxpayers funded rescues of financial institutions and millions lost their livelihoods and homes, public rage built about companies and people implicated in the crisis not paying a price.

In March of last year, Holder seemed to reiterate his earlier point when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult to prosecute them.” Only a few months later, after much criticism, he revised his statement, saying, “There is no such thing as ‘too big to jail.’ No individual or company, no matter how large or how profitable, is above the law.”

No one was actually jailed in the end. What followed were a handful of eye-popping, multibillion-dollar (mostly) civil settlements with many of the country’s biggest banks. In August, Bank of America (BAC) agreed to pay $16.65 billion to the DOJ and other agencies over the bank’s role selling toxic mortgages prior to the financial crisis. In July, Citigroup (C) agreed to pay $7 billion, and last November, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) agreed to pay $13 billion to resolve their own mortgage fraud investigations. In total, the Justice Department says it has extracted almost $37 billion from banks in mortgage settlements. The DOJ did force two foreign banks, BNP Paribas (BNP) and Credit Suisse (CS), to plead guilty to criminal charges of violating U.S. sanctions and helping Americans avoid taxes, respectively. They also paid enormous fines.

Ultimately, though, critics who wanted to see individuals threatened with prison sentences for committing financial crisis-related fraud were disappointed by the Holder era. Instead, it was bank shareholders who ended up paying for their companies’ misdeeds, while the individuals who committed them, and made millions in bonuses while doing so, went on with their lives.


Original Story:

Gov. Nathan Deal said Wednesday that he wants lawmakers to study a plan for a statewide school district that could significantly increase the number of charter schools in Georgia.

Deal said legislators should consider a system, known in Louisiana as a Recovery School District, that gives the state more powers to take over struggling schools and convert them to charters. The remarks came at an event with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose state pioneered the program. A DeKalb County Charter School Lawyer has experience in education law.

“We are faced with some of the similar situations that Louisiana is faced with,” Deal said. “We’re continuing to put money into school systems that continue to fail. That is not the end result that we want.”

The Republican is locked in a fierce re-election battle against Democrat Jason Carter, who relentlessly accuses the governor of failing to fully fund the state’s public education system. The governor has cast an expansion of charter schools as a more cost-effective way to improve schools. A Cobb County Charter School Lawyer has experience managing a variety of education law cases.

Louisiana voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2003 that created the state-run Recovery School District, but the policy really took root after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Nine years later, Jindal said, more than 90 percent of students in New Orleans are now in charter schools.

“There are too many kids in America who are trapped in failing schools,” said Jindal, a Republican who was in town to boost Deal’s campaign. “And charter schools are simply one more way to give those parents and children another option.”

Under the Louisiana system, the state can intervene in schools deemed “academically unacceptable” for four consecutive years. Those that receive charters receive state funding without being tied to requirements of local school boards. Those that fail to improve or meet standards would lose their charter. A Fulton County Charter School Lawyer has experience in matters involving charter school compliance.

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the governor isn’t tied to any specific proposal, but that he wants legislators to study the Louisiana plan as a way to boost failing schools.

The system has earned praise from some parents and community leaders who say the charter schools have spurred rising test scores and allowed administrators more leeway to innovate. State rankings show New Orleans schools rose from next-to-last in the state to the middle of the pack in Katrina’s aftermath.

But critics lament the downfall of neighborhood schools and say that many of the best charter schools still remain out of reach for struggling families. Others say that schools that have improved under the state’s watch have been slow to revert to local control.

Deal has been an ardent supporter of the expansion of charter schools since he took office. He backed a constitutional amendment, which passed in 2012, that allowed the state to approve charter schools. Opponents, including many Democrats, worried that the expansion would mean less money for traditional public schools.

Republicans see a political payoff, too, as the GOP tries to make inroads with minority voters. Deal and other Republicans have been eager to note that the charter school amendment earned overwhelming support in majority-black counties such as Clayton.

Senate Minority Whip Vincent Fort focused his criticism on Deal’s broader education policy.

“Nathan Deal needs to stop his attack on public education, stop the cuts and stop driving teachers out of the classroom,” he said, invoking Deal budget proposals that included austerity cuts to education. “Gimmicks are not the answer, and that’s all that Nathan Deal has to offer.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Original Story:

 On October 31, 2006, an eighteen-year-old woman named Nikki Catsouras slammed her father’s sports car into the side of a concrete toll booth in Orange County, California. Catsouras was decapitated in the accident. The California Highway Patrol, following standard protocol, secured the scene and took photographs. The manner of death was so horrific that the local coroner did not allow Nikki’s parents to identify her body.

 “About two weeks after the accident, I got a call from my brother-in-law,” Christos Catsouras, Nikki’s father, told me. “He said he had heard from a neighbor that the photos from the crash were circulating on the Internet. We asked the C.H.P., and they said they would look into it.” In short order, two employees admitted that they had shared the photographs. As summarized in a later court filing, the employees had “e-mailed nine gruesome death images to their friends and family members on Halloween—for pure shock value. Once received, the photographs were forwarded to others, and thus spread across the Internet like a malignant firestorm, popping up on thousands of Web sites.”

 Already bereft of his eldest daughter, Catsouras told his three other girls that they couldn’t look at the Internet. “But, other than that, people told me there was nothing I could do,” he recalled. “They said, ‘Don’t worry. It’ll blow over.’ ” Nevertheless, Catsouras embarked on a modern legal quest: to remove information from the Internet. In recent years, many people have made the same kind of effort, from actors who don’t want their private photographs in broad circulation to ex-convicts who don’t want their long-ago legal troubles to prevent them from finding jobs. Despite the varied circumstances, all these people want something that does not exist in the United States: the right to be forgotten.

The situation is different in Europe, thanks to a court case that was decided earlier this year. In 1998, a Spanish newspaper called La Vanguardia published two small notices stating that certain property owned by a lawyer named Mario Costeja González was going to be auctioned to pay off his debts. Costeja cleared up the financial difficulties, but the newspaper records continued to surface whenever anyone Googled his name. In 2010, Costeja went to Spanish authorities to demand that the newspaper remove the items from its Web site and that Google remove the links from searches for his name. The Spanish Data Protection Agency, which is the local representative of a Continent-wide network of computer-privacy regulators, denied the claim against La Vanguardia but granted the claim against Google. This spring, the European Court of Justice, which operates as a kind of Supreme Court for the twenty-eight members of the European Union, affirmed the Spanish agency’s decisions. La Vanguardia could leave the Costeja items up on its Web site, but Google was prohibited from linking to them on any searches relating to Costeja’s name. The Court went on to say, in a broadly worded directive, that all individuals in the countries within its jurisdiction had the right to prohibit Google from linking to items that were “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed.”

The consequences of the Court’s decision are just beginning to be understood. Google has fielded about a hundred and twenty thousand requests for deletions and granted roughly half of them. Other search engines that provide service in Europe, like Microsoft’s Bing, have set up similar systems. Public reaction to the decision, especially in the United States and Great Britain, has been largely critical. An editorial in the New York Times declared that it “could undermine press freedoms and freedom of speech.” The risk, according to the Times and others, is that aggrieved individuals could use the decision to hide or suppress information of public importance, including links about elected officials. A recent report by a committee of the House of Lords called the decision “misguided in principle and unworkable in practice.”

Jules Polonetsky, the executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, a think tank in Washington, was more vocal. “The decision will go down in history as one of the most significant mistakes that Court has ever made,” he said. “It gives very little value to free expression. If a particular Web site is doing something illegal, that should be stopped, and Google shouldn’t link to it. But for the Court to outsource to Google complicated case-specific decisions about whether to publish or suppress something is wrong. Requiring Google to be a court of philosopher kings shows a real lack of understanding about how this will play out in reality.”

At the same time, the Court’s decision spoke to an anxiety felt keenly on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, the right to privacy trumps freedom of speech; the reverse is true in the United States. “Europeans think of the right to privacy as a fundamental human right, in the way that we think of freedom of expression or the right to counsel,” Jennifer Granick, the director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, said recently. “When it comes to privacy, the United States’ approach has been to provide protection for certain categories of information that are deemed sensitive and then impose some obligation not to disclose unless certain conditions are met.” Congress has passed laws prohibiting the disclosure of medical information (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), educational records (the Buckley Amendment), and video-store rentals (a law passed in response to revelations about Robert Bork’s rentals when he was nominated to the Supreme Court). Any of these protections can be overridden with the consent of the individual or as part of law-enforcement investigations.

