Friday, July 31, 2015


Original Story:

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice has turned the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act into a potent weapon against international corporate bribery. The statute forbids companies with U.S. ties from bribing foreign officials to gain a business advantage. Since 2009 the department has settled 58 corporate FCPA cases for a total of $4.4 billion. Last year prosecutors reached a record: They used the FCPA to extract guilty pleas and $1.6 billion in penalties from such companies as Alcoa, Avon Products, and the French power giant Alstom in just 10 settlements. A Washington DC Foreign Corrupt Practices Act attorney is reviewing the details of this case.

Most FCPA cases lead to settlements. Companies don’t want to risk the reputational damage of a public trial, and individuals don’t want to risk prison. Yet on the rare occasions in recent years when executives named as defendants have decided to fight the government, the Justice Department has been losing. Since September 2011, federal prosecutors have taken only four FCPA cases to trial. All of them ended in “debacles for the government,” says Mike Koehler, an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law who writes a well-trafficked blog called FCPA Professor. A Birmingham government lawyer represents state attorneys general, public defenders, district attorneys, and the courts.

The most recent was a case against Miami businessman Joseph Sigelman, co-founder and former co-chief executive of PetroTiger, a Colombian oilfield-services provider. His trial ended abruptly on June 15 after the main prosecution witness fell apart under cross-examination and admitted he’d made misstatements in earlier testimony. Justice lawyers gave up and allowed Sigelman to plead guilty to one count of conspiring to bribe an official of Colombia’s national oil company.

Sigelman was sentenced to three months of probation and no prison time—a striking victory, given that he’d originally faced 20 years behind bars. “The proof that he committed all of the far more serious crimes he was charged with, and that were dropped midtrial by the government, was weak and grounded in the testimony of a bad cooperating witness who committed perjury,” says Sigelman’s attorney, William Burck, a partner with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

The government’s trial record is no better when it comes to corporate prosecutions. In the entire 35-year history of the law, passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal, corporate defendants have dared to go to trial only twice. Both cases ended in government defeats. “That should raise questions about whether the Justice Department has provable evidence in all those cases that settle,” says Koehler, who serves as a paid corporate consultant on FCPA issues. A Brisbane corporate and business advisory lawyer assists clients with corporate governance and trade practices and competition matters.

Peter Carr, a Justice spokesman, says it’s not surprising that prosecutors struggle with these cases in court. “FCPA cases, by their very nature, often require proof of criminal acts carried out in foreign countries,” he says. “While obtaining foreign evidence—documents and witnesses—poses particular challenges in FCPA cases, the department remains committed to working with its domestic and foreign law enforcement partners to continue to bring successful prosecutions against the individuals who bribe foreign officials and the companies they work for.” There typically aren’t identifiable victims in FCPA cases, making it even harder for prosecutors to generate juror enthusiasm for a conviction.

The Obama administration won several courtroom victories in FCPA cases from 2009 to 2011, including in the trial of Frederic Bourke, the co-founder of luxury handbag maker Dooney & Bourke. A jury found him guilty in 2009 of investing in a corrupt deal to seize control of the state oil company in Azerbaijan; he was sentenced to a year in prison. He was among 57 individual defendants convicted on FCPA charges since 2009, most by plea, Carr says. A Salt Lake City international trade lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of international trade law.

The Justice Department’s recent setbacks don’t mean the FCPA lacks punch. “Most people and companies remain too intimidated by the heavy penalties and legal costs to fight,” says Burck, Sigelman’s lawyer. Two other former PetroTiger executives, including the witness who crumbled on the stand, took plea deals and await sentencing. The next FCPA test may come in November, when Lawrence Hoskins, a former senior vice president of Alstom, is scheduled to face trial in Connecticut. In December, Alstom agreed to plead guilty and pay a record $772 million in penalties in connection with a campaign to secure billions of dollars in contracts by means of bribery. Three other Alstom executives have entered guilty pleas, but Hoskins is determined to have his day in court.


Original Story:

He sounded like a proud father leafing through the family album: There's Jimmy with his grandma, kicking a soccer ball, in a tae kwon do uniform, holding his new baby sister. There's the annual family portrait. Mouse ears at Disneyland. Boating at Big Bear Lake. A Westchester County defense attorney represents clients charged with violating a local, state, or federal law.

On Tuesday, however, Robert Holmes was narrating a parent's worst nightmare: The story of his son's youth, told at the young man's murder trial in front of the jury that would decide whether his first-born would live or die.

“Jimmy” is James E. Holmes, now 27, who was convicted less than two weeks ago of 165 counts of murder and attempted murder in the 2012 theater massacre in Aurora, Colo. He killed eight men, three women and a little girl and wounded 70 others, many seriously. A Suffolk County defense attorney is reviewing the details of this case.

His parents have sat just a few feet behind him throughout the lengthy trial in Centennial, Colo. They've watched survivors of the grisly shooting describe their horror, heard the families of victims cry, looked at photographs of the bodies their son left strewn across the floor of Theater 9 of the Century 16 cineplex.

Defense attorney Tamara Brady: “Is James Holmes your son?”

Robert Holmes: “Yes, he is.”

Brady: “Have you been here throughout this trial?”

Holmes: “Yes, I have.”

Brady: “Has it been hard for you to listen to?”

Holmes: “Yes. It's been a very difficult experience....”

Brady: “Do you still love him?”

Holmes: “Yes, I do.”

Brady: “Why?”

Holmes: “He's my son. We got along pretty well. He's an excellent kid.”

The death penalty trial of the Aurora gunman is nearing the end of the so-called mitigation phase -- the time when defense attorneys are trying to convince jurors that one of the deadliest mass shooters in American history is a human being. The defense wants mercy for Holmes, a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole rather than execution. A Rockland County defense attorney is following this story closely.