The American regard for freedom of speech, reflected in the First Amendment, guarantees that the Costeja judgment would never pass muster under U.S. law. The Costeja records were public, and they were reported correctly by the newspaper at the time; constitutionally, the press has a nearly absolute right to publish accurate, lawful information. (Recently, an attorney in Texas, who had successfully fought a disciplinary judgment by the local bar association, persuaded a trial court to order Google to delete links on the subject; Google won a reversal in an appellate court.) “The Costeja decision is clearly inconsistent with U.S. law,” Granick said. “So the question is whether it’s good policy.”

One of the intellectual godfathers of the right to be forgotten is Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, a forty-eight-year-old professor at Oxford. Mayer-Schönberger grew up in rural Austria, where his father, a tax lawyer, bought a primitive modem for the family in the early nineteen-eighties. Viktor became active on computer bulletin boards, and he wrote an early anti-virus program, which he sold when he was in his twenties. “My father indulged my interest in computers, but he really wanted me to take over his law practice,” Mayer-Schönberger told me. He went to Harvard Law School. His early experience with computers, combined with his anti-virus business, prompted his interest in the law of data protection.

“The roots of European data protection come from the bloody history of the twentieth century,” Mayer-Schönberger said. “The Communists fought the Nazis with an ideology based on humanism, hoping that they could bring about a more just and fair society. And what did it look like? It turned into the same totalitarian surveillance society. With the Stasi, in East Germany, the task of capturing information and using it to further the power of the state is reintroduced and perfected by the society. So we had two radical ideologies, Fascism and Communism, and both end up with absolutely shockingly tight surveillance states.”

Following the fall of Communism, in 1989, the new democracies rewrote their laws to put in place rules intended to prevent the recurrence of these kinds of abuses. In subsequent years, the E.U. has promulgated a detailed series of laws designed to protect privacy. According to Mayer-Schönberger, “There was a pervasive belief that we can’t trust anybody—not the state, not a company—to keep to its own role and protect the rights of the individual.”

In 2009, Mayer-Schönberger published a book entitled “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.” In it, he asserts that the European postwar, post-Wall concerns about privacy are even more relevant with the advent of the Internet. The Stasi kept its records on paper and film in file cabinets; the material was difficult to locate and retrieve. But digitization and cheap online storage make it easier to remember than to forget, shifting our “behavioral default,” Mayer-Schönberger explained. Storage in the Cloud has made information even more durable and retrievable.

Mayer-Schönberger said that Google, whose market share for Internet searches in Europe is around ninety per cent, does not make sinister use of the information at its disposal. But in “Delete” he describes how, in the nineteen-thirties, the Dutch government maintained a comprehensive population registry, which included the name, address, and religion of every citizen. At the time, he writes, “the registry was hailed as facilitating government administration and improving welfare planning.” But when the Nazis invaded Holland they used the registry to track down Jews and Gypsies. “We may feel safe living in democratic republics, but so did the Dutch,” he said. “We do not know what the future holds in store for us, and whether future governments will honor the trust we put in them to protect information privacy rights.”

Without a right to be forgotten in American law, the Catsouras family had no means of forcing Google to stop linking to the photographs. “We knew people were finding the photos by Googling Nikki’s name or just ‘decapitated girl,’ but there was nothing we could do about it,” Keith Bremer, the family’s lawyer, told me. As an interim measure, Catsouras enlisted the help of Michael Fertik, who at the time had just founded, a company that tries to manipulate the results of Google’s search algorithm by seeding additional information on the Web. In this way, the less desirable links appear much lower in a Google search. Fertik also helped the family ask Web sites to take down the photos; many did. “We got the photos off at least two thousand Web sites,” Fertik told me. But they are still easy to find.

Convicted criminals who want to escape the taint of their records are also out of luck when it comes to petitioning Google. “Somewhere between sixty and a hundred million people in the United States have criminal records, and that’s just counting actual convictions,” Sharon Dietrich, the litigation director of Community Legal Services, in Philadelphia, told me. “The consequences of having a criminal record are onerous and getting worse all the time, because of the Web.” Dietrich and others have joined in what has become known as the expungement movement, which calls for many criminal convictions to be sealed or set aside after a given period of time. Around thirty states currently allow some version of expungement. Dietrich and her allies have focussed on trying to cleanse records from the databases maintained by commercial background-check companies. But Google would remain a problem even if the law were changed. “Back in the day, criminal records kind of faded away over time,” Dietrich said. “They existed, but you couldn’t find them. Nothing fades away anymore. I have a client who says he has a harder time finding a job now than he did when he got out of jail, thirty years ago.”

In the effort to escape unwanted attention on the Internet, individuals and companies have had success with one weapon: copyright law. It is unlawful to post photographs or other copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder. “I needed to get ownership of the photos,” Bremer, the Catsouras family’s lawyer, told me. So he began a lengthy negotiation with the California Highway Patrol to persuade it to surrender copyright on the photographs. In the end, though, the C.H.P. would not make the deal.

Other victims of viral Internet trauma have fared better with the copyright approach. In August, racy private photographs of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and other celebrities were leaked to several Web sites. (The source of the leaks has not been identified.) Google has long had a system in place to block copyrighted material from turning up in its searches. Motion-picture companies, among others, regularly complain about copyright infringement on YouTube, which Google owns, and Google has a process for identifying and removing these links. Several of the leaked photographs were selfies, so the women themselves owned the copyrights; friends had taken the other pictures. Lawyers for one of the women established copyrights for all the photographs they could, and then went to sites that had posted the pictures, and to Google, and insisted that the material be removed. Google complied, as did many of the sites, and now the photographs are difficult to find on the Internet, though they have not disappeared. “For the most part, the world goes through search engines,” one lawyer involved in the effort to limit the distribution of the photographs told me. “Now it’s like a tree falling in the forest. There may be links out there, but if you can’t find them through a search engine they might as well not exist.”

The European Court’s decision placed Google in an uncomfortable position. “We like to think of ourselves as the newsstand, or a card catalogue,” Kent Walker, the general counsel of Google, told me when I visited the company’s headquarters, in Mountain View, California. “We don’t create the information. We make it accessible. A decision like this, which makes us decide what goes inside the card catalogue, forces us into a role we don’t want.” Several other people at Google explained their frustration the same way, by arguing that Google is a mere intermediary between reader and publisher. The company wanted nothing to do with the business of regulating content.

Yet the notion of Google as a passive intermediary in the modern information economy is dubious. “The ‘card catalogue’ metaphor is wildly misleading,” Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in Washington, D.C., told me. “Google is no longer the card catalogue. It is the library—and it’s the bookstore and the newsstand. They have all collapsed into Google’s realm.” Many supporters of the Court’s decision see it, at least in part, as a vehicle for addressing Google’s enormous power. “I think it was a great decision, a forward-looking decision, which actually strengthens press freedoms,” Rotenberg said. “The Court said to Google, ‘If you are going to be in this business of search, you are going to take on some privacy obligations.’ It didn’t say that to journalistic institutions. These journalistic institutions have their own Web sites and seek out their own readers.”

Google doesn’t publish its own material, but the Court decision recognized that the results of a Google search often matter more than the information on any individual Web site. The private sector made this discovery several years ago. Michael Fertik, the founder of, also supports the existence of a right to be forgotten that is enforceable against Google. “This is not about free speech; it’s about privacy and dignity,” he told me. “For the first time, dignity will get the same treatment in law as copyright and trademark do in America. If Sony or Disney wants fifty thousand videos removed from YouTube, Google removes them with no questions asked. If your daughter is caught kissing someone on a cell-phone home video, you have no option of getting it down. That’s wrong. The priorities are backward.”

To see how Google’s system for complying with the Court’s decision worked, I spoke with David Price, a thirty-three-year-old lawyer for the company, in a conference room at Google headquarters. Price wore the unofficial uniform of the Googleplex: bluejeans, an untucked button-down shirt, and a cheerful demeanor. “After the decision, we all made frowny faces, but then we got down to work,” he said.

The job had two parts. The first was technical—that is, creating a software infrastructure so that links could be removed. This was not especially difficult, since Google could apply the system already in place for copyrighted and trademarked works. Similarly, Google had already blocked links that might have led to certain dangerous or unlawful activity, like malware or child pornography.

“The second issue was bigger,” Price explained. “We had to create an administrative system to intake the requests and then act on them.” The company designed a form that was accessible through the search pages for the countries covered by the decision. The form is now available in twenty-five languages. German users can find it at, Spanish users at (It cannot be accessed directly through, the search page in the United States.) To file a claim, individuals are required to give their name—anonymous requests are not allowed—and provide the links to which they object. (Most applicants have submitted about four links each.) Petitioners are also required to provide “an explanation of why the inclusion of that result in search results is irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise objectionable,” according to the request instructions posted online. If it grants a request, Google then sends a notice to the Webmaster for the site hosting the links in question. This allows the publishers of that site to make their case for keeping the link as a search result.

To decide whether to remove the disputed links from its searches, Google has assembled dozens of lawyers, paralegals, and others to review the submissions. Price meets with the group twice a week to discuss its decisions and to try to maintain consistent standards. The main considerations are whether the individual is a public or a private figure; whether the link comes from a reputable news source or government Web site; whether it was the individual who originally published the information; and whether the information relates to political speech or criminal charges. Because the Court’s decision specifically said that a relevant factor should be “the role played by the data subject in public life,” Google is reluctant to exclude links about politicians and other prominent people. “There are hard calls,” Price told me.

Google has not released its decisions in any individual cases. But the company did tell me about some of its decisions in a way that disguises the parties involved. For example, Google agreed to what it termed a “request to remove an old document posted in an online group conversation that the requestor started,” and a “request to remove five-year-old stories about exoneration in a child porn case.” The company rejected a request from a “news outlet to remove content about it from another news outlet”; a “request from a public official to remove a news article about child pornography accusations”; and a “request for removal of a news article about a child abuse scandal, which resulted in a conviction.” The company declined, for the time being, to remove a 2013 link to a report of an acquittal in a criminal case, on the ground that it was very recent. Google also declined a request by a writer to remove links to his own work, on the ground that the articles were recent and deliberately made public by the author.

There have been controversies. Earlier this summer, the BBC received a notice that Google was deleting links to a blog post about Stanley O’Neal, the former chief executive of Merrill Lynch. Robert Peston, the BBC’s economics editor and the author of the post, wrote an indignant response, titled “Why Has Google Cast Me Into Oblivion?” The de-linking, Peston wrote, confirms “the fears of many in the industry that the ‘right to be forgotten’ will be abused to curb freedom of expression and to suppress legitimate journalism that is in the public interest.” How could a public figure like O’Neal succeed in sanitizing the links about him? When Peston looked into the decision more closely, he found that the request for the deletion appeared not to have come from O’Neal. Rather, it was “almost certain” that the deletion came from a request made by one of the commenters on his original piece—presumably, the commenter wanted his own comment forgotten. Googling “Stan O’Neal” still drew a link to Peston’s blog post, but Googling the commenter’s name did not. In any event, the contretemps illustrated the complexity of Google’s task in complying with the Court’s judgment. “We’re a work in progress,” Price told me.

The European Court’s ruling applied only to search engines, not to social-media sites, but the principles underlying the decision have also drawn attention and concern at Facebook, whose headquarters are fifteen minutes north of Google, in Menlo Park. Facebook posts are not public in the same way that search results are; most posts are generally visible only to “friends.” But the standards for access to posts are slippery and often poorly understood by the people who use the service. In light of this, the chances that photos on Facebook could stray in embarrassing directions may be even greater than the risk of unwanted results appearing in a Google search.

Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice-president of communications and public policy, told me, “On one thing, we are unambiguous. We always let people delete the content they create. If you put up a photo or a post, you always get to take it down.” But, while Facebook grants you the right to remove your own posts, what about others’ posts about you? Facebook allows users to “tag” photographs and videos to indicate the identity of the people who are portrayed. Users can untag themselves, but they can’t remove the actual photos. If you ask Facebook to remove photos, videos, or entire posts, a Community Operations team will consider your request. The team always removes pornographic posts, and it allows users to report a post that is “annoying” or “advocates violence” or “goes against my views.” In making these judgments, the team is guided by Facebook’s standards for acceptable expression. As with the Court’s decision on the right to be forgotten, the application of Facebook’s own terms leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

“There is an inevitable conflict between two distinct social values”—privacy and free speech, Schrage said. “The question is how do societies value those competing rights. Technology didn’t create the tension but just revealed it in a dramatic way.”

There are already signs that European regulators want to impose more restrictions on Google. At a July meeting in Brussels of European data regulators, known as the Article 29 Working Party, several officials suggested that Google had not gone far enough in complying with the Costeja decision. Some objected to Google’s practice of informing publishers when links that individuals objected to were deleted; such actions, they said, will merely encourage the republication of the material and thus cut against the Costeja decision. Some also pressed Google to eliminate the disputed search results from, the main search page, as well as from the country-specific search engines. In response to these concerns, a Google official wrote to the European working group that, in Europe, Google directs Internet searches to local country sites, and less than five per cent of European searches go to—searches by travellers, most likely. (Google has also assembled a working group of outside scholars to advise the company on complying with the Costeja decision.)

Still, the day may come when a single court decision covering twenty-eight countries, as in the Costeja case, looks downright appealing to Internet companies. Different countries draw the line on these issues in different ways, and that creates particular problems in the borderless world of the Internet. Now that the Court has issued its ruling in the Costeja case, the claim goes back to a Spanish court, since it was brought by a Spanish lawyer regarding a Spanish newspaper. “Many countries are now starting to say that they want rules for the Internet that respond to their own local laws,” Jennifer Granick, of Stanford, said. “It marks the beginning of the end of the global Internet, where everyone has access to the same information, and the beginning of an Internet where there are national networks, where decisions by governments dictate which information people get access to. The Internet as a whole is being Balkanized, and Europeans are going to have a very different access to information than we have.”

It is clear, for the moment, that the Costeja decision has created a real, if manageable, problem for Google. But suppose that the French establish their own definition of the right to be forgotten, and the Danes establish another. Countries all around the world, applying their own laws and traditions, could impose varying obligations on Google search results. “The real risk here is the second-order effects,” Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School and director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said. “The Court may have established a perfectly reasonable test in this case. But then what happens if the Brazilians come along and say, ‘We want only search results that are consistent with our laws’? It becomes a contest about who can exert the most muscle on Google.” Search companies might decide to tailor their search results in order to offend the fewest countries, limiting all searches according to the rules of the most restrictive country. As Zittrain put it, “Then the convoy will move only as fast as the slowest ship.”

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger believes that the European Court has taken an important first step. “It’s a pragmatic solution,” he said. “The underlying data are not deleted, but the Court has created, in effect, a speed bump.” In Germany, he explained, “if you quickly search on, you’ll not find the links that have been removed. But if you spend the extra ten seconds to go to you find them. You are not finding them accidentally, and that’s as it should be. This speed-bump approach gives people a chance to grow and get beyond these incidents in their pasts.”

The Internet’s unregulated idyll seems to be coming to an end, at least in Europe. That pleases Christos Catsouras. After the California Highway Patrol failed to turn over the copyrights, he and his family brought suit against it and the two employees who leaked the photographs, on a variety of grounds, including negligence, infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. Years passed as some of the charges were dismissed and then reinstated in the course of multiple motions and appeals. On the eve of trial, in 2012, more than five years after Nikki Catsouras’s death, the defendants settled with the family for nearly $2.4 million. Christos Catsouras believes that the ruling by the European Court of Justice represents a broader victory. “I cried when I read about that decision,” he told me. “What a great thing it would have been for someone in our position. That’s all I wanted. I would do anything to be able to go to Google and have it remove those links.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Original Story:

A patent war may be on the horizon as the campaign industry becomes increasingly technological. The once sleepy industry dominated by phones, mail, and TV consultants is now experiencing the kind of innovation and growth traditionally confined to Silicon Valley.

The new and old consultant cultures have a new fault line: patents.

Washington consultants are known as vicious turf protectors and some view patenting intellectual property (IP) as a way to defend their business. That view clashes with the growing segment of the industry based on the West Coast where they’ve adopted the laissez-faire approach to patents popular with the tech industry. The belief among Silicon Valley-types in the industry is that patents stifle innovation.

Stifling or not, says Brian Pandya, a patent attorney at Washington-based Wiley Rein LLP, “you’re going to see a lot patent filings by vendors and consultants that operate in this space.” It’s inevitable, explains Pandya, “because campaigns are becoming more high tech and they’re intersecting with patents and IP issues.” An Atlanta Intellectual Property Lawyer has experience in trademark and patent cases.

It worries Seth Bannon, a New York-based consultant who founded Amicus, a fundraising firm.

“The only way that you win with patents is by suing other people,” he says. “It’s better for companies and it’s better for everyone involved if people are trying to build better products.”