For the last week, a parade of school friends, college friends, church friends and elementary school teachers has testified that Holmes was quiet, socially awkward, maybe withdrawn, but also very smart and completely nonviolent.

They talked about his love of video games and his volunteer work at a Mexican orphanage. They called him “Jimmy.”

It is a childhood nickname only witnesses may use in court, as per the order of Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. Defense attorneys call him Mr. Holmes. Prosecutors began trial referring to him with a disdainful “that guy,” but have since settled on “the defendant.”

On Tuesday morning, former neighbor Lori Bidwell talked about how “Jimmy was very shy.” His second-grade teacher, Ann Hestand, said, “I cared for him in 1996, and I still care for Jimmy.” Fifth-grade teacher Paul Henry Karrer said the defendant -- “he's Jimmy to me” -- was “like a renaissance child.”

That child grew into a deeply uncommunicative young man.

Once he went off to college, James Holmes was someone who largely interacted with his parents via e-mail and text, his father testified. Holmes gave his parents no inkling until it was too late that he had found and lost a girlfriend, dropped out of graduate school, amassed an arsenal, the father said.

His psychiatrist at the University of Colorado called Robert and Arlene Holmes in mid-June 2012, concerned about their son's behavior. On July 4, they decided to make the trip from their home in San Diego to check on his welfare.

They never got there. On July 20, James Holmes wrapped himself in protective armor, grabbed his weapons and shot up the Aurora multiplex.

Brady: “Assuming Mr. Holmes stays in jail or prison, do you and your wife intend to try and visit him if he will let you see him?”

Robert Holmes: “Yes.”

Brady: “Will you write him letters?”

Holmes: “Yes.”

Brady: “Will you always do that?”

Holmes: “Yes.”

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Original Story:

It’s been the buzz of the Chinese Internet for days: a viral video of a young couple having sex in the dressing room of a Uniqlo clothing store in Beijing’s Sanlitun neighborhood. Shared millions of times over, the footage has prompted hordes of selfie-taking gawkers to descend on the shop and set state-run media outlets to tsk-tsking about the impropriety of it all. A Hong Kong criminal litigation attorney is following this story closely.

The Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s Internet watchdog, reprimanded two of the nation’s main web portals, Sina and Tencent, for failing to stop the spread of the video, and police said they were investigating. On Sunday, Beijing police said they had  arrested the couple in the video and four others.

According to Beijing TV, the police investigation is focused on two questions: first, who posted the video and second, whether the tape was a publicity stunt intended to drum up business. A brief police statement said one 19-year-old man surnamed Sun was charged with disseminating obscene material, while three others were being detained, along with the couple. Police indicated the video dated from April.

Pornography is illegal in China and porn websites are blocked; red banners in cities across the country urge people to stay away from smut. Until 1997, extramarital sex could result in criminal charges, but legal reforms and other factors have led to increasingly liberal sexual attitudes. A Hong Kong criminal litigation attorney assist clients in the steps before and after being charged with a criminal activity.

“Since the advent of the Internet, people can more easily find sexual partners. So it’s gradually more open,” Li Yinhe, a well-known Chinese sex researcher, said at a recent forum. “Fifteen percent of people had premarital sex in 1989. In 2013, this number was 71%. This is quite a revolution.”

According to the official New China News Agency, China's criminal law stipulates that those convicted of disseminating obscene books, films, pictures and video clips could face jail terms of up to two years, while making obscene products to earn profit can carry a term of up to life in prison. A Shanghai criminal lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Uniqlo, a fast-fashion clothing chain based in Japan that is similar to the Gap, has denied any involvement in the creation or dissemination of the video and last week posted a statement on its website urging customers to “abide by social moral standards, maintain social justice, and use the fitting rooms properly."

In the video, the man is wearing a T-shirt and jeans and the woman is naked except for jeans and panties around her calves. Both participants’ faces are clearly visible, raising questions about whether the video was distributed with their knowledge or consent. Near the end of the video, a woman’s voice is heard over an intercom saying, “Welcome to the Uniqlo store in Sanlitun.” A Shanghai criminal lawyer represents clients charged with criminal conduct.

Chinese authorities said that the video had “violated core socialist values.” In a commentary published by the state-run tabloid Global Times, writer Shan Renping lamented that “on the present-day Internet, there are many phenomenon that are moving further away from our noble traditions.”


Original Story:

NEW YORK — Bill Cosby’s legal team is not going to take it anymore.

Last week, a new public face appeared in Monique Pressley, defending the once-beloved comic performer now beleaguered by allegations of sexual assault from dozens of women. The Washington, D.C-based attorney, whose specialties include civil litigation, became the main legal spokesperson after a leaked 2005 deposition in which Cosby admitted he gave drugs to women with whom he wanted to have sex. A Harrisonburg civil litigation attorney is following this story closely.

“There are a thousand-plus pages that are available of Mr. Cosby in his own words, and what we’re seeing so far are headlines that are grabbing one excerpt or two and misinterpreting them,” Pressley told ABC’s “Good Morning America” last week. “The deposition said that there was use of Quaaludes, which was done often in the ’70s.”

Pressley enters the picture late in the game. In the last year, after decades-old allegations resurfaced and found a new force through social media, Cosby’s image as a wise, caring and loving father figure cultivated through his wildly popular stand-up act, books and TV roles has largely been obliterated. The alleged victims coming forward in the last year have grown from a handful to 40, with most claiming a similar scenario — being given drugs without their consent and then being sexually assaulted. A Mempis sexual harassment lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Cosby has denied all accusations in statements and the few brief exchanges he’s had with the news media. But before Pressley, the comedian did not have an authorized talking head aggressively defending him from a legal standpoint.

Public relations experts, however, contend that winning back public opinion will be an extraordinarily difficult if not impossible task at this point in the Cosby narrative. The damage inflicted upon the entertainer’s reputation since a comedy routine by Hannibal Buress last year may simply be too great to repair.

“I think he moved too slowly to change his strategy,” said Jason Maloni, a senior vice president at the crisis management firm Levick. “Where was Monique Pressley months ago when these accusations emerged? And it wasn’t simply one or two. More than a dozen women were recounting eerily similar patterns of behavior. That would have been a more effective time to go on offense. Right now, the public’s impression is made up. It’s a little late in the game to be punching back.” A Salt Lake City criminal lawyer represents clients in criminal cases involving sexual assault, extortion, and personal offenses.

Howard Bragman, chairman of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, also doesn’t believe Cosby has much to gain at this point. “I’m convinced Cosby is asking his legal team: ‘Why aren’t we fighting back?’” he said. “What I do think is when you’re getting attacked and have lots of resources — money — it feels better to fight back — even if it’s futile.”

Pressley declined to discuss the circumstances under which she’d joined Patrick O’Connor, Martin Singer and other members of Cosby’s legal team, citing client confidentiality. But she made it clear about her intended role.

“(I want) people who are covering this to stick to the facts and not give more credit and more weight to allegations than is given to facts and reality concerning the legal issues,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I always start by reminding people of what I think gets lost. My client has never been charged with a crime, never been convicted of a crime and, in light of the recent deposition excerpts, has never admitted to the commission of a crime.”

The 2005 deposition stems from a lawsuit filed by former Temple University employee Andrea Constand, who accused Cosby of drugging and molesting her. But Cosby said he gave her three Benadryl tablets before engaging in consensual sexual activities, according to the court documents.

The depositions in the case, settled out of court, are the only time Cosby is known to have responded to such claims against him while under oath.

Pressley said public defenses of Cosby have been a challenge for the legal team, because some of his accusers have filed defamation suits in response to the comedian’s denials. An Atlanta defamation attorney prosecutes and defends cases involving defamation, slander, and libel claims.

While she said such suits rarely hold up in court, they can tie up resources and have an inhibiting effect on addressing the claims.

“The only thing I can equate that to is someone goes into a person’s house, sets it on fire, the person who owns the house comes in to put out the fire, and then gets sued for putting it out,” she said.

Pressley, who is also a motivational speaker, said she will assertively highlight information in court documents that supports her client but isn’t getting attention in the media. She cited the deposition in the Constand case as an example, even though the headlines it generated turned off Whoopi Goldberg, one of the few public supporters Cosby had left.

“The fact that that the deposition is out to me is not necessarily a negative,” Pressley said. “You see in there that Mr. Cosby denied any nonconsensual sex with any person, denied slipping someone a drug without their knowledge. He admitted that he had Quaaludes and someone chose to take one.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Original Story:

One of the region's last independent hospitals has filed for bankruptcy but plans to stay open.

The physician-owned Doctors Hospital of Michigan in Pontiac listed debts between $10 million and $50 million in its Chapter 11 petition filed this week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Detroit. A Detroit business bankruptcy attorney is reviewing the details of this case.

It is the second bankruptcy declaration in a decade for the struggling 105-year-old hospital, which was known as North Oakland Medical Centers during its last bankruptcy in 2008. Years earlier, it was called Pontiac General Hospital.

Hospital officials said Friday that their hospital is losing money and weighed down by debt that the business inherited as part of the hospital's 2008 sale to a private physicians' group. Flint-based McLaren Health Care system was a minority partner in that deal; McLaren's stake was bought out three years later by a group of 42 doctors.

The hospital's single off-site location, Waterford Ambulatory Care Center, closed earlier this month due to "cash-flow constraints" but could reopen in the future, said attorney Max Newman of Butzel Long, who is representing Doctors Hospital.

Doctors Hospital itself remains open and there are no plans to close, said hospital CEO John Ponczocha,

Hospital officials say they hope to reorganize the business's finances in bankruptcy so that it can potentially continue as an independent hospital. The hospital has about 200 full-time-equivalent employees.

"There's a number of potentials here," Newman said. "It could be purchased, it could merge with somebody. But at this point, the effort is going to be primarily to keep it running as a standalone entity."

The bankruptcy filing lists Wisconsin Physicians Service Insurance Co. as the hospital's largest creditor with about $6.4 million. Long said there are also significant loans from hospital insiders which are outstanding but not on the list. A Detroit hospital litigation attorney is following this story closely.

There are few independent hospitals left in southeast Michigan. Several formerly independent hospitals have been absorbed into larger systems, including Garden City Hospital (now a part of for-profit Prime Healthcare Services) and Mercy Memorial Hospital in Monroe (now part of the nonprofit ProMedica Health System).

Another independent hospital, Crittenton Hospital in Rochester, has a pending deal to join the St. Louis-based Ascension Health system.

Doctors Hospital of Michigan

• Original hospital dates to 1910

• Formerly known as North Oakland Medical Centers and Pontiac General Hospital

• Currently owned by a physicians group and is for-profit.

• Has about 200 full-time-equivalent employees

• Last filed for bankruptcy in 2008

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Original Story:

DETROIT - A northern Michigan ski resort will file a civil lawsuit against the University of Michigan fraternity and sorority members who caused thousands of dollars in damage earlier this year. An Atlanta college lawyer is following this story closely.