He’s not completely against patents. A firm that spends 10-15 years on research and development of a nuclear fusion process should take advantage of IP protections. An Atlanta IP Lawyer represents clients involved in patent infringement matters. “But when you’re talking about something like matching a cookie to the voter file, which is an idea that a lot of people have and will have, that’s an inappropriate place for a patent,” he says.

 Bannon subscribes to the view that increased patenting could delay the development of new political technology. “It’s always best if technology companies, especially in the nonprofit, political world, compete based on the quality of their products and not based on patents,” he says.

The harbinger of this pending conflict was the patent granted to Audience Partners earlier this summer for their voter file matching process. The announcement was met with skepticism from other firms who likened it — while requesting anonymity — to “patenting a strategy.”

“I better go patent door knocking, phone banking, and direct mail using the voter file before someone else snaps them up,” says a representative of a rival company. “A patent troll is certainly an interesting mascot.”

Other consultants contacted by C&E declined to be quoted for this story.

Jeff Dittus, co-founder and CEO at Audience Partners, is quick to disagree that his firm has patented a “strategy.”

“If the patent office recognizes an invention, it’s not a trivial thing. It took three-and-half years to get it through,” he says. “It was studied and looked at.”

Dittus, who’s also the inventor listed on the patent, likened his company’s process of cookie-voter file matching to Intel’s patenting of the microprocessor or the Pitney Bowes patent of the Frank mail machine. Still, he admits his firm didn’t invent the wheel when it comes to voter-file matching.

“Yes, direct mail has been here, door knocking has been here using the voter registration file, but the way that you present an ad in a real time environment on the Internet across all these ecosystems is an invention that we created,” he says.

The patent is described as “systems and methods for facilitating and targeting of online ads to voters within a selected political demographic,” according to the filing. “Audience targeting may be accomplished in several ways including: geo-targeting; contextual targeting; behavioral targeting; site placement; and targeted household television ads.”

Audience Partners is not the only company offering this service, which could present legal complications for the patent. Dittus declined to discuss his company’s legal strategy — Audience Partners, which operates in the campaign space through its division CampaignGrid and other licensees, could potentially sue competitors who continue to use similar technology without licensing their patent. But, Dittus adds, “what I will say is that there are many companies that we work with on the publishing side and the technology side that have licensed our patent and we’ve been working with for years and they’re all big public companies.”

Patents are rarely litigated for infringement. But if Audience Partners does decide to pursue legal action, they have a 27-point patent to target the competition with.

“It’s easier to prove infringement on a broad claim than a narrow claim, because it covers more activity,” says Pandya. “Also the flip side is that a narrow claim is more likely to withstand an invalidity challenge, because you’re less likely to capture what people were doing before the filing of the patent.”

Michael Berta, a San Francisco-based partner in the intellectual property group of Arnold & Porter LLP, agrees Audience Partners could have trouble proving a claim.

“The inventor first filed for this idea in 2011, which is relatively recent,” says Berta. “It would seem to me that someone might be able to mount a credible challenge to the validity of this patent if they’ve been in this business longer than the past couple of years.”

Still, the courtroom might not be the only venue for a challenge to Audience Partners, adds Berta. “Patents like this one meet certain requirements for someone to be able to file a challenge with the patent office and try to avoid having to fight validity issues in district court,” he says.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said it hasn’t received a request to review the patent.


Original Story:

RAMAPO – Tuesday's double fatal head-on crash on the state Thruway has police and family members perplexed about why a New York City police officer reportedly drove the wrong way and slammed into another vehicle driven by a Newburgh chef who only months earlier had lost his wife to cancer.

"I want to know why," Joan Christopher, the distraught stepmother of the officer, Richard E. Christopher, said Tuesday at the family home in Nyack. A Westchester County DWI Lawyer represents victims of car accidents involving negligence.

Christopher, 32, an Army veteran who served in the Middle East and Bosnia before joining the NYPD eight years ago, reportedly was on his way to work when his 2002 Dodge Dakota pickup wound up traveling south in the northbound lanes, colliding head-on in the center lane with a 2003 Honda CRV driven by James B. DeVito, 59, of Airmont.

Both drivers, the sole occupants of their vehicles, were pronounced dead at the scene. Officials said an autopsy and drug and alcohol tests are planned. A Nyack DWI Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The Thruway Authority received a call reporting a blue pickup truck heading the wrong way moments before the crash was reported around 7 a.m. near Exit 15 in Suffern. Officials offered little additional information on the crash Tuesday, saying accident reconstruction investigators were still looking into the incident.

DeVito, a recent widower, was a chef at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh and was known to his Airmont neighbors as a quiet and friendly man.

"I saw him yesterday," said Alyssa Dubbs, 20, who lives across the street on Mary Beth Drive. "He was outside taking care of his lawn, working on his pool, the flowers in his front yard."

"He was a great guy," added Dubbs. "Nice as could be."

Neighbors said DeVito had three adult stepchildren and a number of grandchildren on whom he doted. His wife, Wilma, died in February after a battle with cancer.

Christopher, who lived with his girlfriend and her child on South Airmont Road, had been involved in prior motor vehicle incidents, including as a passenger in a 2010 drunken-driving crash with an Orangetown police cruiser that injured two officers. Christopher suffered minor injuries while the drunken driver in that crash, Bernard Bohunicky of West Nyack — who had been convicted three times of driving while intoxicated — served three years in prison, according to state records. A New City DWI Lawyer has experience managing a variety of drunk driving cases.

Family members said they were stunned to hear Christopher was accused of driving the wrong way and suggested he might have been misdirected by construction personnel. But there was no indication that was the case.

Police said they were continuing to investigate where Christopher was traveling to and from and where he got on the Thruway in the wrong direction.

Joan Christopher said she felt numb after learning of his death.

"Nobody can replace him because he was something special," she said.

He was a godfather to his sister's daughter, who is deaf, and learned sign language to communicate with her, his family said.

Tuesday's crash was the third wrong-way incident in the area in the past month, and comes weeks after the five-year anniversary of one of the most horrific car crashes in recent memory. On July 26, 2009, Diane Schuler was drunk and high when she drove a minivan in the wrong direction on the Taconic State Parkway in Mount Pleasant. She slammed head-on into another vehicle, killing eight people, including four children.

An estimated 360 people each year are killed in wrong-way collisions on the nation's highways, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Some 60 percent of those crashes involve alcohol and nearly 80 percent occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Wrong-way crashes on highways are relatively rare, but are often fatal because they usually involve head-on collisions.

The speed limit on that stretch of the Thruway is 65 mph. Thruway officials said they were monitoring the investigation to determine whether safety measures could be improved.

"We believe that area of the Thruway is clearly marked," Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison said at a news conference. "The wrong-way aspect of this accident is something we take very seriously."

Anyone with information on Tuesday's crash should call state police at 845-364-0200.

Recent wrong-way crashes:

• On July 15, David A. Gray, a 63-year-old from Connecticut, drove the wrong way on Interstate 684 before being stopped by state police in North Salem. He is facing a host of felony charges, including DWI.

• On July 16, Bronx resident Francisco Herrera, 30, was charged with DWI after he drove the wrong way on the Saw Mill River Parkway and caused a head-on crash.

• On July 23, 2013, Thiells resident Michael Schechel, 69, drove south in the northbound lanes of the Tappan Zee Bridge, causing a five-vehicle crash that killed Hannah Ayeh-Brachie, 56, of Hillcrest. In March he was charged with criminally negligent homicide.

• On Aug. 10, 2013, Michelle Cio, 34, was killed when she drove the wrong way on the northbound Taconic State Parkway in Yorktown and slammed into another car. Police said the Ossining woman's blood-alcohol level was four times the legal limit.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Original Story:

HONG KONG — China, a country that has enticed the world’s multinationals to invest billions of dollars over the past decade with the prospect of selling to 1.4 billion people, sent its strongest signal yet on Friday of a tougher climate for those companies. A Chinese court imposed a fine of nearly $500 million on the giant British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline for bribery. An Atlanta Libel Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

After a one-day trial held in secrecy, the court also sentenced Glaxo’s British former country manager, Mark Reilly, and four other company managers to potential prison terms of up to four years. The sentences were suspended, allowing the defendants to avoid incarceration if they stay out of trouble, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. The verdict indicated that Mr. Reilly could be promptly deported.

The report said they had pleaded guilty and would not appeal. Glaxo said in a statement that it “fully accepts the facts and evidence of the investigation, and the verdict of the Chinese judicial authorities.” An Atlanta White Collar Crime Lawyer defends individuals against allegations of fraud.