More than 200 members of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and Sigma Delta Tau sorority rented nearly 50 rooms at Treetops Resort in Gaylord over weekend in January. The resort was forced to call in Michigan State Police to help evict students after resort furniture, doors and walls were extensively vandalized.

Damage, legal fees and other expenses were estimated to be about $430,000 at Treetops.

Thus far, three students have been criminal charged in connection with the incident. An Atlanta university lawyer represents students facing a school disciplinary action, including suspension, expulsion, or even criminal charges.

In a statement Tuesday, the resort said its legal advisers had reviewed the cases and determined "several facts from this review now suggest that legal action beyond the criminal matter should be pursued."

The resort said retaliation may have been a factor in the vandalism after the students were confronted by management about not having pre-payment.

"Treetop’s management secured verbal commitments from the group's president that the group would be more careful with respect to the resorts' property and other guests. The resort management's trust in the Michigan students proved ill-founded when the students caused massive damage during the second night of the groups’ stay that was far in excess of what had been seen the previous day," the resort's statement said. A Newark criminal lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Sigma Alpha Mu has been disbanded by the university.

Sigma Delta Tau has been suspended for two years.

Full Treetops statement

Treetops announced that it will be filing a civil lawsuit against the individual fraternity and sorority members and entities that are responsible for the malicious destruction of property that took place at the Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Michigan earlier this year. In January 2015, over 200 members of the University of Michigan's Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and Sigma Delta Tau sorority rented nearly 50 rooms at the northern Michigan resort for a ski weekend. The outing ended when Treetops’ management was forced to call for assistance from the Michigan State Police to assist the resort with evicting the massive group of students after the resort property was extensively vandalized.

Treetops' legal advisors have recently completed a review of the facts of the case, including recently released material prepared pursuant to the criminal investigation. Criminal charges were filed against three students last month. Several facts from this review now suggest that legal action beyond the criminal matter should be pursued. For example, it now appears that the group of students may have retaliated against Treetops after the group's leadership was confronted by resort management on the morning after the groups' first night stay. During that meeting, management pointed out that the student group had not completed their pre-payment arrangements as is typical for larger groups, and that additional money was due. Treetops’ management had also discovered significant, but non-malicious damage occurred after this first night and discussed the University of Michigan's students’ behavior with their leadership. Treetop’s management secured verbal commitments from the group's president that the group would be more careful with respect to the resorts' property and other guests. The resort management's trust in the Michigan students proved ill-founded when the students caused massive damage during the second night of the groups’ stay that was far in excess of what had been seen the previous day.  According to various assessments, the damage caused on the second day was so extensive that it had to be the result of malicious and intentional conduct.

Treetops General Manger Barry Owens stated “It is not unusual for large groups - particularly large groups of students - to accidentally break a table, or knock over a lamp. That is one of the reasons why prepayment arrangements and security deposits are standard operating procedure for large groups. But we’ve never had to deal with anything like this before.  We’re prepared for problem issues, but something on this mass scale surprised us - as I think it would most resorts."

The damage on the second night of the group's stay extended to almost all of the rooms utilized by the group, many of which had been recently updated or refurbished. Less than 24 hours after having received promises of good behavior, Treetops' management made the call to police to evict the fraternity and sorority members from the resort. Owens added, "No doubt some people will criticize our handling of the situation, I already know things we can do to avoid this kind of situation in the future. But based upon the information our people had at the time, I’m proud of how our team responded." Since this incident, Treetops has curtailed its practices regarding renting to large student groups.

Contributing to the decision to pursue its own legal action is the fact that to date, only three students are being charged and Treetops is not aware of the University of Michigan or the Greek organizations taking any other action against any individuals. Apparently, authorities have been impeded by the refusal of the students to identify those specifically involved in the vandalism further suggesting that the damage was a group effort. Treetops was initially encouraged by the apology written by the Sigma Alpha Mu officer immediately after the incident assuming all responsibility for “getting out of hand” and committing to pay for the damages, but only a token payment has been received thus far.

Treetops was also encouraged by news that the national level of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity recently sued its University of Michigan local chapter in order to confiscate over $100,000 the local chapter had in its bank account. It is hoped these funds will be made available to Treetops to assist with the restitution that was promised but as of yet has not materialized.

Regarding the decision to pursue its own legal action, Treetops management emphasized that it owes it to its owners, employees, guests, fellow townspeople, its insurer, and the northern Michigan hospitality industry to try to hold all of the individual responsible parties accountable.

Treetops entered into voluntary financial reorganization last winter after efforts to re-categorize certain debts to various owners was unsuccessful. While the vandalism incident has been a significant setback, Treetops still expects to emerge from the reorganization process this spring.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Original Story:

The Colorado River begins as snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains and ends 1,450 miles south in Mexico after making a final sacrifice to the United States: water for the farm fields in this powerhouse of American produce.

Throughout the winter, perfect heads of romaine, red-and-green lettuce, spinach and broccoli are whisked from the warm desert soil here onto refrigerated trucks that deliver them to grocery stores across the continent. If you eat a green salad between Thanksgiving and April, whether in Minnesota, Montreal or Modesto, odds are good that some of it was grown in or around Yuma. A Houston water rights lawyer is following this story closely.

The summer freshness on all of those winter plates reflects the marvel of engineering the Colorado has become — and why managing the river in the Southwest's changing landscape seems so daunting.

The Colorado is suffering from a historic drought that has exposed the region's dependence on a single, vulnerable resource. Nearly 40 million people in seven states depend on the river, a population some forecasts say could nearly double in the next 50 years.

The drought, now in its 16th year, has made one fact brutally clear: The Colorado cannot continue to meet the current urban, agricultural, hydroelectric and recreational demands on it — and the point at which the river will fall short could come sooner than anyone thought.A San Antonio water rights lawyer represents clients in issues that arise int he water rights litigation context, in mediation, arbitration, and trial in state and federal courts.