The scale of the $487 million fine dwarfs previous criminal penalties on companies doing business in China. It comes at a time when numerous automakers, technology companies and other multinationals are also under investigation by the Chinese authorities and are nervously watching for what penalties might be imposed on them.

Previous large fines against foreign companies include $40.5 million on the Audi unit of Volkswagen last week and a total of $200 million in fines levied last month on a dozen Japanese auto parts and bearing manufacturers; those fines were for violations of antitrust laws. An Atlanta RICO Lawyer is experienced in racketeering issues involving bribery.

Glaxo’s case was unusual in that it involved accusations of criminal bribery by the company to persuade hospitals and doctors to administer or sell Glaxo pharmaceuticals to their patients. The company said it was contrite.

“GSK P.L.C. sincerely apologizes to the Chinese patients, doctors and hospitals, and to the Chinese Government and the Chinese people,” the company said.

The case underlined the dangers for multinationals as they have continued to do business in a country where corruption has been widespread and where the legal and regulatory system has shown a much greater willingness this year to prosecute foreign companies, and sometimes their executives as well. No other multinationals, however, have faced the same massive bribery charges and criminal trial as Glaxo. A Westchester County Criminal Appeals Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

“It’s very hard to do business in the Chinese health care and pharmaceutical sectors without doing payoffs,” said David Zweig, the director of the Center on China’s Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “Everyone else pays bribes. Glaxo just got caught.”

Beijing officials have gone out of their way in the past two weeks to deny complaints by foreign business groups and governments that China’s continuing legal crackdown represents an effort to discriminate against multinationals and help Chinese companies compete with them, at a time when economic nationalism is rising in China. But the scale of the fine against Glaxo was far greater than fines known to have been leveled against Chinese companies for bribery.

The case showed that “an open China is not a lawless one,” said Xinhua, in a commentary. “This case has set a benchmark for sales practices in the medical and pharmaceutical sector.”

Two antitrust lawyers involved in cases in China said in separate interviews that Chinese officials have rushed cases along, sometimes in a few weeks, with little chance for multinationals to present their side of the issues. In some antimonopoly cases this summer, multinational executives have not even been allowed to bring their lawyers to meetings with regulators, said the lawyers, both of whom insisted on anonymity because they were representing clients in litigation.

In many of these cases, regulators have demanded that multinationals sharply reduce prices for patented products. Glaxo and a growing list of automakers have already done so. Bringing prices down closer to manufacturing costs makes many goods more affordable for Chinese consumers, but puts pressure on multinationals to cover their research and development costs through higher prices in other markets.

Chinese police had accused Mr. Reilly of orchestrating a “massive bribery network” that brought the company higher drug prices and illegal revenue of more than $150 million, investigators said in May. Mr. Reilly, a Briton, and two Chinese-born executives, Zhang Guowei and Zhao Hongyan, had even bribed government officials in Beijing and Shanghai, they said.

The names of the other defendants are Liang Hong and Huang Hong.

In its statement, Glaxo said that the southern court, the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court, had found the company guilty only of bribing nongovernmental personnel; the statement made no mention of any conviction for bribing government officials, which would be a more politically delicate issue.

The Chinese authorities have also alleged that people working for the drugmaker bribed doctors and hospital staff members and channeled illicit kickbacks through travel agencies, pharmaceutical industry associations and other channels.

The British Embassy in Beijing said that it had no information on the possible deportation of Mr. Reilly and that while an appeal remained possible, it would have no comment on the outcome of the trial.

“We note the verdict in this case,” an embassy spokesman said. “We have continually called for a just conclusion in the case in accordance with Chinese law. It would be wrong to comment while the case remains open to appeal.”

The Xinhua report said of the verdicts and the fine: “This means that a final full stop has been put on this case of commercial bribery by the GlaxoSmithKline China investment company that drew intense social interest.”

The report said that Glaxo was the first multinational in the Global Top 500 to be put on criminal trial in China.

According to Xinhua, the court accepted the prosecutors’ case that from 2009, Mr. Reilly and the other four defendants pushed an aggressive drugs sales strategy in China, and their techniques evolved into a “sales-through-bribery model.” Those techniques included lavish rewards for doctors and hospital managers who attended ostensibly academic conferences. The company also rewarded potential buyers by paying for their outings and tours, as well as by giving fees for lectures.

The report said the case against Glaxo emerged when the police in Shanghai began scrutinizing an obscure travel agency that had been doing booming business. The investigators found that much of that business came from Glaxo and other multinational drug corporations.

The court said that in deciding how to punish Mr. Reilly, it had taken into account that he had returned from Britain to face the investigators, and that he had “truthfully recounted the crimes of his employer,” meriting a relatively lenient punishment, the Xinhua report said. The other defendants also confessed and also earned relatively light sentences, according to the report.

In August, business partners in the investigative firm ChinaWhys were sentenced to prison terms by a Chinese court after they were hired by Glaxo to look into whether a former company employee was passing information about suspected fraud at the company to Chinese authorities.

According to people familiar with that case, the former employee was targeting Mr. Reilly.

One partner, the investigator Peter Humphrey, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison; the other — his wife and a Chinese-born American citizen, Yu Yingzeng — was sentenced to two years. The court said Mr. Humphrey would be deported after he served his term.

Glaxo hired the couple in spring 2013, to look into whether a former employee had sent the company emails and a sex video of Mr. Reilly recorded without his knowledge or consent, according to people who were briefed on the situation and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The video was recorded with a camera inside his Shanghai apartment bedroom.

ChinaWhys, which specialized in due diligence work, completed an inconclusive preliminary report on the sex video of Mr. Reilly by June 2013 and suggested continuing the probe. In July 2013, the couple was detained, and they were formally arrested a month later, accused of illegally obtaining private information for their company.

The couple’s family has said the arrests were almost certainly linked to the Glaxo investigation, adding that Glaxo had not told Mr. Humphrey the full details and accusations of the suspected whistle-blower.

Glaxo appeared to distance itself from ChinaWhys in its statement on Friday evening, saying that, “GSK P.L.C. also apologizes for the harm caused to individuals who were illegally investigated by” one of its subsidiaries in China.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Original Story:

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The off-duty New York City police officer at the wheel in a fatal wrong-way crash on the Thruway last month had a blood-alcohol content of nearly three times the legal limit, state police announced Wednesday.

Toxicology results show that Richard E. Christopher, 32, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.21 percent when he drove his 2002 Dodge Dakota in the southbound lanes of the northbound Thruway near Suffern, slamming head-on into a Honda CRV driven by James DeVito of Airmont. A BAC above 0.08 is a misdemeanor. A Nyack DWI Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Both men were killed in the crash, which occurred just before 7 a.m. on Aug. 12.

No drugs were found in Christopher's system. Christopher was assigned to the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx and lived on South Airmont Road in Airmont with his girlfriend and her son.

DeVito had no drugs or alcohol in his blood at the time of the crash, state police said.

DeVito, 59, a recent widower, was the executive chef at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, where he was an employee of Sodexo, a food services company. A Suffern DWI Lawyer is following this story closely.

DeVito's father, Joseph DeVito Sr., who lives in Peoria, Ariz., was shocked to hear of the finding.

"The fact that he is a police officer and drunk makes no sense at all," DeVito said. "It's a sorry shame. My son was a beautiful guy. He was a master chef, he was a musician, he was a good family man."

The officer's family said at the time that they believed he had been headed to work. However, state police Capt. Richard Mazzone said Wednesday that the investigation determined Christopher was not going to work that morning but was headed home from a friend's place in Orangetown.

Christopher's family was told Wednesday of the autopsy results but did not wish to comment on them, his sister, Melissa Castillo, said at the family's home in Nyack.

Investigators say two witnesses reported that Christopher was traveling north in the northbound lanes before making an illegal U-turn and driving south in the wrong direction.

The collision occurred just after the five-year anniversary of one of the most horrific motor vehicles crashes in recent memory.

On July 26, 2009, Diane Schuler was high on marijuana and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 percent when she drove the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway, slamming into another vehicle and killing eight people, including four children.


Original Story:

As Uber and Lyft battle to disrupt the next generation of moving New Yorkers around in cars, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has slapped a giant fine on a dubious practitioner of the current method — a fine that just might “scare the pants off” Symon Garber, the medallion impressario whose penchant for taking his trousers off has previously landed him in hot water with the authorities.

Working with the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the AG’s office has hit Yellow Cab SLS Jet Management Corp with a whopping $1.6 million fine. Jet Management, one of the largest medallion owners in the city with 275 in total, charged almost 2,000 drivers using its yellow cabs “late fees.” A Boca Raton Business Litigation lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

“Late” charges of any kind are not in line with TLC standards nor New York State regulations, but these were not really late fees in any normal sense of the word. Jet Management charged drivers for late payment if they did not pre-pay for their shift; however, prepayment is not allowed by the TLC. This caught drivers in a bind. So when they paid for their cars at the end of their shifts, the drivers were assessed fees for paying the prepayments “late.” The company also claimed these were actually additional charges for leasing a hybrid vehicle, and while they were not, those charges are also not within TLC regulations.

According to the TLC, “Lease cap rules, among the few workplace protections for drivers, limit the dollar amount drivers may be charged for leasing medallions and taxicabs, in order to ensure a baseline level of take-home earnings for drivers. The rules also strictly limit add-on charges that can be imposed upon drivers and limit the purposes for which charges may be assessed. Overcharges by owners or agents chisel away at drivers’ limited income.”

$1,387,500 of the fine will head back to the pockets of ripped-off city cab drivers, $150,000 will be paid towards compliance monitoring, and $125,000 will be paid to the Attorney General.

“Every worker in New York deserves an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, and taxicab drivers are no exception,” said Attorney General Schneiderman in a statement, “With most cabbies already struggling to make ends meet, our agreement will put money back in their pockets and prevent this company from cheating drivers out of their hard-earned wages. Working with Commissioner Joshi and the TLC, we will continue to vigorously enforce lease cap rules and ensure that all taxi companies follow the law and respect drivers’ rights.”

The shady medallion manager behind Jet Management Corp, Mr. Garber — he goes by Simon when socializing and Symon when getting arrested — has been in trouble with the law a number of times. In 2008, his taxi company’s Chicago branch was found to be repurposing salvaged vehicles as taxis. About 100 of his Chicago taxis were marked salvage, junk, or rebuilt.

In 2005, Mr. Garber had even more peculiar car trouble. According to the Asbury Park Press, “Colts Neck Township resident Symon Garber, 39, was charged April 13 with filing a false police report after the car he was driving was in a motor-vehicle accident and he reported the car as stolen.” He was charged with filing a false police report. In 2007, he was caught driving while intoxicated and in possession of marijuana.

The strangest charge of all came on February 5th, 2008. Mr. Garber was arrested on Shady Tree Lane in Colts Neck, New Jersey after he stripped down to his underpants, hosed himself off in a neighbor’s yard, then strolled into the neighbor’s home and took a shower. The homeowners and their two young children panicked and escaped the scene to call authorities. He was charged with burglary, criminal mischief and trespassing. A Boca Raton Real Estate Litigation attorney is reviewing the details of this case.

In recent years, Mr. Garber, who emigrated from Odessa, Ukraine and is married with 5 children, has cultivated a more clean-cut image. He now sponsors a polo team and hosts regular polo events, which raise money for charity. Three of his sons play for the polo team. While he may be cleaning up his personal life, Mr. Garber’s business practices don’t seem to have changed at all.

Mr. Garber did not respond to multiple efforts by Betabeat to reach him via phone and email. If he gets back to us, this story will be updated to include his remarks.

According to the AG’s press release, a single medallion costs more than $1 million in New York City so “most taxicab drivers do not own the medallions associated with the taxis that they drive. Instead, drivers lease medallions, and often vehicles as well, from owners and leasing agents. New York taxicab drivers are generally not employees and are therefore usually not covered by minimum wage, overtime, or many other labor laws.”

While a fine approaching $2 million might seem like a lot, the Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Bhairavi Desai, thinks Mr. Garber got off easy. “A driver who overcharges by $10 loses their license and faces prosecution for multiple offenses, [so] the SLS Jet owners should be relieved for not facing criminal charges.  We thank the leadership of AG Schneiderman and the Labor Bureau and TLC Chair Joshi and her prosecutors for staying the course and sending the message that drivers’ economic rights will be protected.”

In this age of Uber and Lyft, it’s comforting to know that the regulators still play a meaningful watchdog role. And when you’re impatiently waiting for a cab and someone tells you to “keep your pants on,” at least one medallion owner ought to take that advice more literally.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Original Story:

BLACKSTONE, Mass. (AP) — The bodies of three infants were found Thursday in a filthy house where four other children were removed by authorities last month, a Massachusetts prosecutor said.

Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said authorities don't know when or how the babies died, or their ages and genders, and no one has been arrested in connection with their deaths. He said the state medical examiner will conduct an investigation. Children's Protective Services is the part of government that investigates allegations of Child Abuse.

Detectives investigating a case of reckless endangerment of children at the house found the bodies. Investigators working in the house have been wearing hazmat suits, and are decontaminated when they leave, the prosecutor said.

"The house is filled with vermin," Early said. "We have flies. We have bugs. We have used diapers, in some areas, as much as a foot-and-a-half to two-feet high. The house is in a deplorable condition."

Early said four other children, ages 13, 10, 3 and 6 months old were removed from the house Aug. 28 after a neighbor who discovered their living conditions notified police. The prosecutor said one of the children in the house approached the neighbor about a child who wouldn't stop crying. Early said the 6-month-old was found covered with feces lying on a bed. Parents facing potential Termination of Parental Rights need to know several important factors about how their rights can be adversely affected by law.

Marilynn Soucy, 68, who lives a few doors down from the house, said in a telephone interview she's still in shock at the news in the neighborhood where she has lived for 35 years.

"I am so disgusted. It hasn't really registered in my head yet," she said. "My husband and I raised seven children. We have 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. I cannot imagine hurting a child."

She said she and her husband, Bob, had rarely seen the couple who lived in the house at least three years, or their children. She said they occasionally saw the 10-year-old, a boy, playing outside or the woman sit on her porch. Soucy said she had never heard anyone complain about the couple. Their house, Soucy said, had been renovated extensively before they moved in.

"If we thought kids were being abused or living in squalor we would have said something," she said.

Soucy said the only time there was commotion at the house when officials removed the children from the home.

The state Department of Children and Families said Thursday children who were living at the home are in state custody, and that the department had not been involved with the family until it received a report of possible abuse or Child Neglect.

Early said it's too soon to know if charges will be filed in the infants' deaths, or against whom, because investigators don't even know who was living at the home when they died.

It wasn't immediately clear where the children's parents were.

Early said investigators still have much to do and are expected to be on the scene overnight.

"I can't give you answers right now," Early said.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Original Story:

LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan Legislature has approved a bill to let drivers who owe extra "responsibility" fees for certain offenses do 10 hours of community service instead. A Westchester County Speeding Ticket Lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of traffic ticket litigation.

The option would apply for drivers assessed $400 in fines for not having mandatory auto insurance. Drivers fined $300 for operating without a valid license also could do community service.

Extra fines for the offenses went away in 2012, but some motorists still owe them for old offenses.

The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to send the bill to Gov. Rick Snyder. A Yonkers Speeding Ticket Lawyer manage a wide variety of traffic violations.

Snyder this year signed a law to lessen and gradually eliminate responsibility fees. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has said they are a "double penalty" for people who already have to pay fines, court costs and face higher insurance rates for driving violations.


Original Story:

Detroit —Federal mediators will try to broker a series of deals Thursday that could piggyback on a breakthrough settlement in hopes of ending the city’s bankruptcy case.

Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, lead mediator in the city’s bankruptcy case, on Wednesday ordered Detroit’s legal team and lawyers representing financial creditors to attend closed-door negotiations today in federal court.

The talks carry added significance since U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes on Wednesday halted the city’s bankruptcy trial until Monday to give Detroit and creditors time to negotiate an end to the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

The city’s fiercest holdout creditor, bond insurer Syncora Guarantee Inc., meanwhile, reflected on the last-minute deal that turns the firm and Detroit from adversaries into partners in a hoped-for recovery.

“It is interesting and ironic that we are both part of Detroit’s future,” Syncora attorney Stephen Hackney said Wednesday. “It feels better to be loving rather than fighting.”

The fight lasted 14 months. During that time, Syncora fought to liquidate the city’s art collection, tried to block repairs to miles of broken streetlights and leveled a “blistering” personal attack on federal mediators that drew a rebuke from the judge.

Syncora’s strategy, Hackney said, wasn’t to target the Detroit Institute of Arts collection in hopes of loosening the city’s grip on less high-profile and cherished assets, including a parking garage in Grand Circus Park and the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

“I can’t say we’re that Machiavellian,” Hackney said, “or smart.”

Under the deal, the city agreed to extend a lease of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel with a Syncora-controlled firm for 20 years. Syncora also gets to lease a city-owned parking lot underneath Grand Circus Park for 30 years, according to a city term sheet released Wednesday. The package of incentives is worth about $70 million, according to a source familiar with the deal.