The Colorado River Basin

That is true even after an unusually wet spring in the Rocky Mountains, where runoff feeds the Colorado and its tributaries.

In the decades to come, federal officials say, significant shortages are likely to force water-supply cutbacks in parts of the basin, the first in the more than 90 years that the river has been managed under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. A Fairfield County natural resources attorney represents clients in water rights issues.

They would not apply evenly. In Arizona, which would take the steepest cuts, officials are warning that the elaborate conservation measures and infrastructure put in place in the 1980s to guard against shortages will probably not be sufficient. As the drought continues, serious shortages and more severe cutbacks have become more likely.

Farmers who grow cattle feed and cotton in central Arizona could be forced to let fields lie fallow, maybe for good, and cities like Phoenix might have to begin reusing wastewater and even capping urban growth, the region's economic engine.

Here in Yuma, though, there may be no cuts at all. Thanks to the seemingly endless idiosyncrasies of the rules governing the Colorado, much of metropolitan Phoenix could theoretically become a ghost town while Yuma keeps planting lettuce in the desert.

The looming shortages have opened a contentious new conversation here in Arizona, with increasing calls for rethinking the way the state divides the water it also shares with six other states, including California. Some experts say that a recalibration is in order — that while it may not make sense for millions of people to live in the arid West, people should take precedence over growing leafy greens on an industrial scale.

In a 2013 study, the Bureau of Reclamation suggested transferring about a million acre-feet of water from farms. Academics say it is only a matter of time before agriculture is forced to yield some of its supply — and that farmers could benefit financially from such transfers.

That kind of talk is rattling farmers in Yuma. They know they have water priority but not necessarily political priority.

"They believe there's a target on their backs," said Tom Buschatzke, who leads the Arizona Department of Water Resources. "I believe they're right."

Farmers here do not intend to go quietly. Some come from families that were here when the big cities of the modern Southwest were little more than crossroads.

"We have a legal right to this," said Mark Smith, who farms about 500 acres in Yuma and leads one of six irrigation districts in the area. "The guys who say this is an easy fix — it's not an easy fix. We're growing vital crops."

"This is a national debate," Smith added, "because we're supplying the entire nation."

Few rivers are asked to work as hard at the Colorado. Ranchers in western Colorado use the river to water pastures for beef cattle, while Denver and its suburbs channel it east across the mountains to enable city living. Las Vegas and other southern Nevada communities draw up to 90% of their water from the Colorado. Hoover Dam and others convert its flow into power. After Arizona and California take their share, the river exits — evaporates, really — through the dry remnants of a delta leading to the Gulf of California.

If a shortage is declared, California is one state that would not face any immediate cutbacks, thanks to an agreement reached with Arizona in 1968. That pact allowed Arizona to build one of the nation's most ambitious water-supply systems, the Central Arizona Project, but it also ensured that much of Arizona would take steep cuts if a shortage is declared.

Yuma is an exception.

Wedged into a wrinkle of borderland between California and Mexico, farms here have been drawing water from the Colorado since the late 19th century. Their early presence here earned the area the most-senior water rights in Arizona and some of the most-senior in the basin. Of the approximately 15 million acre-feet of water allocated for use each year across the entire basin, about 1 million acre-feet — nearly 7% of all of the water — goes to just 150,000 acres of farmland here.

By comparison, the 5 million water users in Phoenix and Tucson share about 1.5 million acre-feet. California has rights to the largest share, 4.4 million acre-feet, and even under the most dire scenarios it is virtually certain to always receive it. The law of the river says so. A Denver natural resources lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Yet even as parties in the basin are often wary of one another — and not equal partners — most emphasize the need to work together under the current rules. The alternative, some fear, is that the federal government will intervene.

"There are many who have advocated for years that you have to change it significantly," said Wade Noble, a lawyer for the Yuma County Agricultural Water Coalition. "We, of course, resist that because with our priority we benefit from the [current] law the most."

In February, Noble helped draft a report by the coalition intended as a preemptive strike against anyone eyeing Yuma water. In it, Yuma leaders argue that the region has become more productive and profitable while also reducing its water use as it has shifted its focus to winter vegetables over the last four decades.

Yet the region still uses an extraordinary amount of water. High soil salinity has led farmers to flood fields in an attempt to wash salt away from fragile roots, then provide more water for irrigation. And in an era seeing the rise of seasonal, locally grown foods, Yuma strikes some as emblematic of old ways of thinking about what people should eat and when.

Then again, farmers in Yuma say cities have been allowed to grow with little concern for the water required to sustain them. They note, too, that most of their crops align with a growing emphasis on healthful eating.

"They are doing a lot of things right," said Robert Glennon, a law professor at the University of Arizona who specializes in water issues.

But Glennon has also warned that Yuma farmers and others in the arid West may have only so much control over their fate — a lesson farmers in parts of California, dependent on other rivers, are learning during the historic drought there. He has encouraged farmers to reduce production so they can sell or lease a portion of their water rights to cities. Research shows that a cut of just 4% in certain agricultural areas could increase the water supply by 50% for some cities, he said. An Austin water rights lawyer regularly assists water districts, municipalities, industry, and landowners in all aspects of water law.

Farmers here say the entire region was settled on an ethic of national service. The Bureau of Reclamation began building canals feeding off the Colorado in the first years of the 20th century.

Edward C. Cuming arrived in the summer of 1902, an Irishman who had first migrated to Alberta, Canada, before moving south. Cuming homesteaded 160 acres just south of Yuma, irrigating them with the new canals. The Depression forced him to sell 40 acres but also led to a new era of government support for the area.

The Civilian Conservation Corps, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, expanded and improved irrigation canals across the Yuma area. One of those channels, stamped "CCC 1940," is known as the Cuming Canal. It runs directly in front of fields now owned by Edward Cuming's grandson, Jim Cuming.

"When we had an abundant supply of water, the farmer was doing a great job," said Cuming, 77, sitting on a concrete culvert above the Cuming Canal while cloudy Colorado River water surged beneath him.

"Now all of a sudden he's a villain because he uses too much to produce your fruit and fiber."

Friday, July 17, 2015


Original Story:

An education advocacy group sued 13 California school districts Thursday, claiming that they have ignored a state law requiring teachers’ performance evaluations to include student standardized test scores. An Atlanta education lawyer is following this story closely.

The lawsuit targets the largest school systems in the state that have barred such use of test results through collective-bargaining agreements with teachers unions. These contract provisions are illegal under state law, according to the complaint, which was filed in Contra Costa County.

The litigation represents the latest effort by Students Matter, a Los Angeles-based group that has turned to California courts to make changes in education law that were otherwise blocked at the state and local levels. The organization was founded by tech entrepreneur David F. Welch to build on other attempts to limit teacher job protections and hold them more accountable for student achievement.

Many states and school systems are using scores in instructors’ performance reviews in part because the Obama administration has offered them incentives, including grants and exemptions from some federal rules and penalties. The practice is among those favored by such influential organizations as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and typically opposed by teacher unions. An Atlanta education attorney assists clients with board governance, bylaws, and business-related issues.

Students Matter scored a victory last year when a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles ruled that several teacher job protections were unconstitutional. That case, Vergara vs. California, was watched nationally and spawned similar litigation in New York. The California ruling is on hold pending appeals.

If that decision is upheld, teachers would lose the right to earn tenure, and layoffs would no longer be based on seniority. The process for firing instructors also would be streamlined. The Legislature could pass laws restoring some of these job protections in another form, but they would have to survive court scrutiny.

The goal of the new litigation is to compel change across California. The 13 districts serve about 250,000 students of more than 6 million in the state.

“School districts are not going to get away with bargaining away their ability to use test scores to evaluate teachers,” said attorney Joshua S. Lipshutz, who is working on behalf of Students Matter. “That’s a direct violation of state law.” A Columbia education lawyer represents clients with employment and faculty matters, student discipline, and compliance with Title IX, FERPA, HIPAA, the Clergy Act, and other regulatory regimes.

The plaintiffs are six California residents, including some parents and teachers, three of whom are participating anonymously.

The suit doesn’t ask the courts to determine how much weight test scores should be given in a performance review, Lipshutz said. He cited research, however, suggesting that test scores should account for 30% to 40% of an evaluation.

A union leader called the effort misguided.

“There’s growing evidence, a ton of research, that shows the kind of evaluation system they would like to see happen is a disaster for public education,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.

Over-reliance on test scores creates negative incentives that he said contributed to the exam cheating scandal in Atlanta and to “narrowing the curriculum” to material appearing on tests.

“It distorts what happens in the classroom for students and educators,” he said.

The case, Doe vs. Antioch, follows earlier litigation involving the Los Angeles Unified School District. In 2012, an L.A. Superior Court judge ruled that the school system had to include student test scores in teacher evaluations. But the judge also allowed wide latitude for negotiation between the union and the district.

That decision was based on the 1971 Stull Act, which set rules for teacher evaluations. Many districts had for decades failed to comply with it, experts say.

Advocates initially went after L.A. Unified because it is the largest school system in California. Under a court-imposed deadline, the union and district signed a pact that incorporated the use of test scores; but, later, disagreements arose. The two sides are currently in negotiations over a revised evaluation.

“All the evidence points to the fact that a majority are not” complying with the law, said Bill Lucia, president of Edvoice, the Sacramento-based organization behind the previous Stull Act lawsuit.

The districts being sued are: Antioch Unified, Chaffey Joint Union, Chino Valley Unified, El Monte City, Fairfield-Suisun Unified, Fremont Union, Inglewood Unified, Ontario-Montclair, Pittsburg Unified, Saddleback Valley Unified, San Ramon Valley Unified, Upland Unified and Victor Elementary.

Those districts approved labor deals that don’t allow the consideration of student achievement in evaluations, according to the complaint, which contains excerpts from collective-bargaining agreements. A Portland collective bargaining lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The contract for the Fremont district, for example, states that standardized tests “shall not be used in the performance evaluation of a unit member, unless by agreement.”

Pechthalt defended these pacts.

“These are districts where management and teachers have developed an evaluation system that works for them,” he said. “The Stull Act doesn’t prescribe in detail how an evaluation system should happen. There is some leeway.”

The issue has percolated in the state Legislature, which considered four bills this year affecting teacher performance reviews. The most contentious ones have been pushed into next year.

The California Department of Education was not named in the suit, but could become involved because Inglewood Unified is currently under state control as a condition of a financial bailout.

A spokeswoman said the department had not reviewed the suit and could not comment.

Monday, July 6, 2015


Original Story:

Geraldine Parkin will face cancer doctor Farid Fata in Detroit federal court on Monday morning, as she and 24 other victims or family members of victims prepare to make statements as part of the cancer doctor's sentencing hearing. A Detroit health care lawyer has experience with multiple industry types and implications of detrimental health care practices or incidents.

"For me, I want the pleasure of looking him in the eye," says Parkin, who says her husband, Tim Parkin, is largely disabled as a result of his treatment. Fata once looked into her eyes and those of her adult children, insisting that her husband needed chemotherapy. Now she is ready to respond.