In return, Syncora has pledged to help Detroit fight bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Co., which is still objecting to Detroit’s debt-cutting plan.

Syncora and FGIC were two of the biggest opponents in the bankruptcy trial. Both firms claim the city’s debt-cutting plan pays them as little as 6 cents on the dollar for the $1.4 billion in troubled pension debt they insured to help former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick prop up the city's pension funds in 2005.

$1.1 billion in claims

FGIC has claims of more than $1.1 billion — three times the size of Syncora’s. The firm’s negotiators walked out of closed-door talks with the city two weeks ago.

In a statement Wednesday, FGIC said the firm remains open to a good-faith settlement following the Syncora deal.

“The latest deal reinforces our view that the city has abundant sources of incremental value available ...,” the company said. “However the issue at hand is their willingness to distribute this value fairly and equitabl y...”

Matt Fabian, managing director of Municipal Market Advisors, an independent bond research firm, says getting agreements with either or both Syncora and FGIC will be instrumental in getting Detroit’s bankruptcy resolved.

Syncora, he noted, is in the same creditor class as FGIC, which would have to be awarded a value that’s comparable.

“The city probably has an idea of what that will be,” he said, adding otherwise they likely wouldn’t have signed with Syncora. “I’m assuming they have some type of plan to offer FGIC.”

Fabian added agreements are critical to shortening the trial and minimizing the follow up litigation that could result from it.

“Syncora and FGIC have made pretty good cases,” he said. “They might be right, they might be wrong. But they can drag things out. It’s important to get them onto the side of settlers.”

City bankruptcy attorney Heather Lennox told Rhodes on Wednesday that Detroit will need to file an updated debt-cutting plan that will incorporate the Syncora deal.

“We don’t expect the changes to be extensive in terms of verbiage, but will be significant in terms of settlement,” Lennox said.

Syncora’s new allowed claim is $201.5 million, down from about $400 million. In all, Syncora boosted its recovery from 6 cents on the dollar to roughly 26 cents on the dollar, sources said.

Rhodes, however, has rejected other settlements during the bankruptcy case and forced Detroit to strike less generous deals. He must approve the Syncora deal. The Detroit City Council also must approve the real estate transactions with Syncora.

Untangling past deals

Thursday’s closed-door negotiations will likely focus on untangling the Kilpatrick-era pension deal.

Detroit has been trying to get the entire $1.4 billion in debt Syncora and FGIC insured wiped from its balance sheet, claiming the debt illegally exceeded the city’s statutory borrowing limits. But the city made contingency plans to pay only $162 million if Rhodes found the debt scheme to be legal.

If Rhodes were to wipe out the debt, the city proposed splitting the proceeds of the $162 million fund, with 65 percent going to retiree health insurance, 20 percent going to limited general obligation bondholders and the remainder parceled off for other unsecured creditors.

The deal calls for Syncora to get $23.5 million from the $162 million pool of settlement funds.

Syncora wants banking giants UBS AG and Bank of America to drop their pursuit of a nearly $200 million insurance claim against Syncora tied to the troubled pension debt.

Syncora has signaled its deal with the city hinges on getting the banks, retirees and bondholders to forgo a potentially better recovery of what they’re owed, a likely topic of negotiation in mediation .

“(The break) will be useful to work on definitive documentation and allow the other parties to reassess their path forward in light of these recent developments,” city bankruptcy lawyer Thomas Cullen said.

The morning after Syncora reached its deal, the firm’s lawyer Ryan Bennett said the proposed settlement would ensure that Syncora-owned American Roads, the parent company of Detroit Windsor Tunnel LLC, would keep its headquarters and workforce of 100 in the city and “expand its presence in Detroit.”

If Syncora’s deal with the city is approved, Bennett said, it will not only provide Syncora with recovery on the swaps claim, but spur investments in city properties. The deal requires Syncora to make $13.5 million in upgrades over five years to the Grand Circus parking garage.

If the settlement goes through, Bennett said, Syncora will “stand down” and “come over and support the city.”


Original Story:

Detroit— The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission is seeking the suspension of 36th District Judge Brenda Sanders, citing “psychotic delusions” and alleged judicial misconduct.

The commission has petitioned the Michigan Supreme Court to immediately remove Sanders from the bench temporarily without pay pending disciplinary hearings.

Sanders has been off work since October. She was on medical leave and then placed on administrative leave from her $138,000-a-year position.

In a 14-page complaint filed Tuesday and released publicly Wednesday, the commission justifies its request based on what it says is Sanders’ “mental disability which prevents the performance of judicial duties as defined by the Michigan Constitution.”

Sanders’ attorney, Brian Einhorn, disputed the report, saying the evaluation of the judge’s mental status was done without a mental examination ordered by the commission.

“The main problem is that she was ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination without any physical evidence to support it,” Einhorn said Wednesday. “The doctor has not examined her at all. Never spoken to her.”

The commission said five appointments, which Sanders had agreed to, where scheduled, but she didn’t go to any of them.

The Sanders issue is the latest controversy at the court. Major reforms were put into place at the 36th District Court in 2013 after a feasibility report found the court was $4.5 million over budget and court officials had failed to collect more than $280 million in traffic and other fines.

According to the commission’s complaint, Sanders sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade in December 2013 requesting a federal investigation, saying she (Sanders) was the target of corruption and a conspiracy in an attempt to eliminate her from the 36th District Court bench before she was sworn in as a judge in December 2008.

Sanders also wrote two judges have “suddenly died under suspicious circumstances” in the past two years and that “judges have been murdered because they spoke out against some of the wrongs that were being committed ‘in this court.’ ”

In the letter to McQuade, Sanders, who is the alleged author, wrote “all of my email accounts, bank accounts, cell phones, etc. have been hacked and are currently being tracked.” She added someone threatened to burn down her residence.

Psychiatrist's opinion

The commission requested Sanders undergo an independent mental examination, to which she agreed. The exam was scheduled for April 10 but, according to the commission, Sanders failed to keep the appointment.

The appointment was re-scheduled for June 4 and June 12, with Sanders’ consent, but she failed to keep those appointments, according to the complaint.

Other appointments with the Lansing psychiatrist were scheduled for July 31 and Aug. 11. Sanders didn’t show up for either one.

The doctor then issued an opinion stating Sanders “suffers from psychiatric symptoms that include psychotic delusions” and her delusions are “paranoid in nature where she believes irrationally that she is a victim of conspiracies and plot.”

“Judge Sanders should not be sitting in judgment of anyone until she is determined to be free of the psychosis that renders her a danger to self and others,” the psychiatrist’s evaluation of Sanders reads, according to the complaint. “Judge Sanders is psychotic and suffering from insane delusions, and is likely to remain so indefinitely.”

The psychiatrist also stated that “as a result of her delusions, respondent fears that she is in danger and is manipulated wrongly.” The doctor also stated Sanders “has carried a gun as self-protection in response to these delusions.”

Einhorn said Sanders is not a danger or a threat to the public and she deserves to remain on the bench.

Einhorn added Sanders missed a couple of the commission-ordered appointments because she was going out of state to deal with her sick, elderly mom.

Sanders recently Tweeted that her 94-year-old mother died Sept. 5.

Sanders, a 1980 graduate of the University of Michigan, earned her law degree from the University of Detroit Mercy Law School in 1983.

Sanders was elected to the 36th District Court in November 2008 to a six-year term that began in January 2009.

Wayne State University Law School professor Peter Henning said the allegations against Sanders shouldn’t jeopardize the outcome of many of the cases over which she presided since it’s a district court. Most criminal cases are tried in circuit court.

2nd Sanders complaint

In its case to have Sanders removed from the bench, the commission alleges the judge fraudulently received a long-term medical leave in September 2013 on a physical disability she failed to prove. Sanders said she needed to have both her knees replaced.

“Since September 2013, (Sanders) refused/failed to answer any of the JTC’s questions regarding the medical condition of her knees which she used in support of her long-term medical leave,” according to the complaint.

The result of an independent medical/orthopedic examination scheduled in March revealed “there is no basis for (Sanders) to have a leave of absence from her judicial position.”

The commission also charges Sanders misrepresented her medical condition and failed to bring medical records to an appointment set up with the medical/orthopedic expert.

Sanders, according to the commission, said she was not told to bring the records, but the commission said that was not true.

This is the second judicial complaint filed against Sanders.