"I want to say to him, 'You gave us a life of the unknown, of misery, and now you're going to have a life behind bars.' "

The hearing, which is expected to last all week, likely will conclude with Judge Paul D. Borman sentencing Fata, who faces life in prison for his crimes. About 150 victims filed victim impact statements with the court. A Detroit medical malpractice lawyer is following this story closely.

Fata's north Oakland County cancer treatment empire collapsed after his arrest two years ago. He pleaded guilty to 16 counts of fraud in September.

But fraud doesn't accurately describe Fata's crimes, victims and former associates say, and victims are being allowed to speak in open court. While that's common in other kinds of criminal trials, it's unusual in a sentencing proceeding for victims of Medicare fraud.

In this case, though, some of Fata's patients were given chemotherapy treatments, some for years, after false or inflated cancer diagnoses by Fata. Many others were treated, and billed for, drugs on schedules designed for profitability rather than therapeutic value. The government has estimated there are at leat 550 people who were victimized by the doctor.

"Whether they were cancer or non-cancer patients, solid tumor or liquid, Fata did not discriminate: his ultimate goal was to maximize his profit on the backs of his patients," federal prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum.

Fata has been compared by government lawyers to financial fraudster Bernard Madoff for the brazen scope of his crimes and his willingness to prey on those who trusted him. At least two expert medical witnesses for the government are scheduled to testify during the sentencing hearing. An expert for the defense who reviewed some of Fata's cases defended the treatment of 17 out of 20 cases — but could not defend the rest. A Detroit negligence lawyer is experienced in the effective resolution of negligence lawsuits as related to improper care or practice in a professional setting.

About 40 members of the victims' group are traveling to the courthouse in a chartered bus, wearing special T-shirts and buttons emblazoned with the slogan "Army of One," united in their quest for justice and their shared experience. Speakers are allotted 10 minutes each to make their statements.

But beyond the hearing, complex issues of compensation for the victims remain. About 40 lawsuits are pending in Oakland County Circuit Court. Borman will hold a restitution hearing at least 90 days after Fata's sentencing to adjudicate the distribution of assets. The government has claimed Medicare is owed $34 million.

In addition to Medicare and former patients, private insurance companies, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan, and a former employee turned whistle-blower have a financial stake in the outcome.

Compensation even for the most devastated victims is not clear-cut. Some couldn't file lawsuits because the statute of limitations had expired by the time Fata was arrested, says Donna MacKenzie, of Olsman Mueller Wallace & MacKenzie, a Ferndale law firm handling 13 cases against Fata and his practice. Many others who were harmed were turned away, for various reasons, because of the cost of litigating their claims.

Brian McKeen, who represents other former patients, says Fata's practice was "drastically under-insured" for a total of $3.6 million. Victims say they've been told the government has recovered about $10 million in assets.

"I'm on a mission to make the public realize how heavily the justice system is skewed toward providers and against the plaintiffs, the victims," he said. "Nobody cares about victim's rights until they become a victim."

Fata's arrest was triggered two years ago, on August 2, 2013, when the clinic's practice business manager, George Karadsheh, notified the FBI of Fata's potential crimes. On Aug. 5, 2013, Karadsheh officially filed a so-called qui tam or whistle-blower lawsuit in federal court. The FBI then interviewed Dr. Soe Maunglay, an oncologist at the clinic who had reported his concerns to Karadsheh. Fata was arrested the following morning.

Karadsheh's identity became public June 10, when a Detroit News article named him as the Fata practice insider who first called the FBI. The government subsequently unsealed the lawsuit.

"I've handled a lot of Medicare fraud but this is unspeakable," says David Haron, Karadsheh's lawyer. "Mr. Karadsheh has incredible concern for the patients. He lost his job but they lost so much more."

Parkin, the wife of a victim, knows her family will never regain what they have lost. "For us, the hearing is important because we don't want this to go down in history as fraud," she says. "We want it to go down as murder."


Original Story:

Federal officials are challenging a request to limit how many victims can offer impact statements at the sentencing next week of a Metro Detroit oncologist who unnecessarily treated patients who were told they had cancer.

Lawyers for Dr. Farid Fata on Wednesday filed a brief in which they sought to quash the government’s attempt to include more than 100 victim impact statements, some of whom, they said, do not qualify as victims. A Detroit health care lawyer has experience with multiple industry types and implication of detrimental health care practices or incidents in the state of Michigan.

“Defendant ... move(s) this honorable court to strike all written and/or oral statements of ‘alleged’ victims who do not qualify as a victim” in part, the attorneys said, because only 10 patients have been identified in an indictment.

In their filing Thursday, federal officials argued the court is not required to find that “the relatives of patients and/or the patients are indeed victims” under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. “All of the individuals who have submitted letters to the Court are former patients or family members of former patients of Dr. Farid Fata. ... As such they are individuals with knowledge of the defendant’s background, character and conduct.” A Detroit health care lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Sentencing for Fata is scheduled to start Monday. It’s expected to last at least a week in Detroit federal court before Judge Paul Borman.

Fata pleaded guilty in federal court in September to 16 counts of health care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to give or receive kickbacks. His plea covered 10 cases.

The once-popular oncologist with offices in Clarkston, Bloomfield Hills, Lapeer, Sterling Heights, Troy and Oak Park faces up to 175 years in prison, a $250,000 fine on the fraud counts and up to 20 years as well as a $500,000 fine for money laundering.

In an 86-page memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in May, prosecutors cited $34.7 million in fraudulent health care billings and Fata’s indifference for the well-being of his patients in demanding a lengthy sentence. A Cleveland medical malpractice lawyer specializes in medical malpractice and medical negligence claims.