In 2008, the commission filed a complaint in connection with her campaign to run for mayor of Detroit in a special nonpartisan mayoral primary while she was a judge on the 36th District Court bench. She was suspended without pay by the Michigan Supreme Court for 21 days on the complaint.


Original Story:

It was a remarkable moment Tuesday, after 40 years of fierce fighting among Detroit and its suburbs over water rates and control, to see Mayor Mike Duggan, flanked by the county executives of Oakland, Macomb and Wayne, jointly announcing a deal for regional governance of the water system.

But make no mistake, those guys would still be haggling if not for the hammers wielded by Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes and Gov. Rick Snyder to force a settlement.

FAQ: How Detroit's regional water deal affects you

The fault lines between Detroit and its suburbs, the decades of deep mistrust, could not have been breached unless the local elected leaders were given no other option but having an edict imposed upon them by the court or the state.

L. Brooks Patterson, the Oakland County executive, acknowledged as much in the news briefing on the water deal.

"I was a doubting Thomas going in. I didn't think we'd get there," Patterson said about being forced into court-ordered mediation by Rhodes to seek a regional solution.

In the end, Patterson added: "We didn't have any options. If we didn't come up with a deal, Judge Rhodes and the bankruptcy court could have imposed a cram-down ... He could cram down our throats his settlement of the issue ... and this was always looming over our heads like the sword of Damocles."

Gov. Rick Snyder holds another powerful weapon as part of the water deal struck by Duggan and the three county leaders. If the elected commissioners of Oakland, Macomb or Wayne counties vote not to ratify the water deal, Snyder gets to appoint the representative for the reluctant county on the six-member board.

"I don't want the governor appointing my representative for Oakland," Patterson said. "I want to pick a guy or a gal who will be as conscious as we've all been in crafting this."

In other words, Patterson doesn't trust either Snyder or Rhodes to be as protective of Oakland's ratepayers as he would be.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel concurred, saying he found it "troubling" and "upsetting" that Macomb would not get to appoint its own water authority representative if county commissioners vote against the deal.

Patterson told me in late May that he felt like "the last of the Mohicans" for resisting pressure from Snyder and Orr and others to rejoin talks to create a regional water authority. He said then that he'd rather bargain a deal with Duggan on water system governance "than have it crammed down my throat by court edict or the Legislature."

"I have to fight the fight, " Patterson said then, "even though I know the train's coming down the track. I can see it. But I won't sign off. I just cannot in good conscience sign off. I'd rather have the train run me over."

In the end, Patterson got half his wish. The bankruptcy court and Orr still insisted that a regional water deal be part of Detroit's plan to exit bankruptcy, but Duggan worked closely with the suburban executives to frame a deal acceptable to all.

Even lame-duck Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, who lost his re-election bid in the August primary, can take a small bit of solace in the outcome, having supported court-ordered mediation on water issues back when Patterson and Hackel were still playing hard to get.

Ultimately, as the old saying goes, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. So even if the parties had to be dragged into the fray, regional governance certainly makes sense for a regional water system.


Original Story:

The City of Detroit and creditor Syncora have reached an agreement, in principle, that would end the bond insurer’s vigorous opposition to the city’s restructuring and turn the company into an ally, reflecting a remarkable breakthrough in the city’s historic bankruptcy case.

The proposed deal — which came on the same day that Detroit and its suburbs struck a deal for a regional water authority — would leave bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. (FGIC) and several hedge funds as the last remaining major creditors preventing an amicable resolution of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. A Texas Litigation Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Crucially, the deal is contingent on Syncora and the city convincing UBS and Bank of America to release the insurer from certain interest-rate liabilities that are connected to the $1.4-billion pension debt deal Syncora and FGIC insured.

“There is a tentative agreement between Syncora and the City that we believe is an acceptable resolution for all concerned,” Syncora said in a statement. “We have asked that the trial be delayed for 48 hours so that we can work through certain contingencies contained in the deal, including obtaining full resolution with Bank of America, UBS and other stakeholders. We are hopeful the deal will be finalized in the next 48 hours.”

While the breakthrough could delay the trial until Friday, it could ultimately shorten hearings currently scheduled to go into October.

“I think this is the happiest Kevyn Orr has been in some time,” said John Pottow, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. “This is a big happy night.”

Syncora would get a total of about 26 cents on the dollar when all elements of the deal are included — up from no more than 10 cents under the city’s current proposal, two people familiar with the deal said Syncora is owed hundreds of millions of dollars.

Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes must still approve the deal.

Pottow said he is surprised at how generous the terms of the agreement are, and predicts that Rhodes will take a close look at the agreement and will likely ask his financial expert to review it. A Boston Bankruptcy Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

“It sounds like a lot of money to me,” Pottow said. “If I am a feasibility expert, I will want to know how they found all of this extra money.”

A person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity said terms of the deal would include giving Syncora control of a city parking garage near Grand Circus for 30 years. The deal also includes a 20-year lease extension of operation of the U.S. part of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. The insurer currently controls the U.S. side of the tunnel through a contract that expires in 2020.

Syncora owns the company, American Roads, that operates the tunnel on the city’s behalf. Windsor owns and operates the Canadian side of the tunnel. Proceeds from the lease are around $4 million to $5 million a year. The new lease would go through 2040.

Syncora also would receive $23.5 million in cash through so-called B-notes, bonds Detroit had already floated in the bankruptcy, the person said.

Despite the tentative deal, Bank of America and UBS stand in the way.

Syncora won’t agree to settle with Detroit unless the banks release the insurer from its responsibility to cover the banks’ losses on an $85-million deal brokered in the spring to eliminate a costly swaps deal reached by Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration to secure a steady interest rate on a $1.4-billion debt.

The banks were owed nearly $290 million on the swaps but agreed to take significantly less after Rhodes said the swaps were probably illegal.

If the banks don’t agree to end their legal fight against Syncora, Detroit may still face the insurer in court.

“Once again, the swap banks are standing in the way,” one person familiar with the deal said.

The news comes on the same day the city struck a tentative 40-year deal with Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties to create a regional water authority that will provide $50 million annually to finance badly needed upgrades and help low-income residents avoid water shutoffs. The two deals represent major breakthroughs toward resolving the city’s $18-billion bankruptcy, the largest in U.S. history.

The city has already reached deals with unions and pensioners, leaving FGIC and the hedge funds as the last big creditor holdout in Detroit’s bankruptcy. There are hundreds of small and objectors and creditors.

Syncora would get a long-term lease on the city’s parking garage beneath Grand Circus Park, which could raise significant funds for the bond insurer, but it also must invest $13 million in upgrades. After it invests for repairs, Syncora would keep the proceeds from running the garage but would eventually give Detroit 25% of the profits. Syncora would also get parking bonds worth $21 million.

Syncora also would get $6.2 million in credits toward purchasing city property and buildings that might go up for sale in the coming years, including Joe Louis Arena. Syncora could use the credits to offset the sale price.

The settlements reflect a significant achievement for the largest municipal bankruptcy that was filed on July 18, 2013. Many thought it would take years to settle. A Baton Rouge Bankruptcy Lawyer represents businesses involved in a wide range of bankruptcy cases.

But several days into the city’s historic bankruptcy trial — after which Rhodes will have the power to approve the plan of adjustment — resolving the dispute with Syncora would be a major breakthrough.

The company has been the city’s most vociferous opponent, decrying Orr’s plan to favor retirees over financial creditors and transfer the Detroit Institute of Arts to an independent trust in exchange for outside funding to reduce pension cuts.

In August, Syncora drew Rhodes’ ire by accusing bankruptcy mediators Gerald Rosen and Eugene Driker of “naked favoritism” on behalf of pensioners. The judge is considering sanctions on Syncora’s attorneys. But a deal could help smooth over the differences.

John Roach, spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan, said the mayor is declining to comment on the bankruptcy process, which is Orr’s responsibility. Orr’s office also refused to comment Tuesday.

Syncora and FGIC insured a $1.4-billion pension obligation certificates of participation deal brokered by Kilpatrick’s administration in 2005 to eliminate the city’s unfunded pension liabilities.A Tulsa Tax Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Doug Bernstein, a bankruptcy attorney and partner with Plunkett Cooney who represents the outside foundations that helped fund the grand bargain to save the DIA and reduce pension cuts said Rhodes will still want to closely evaluate the bankruptcy plan and decide if it will solve the city’s financial issues after the city emerges from bankruptcy.

“The city still has to get past that feasibility hurdle,” Bernstein said. “The biggest remaining hurdle is feasibility.”

FGIC, as the last remaining major creditor objecting to the plan, will have a tougher time arguing against the plan on its own, Bernstein said.