In a court filing Wednesday, Fata’s attorneys claim that although the government had received some 150 victim impact letters “involving another 100 or so patients or their relatives who were suffering from “solid” tumor cancers … two medical experts for defendant have verified that many of the solid tumor patients are not truly ‘victims’ ” as defined by law. The attorneys also say they’re “providing unreliable or inaccurate information to the Court,” according to the motion.

As a result, the court filing said, Fata is “requesting that in the absence of a finding that each of the patients identified in the 150 victim impact letters or who will speak in Court, are in fact ‘victims’… or that their information is reliable and accurate, that this Court should strike those written statements, and not permit those relatives to speak in open Court.”

According to the response U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade submitted, while “information in some of the victims’ letters may not be perfectly accurate in every respect — memories fade, emotion colors interactions, grief overwhelms many of the family members. … this is true of virtually any statement submitted to the court by persons touched by a crime.”

Federal officials also said “given the scope of Fata’s indiscriminate mistreatment,” not every victim will be officially identified through the government’s investigation.

Additionally, the solid tumor patients’ statements should be considered since “the government’s two experts did review some of the files … and found highly problematic treatments,” federal officials said, citing a male “whose pancreatic cancer was massively overtreated by Fata,” receiving 260 weeks of chemotherapy instead of 24.

The request to strike victim statements was news to Angela Swantek, the nurse who first complained about Fata’s practices in 2010. “I think everybody was victimized in some sort of way, whether it was being on treatment for longer than they should have, getting medications that were not medically necessary,” she said. “They were victims of his greed.” As an international leader in pediatric neurology and neurosurgery, cardiology, oncology, and diagnostic services, Detroit Medical Center provides expert patient care.

Those with ties to Fata’s affected patients say his case underscores a need for change.

“It’s all good and well that Farid Fata has pled guilty, but there must be accountability in the civil justice system,” attorney Brian McKeen, managing partner of Detroit-based firm McKeen & Associates, which is representing several victims in a civil suit, said in a statement.

“The scores of victims who suffered injury and the families of those who died because of Dr. Fata’s behavior deserve compensation. There must also be accountability on the part of the hospital and corporate institutions that allowed his behavior to go unchecked.”


Original Story:

Midland — Just days after the historic decision by the nation's High Court legalizing same-sex marriage, a Midland County district judge is refusing to perform any marriages. A Cleveland civil rights lawyer is following this story closely.

Judge Michael Carpenter of 75th District Court turned away a couple seeking to get married in the 87-year-old county courthouse, according to County Clerk Ann Manary. She said she was told of Carpenter's decision earlier this week.

"People can read between the lines," Manary told The Detroit News on Wednesday about the judge's decision. "Politically I'm not going to comment on Mr. Carpenter's decision, but he needs to comment on it. Sounds like (people) aren't happy about it." A Denver civil rights lawyer is experienced in the effective resolution of civil rights lawsuits as related to discrimination or mistreatment of any kind.

The Chief Judge for Midland County Trial Courts, Stephen Carras, along with two other Midland area judges, said in a statement Friday they will perform marriage ceremonies.

"The People of Midland County elected us to uphold the Constitution and laws of this land," said Carras, 42nd Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Beale and Probate & Juvenile Court Judge Dorene S. Allen. "We will continue to fulfill that responsibility by making sure that the public can still go to District Court to make wedding arrangements."

"Weddings are a great source of joy and hope for the future, and our court is honored to help families grow and prosper in our community," the judges said in the statement.

Carpenter is the sole district judge in Midland. There are two circuit court judges and one probate court judge in the county of 86,000 residents.

Manary, who married two same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court decision that lifted the gay marriage ban in Michigan and three other states making same-sex marriage legal nationwide, said she will continue to marry couples at the County Services Building about a block from 75th District Courthouse. Carpenter's decision is directed at heterosexual couples as well.

"I will work with the judges to figure out an alternative," Manary said. "We will make sure no one is disenfranchised and they can still get married (by a judge.)" A Newark civil rights lawyer represents clients involved in civil rights matters including human rights, personal rights, and gay and lesbian rights.

In the meantime, Manary said, she is happy to issue licenses and perform marriages for couples.

In Michigan, county clerks are allowed to marry couples in addition to district judges, magistrates and clergy. Probate judges and circuit court judges need to have special assignment from the court administrative office in Lansing to be able to perform marriage ceremonies.

Carpenter told The Midland Daily News he is not required to perform wedding ceremonies. He added that he didn't have the staffing or time to perform the ceremonies. A spokesman for the Michigan courts office which oversees Michigan judges confirmed the judge is not required to do so.

The judge has not returned a call from The Detroit News seeking comment on his decision but he told the Midland Daily News he read the High Court's decision and reviewed his court rules, realizing judges aren't required to officiate at marriages.

Carpenter said he decided to stop conducting marriages as one of several cost-cutting moves after staffing cuts.

The judge's refusal to conduct marriage ceremonies has drawn swift reaction across the state. The MetroHealth Pride Clinic is the first in the region devoted to serving the health needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

The organization Progress Michigan urged Attorney General Bill Schuette, who lives in Midland County, to "use his influence as Michigan's top law enforcement official to speak out in opposition to" Carpenter's decision.

"Judge Carpenter's decision to halt all marriages after the Supreme Court's ruling is clearly an attempt to defy marriage equality, which is an affront to our democratic institutions and is another attempt to discriminate against the LGBT community," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Original Story:

The Supreme Court put public-sector unions in its crosshairs Tuesday by agreeing to hear a constitutional attack on the mandatory representation fees that nearly all California teachers pay. An Atlanta education lawyer is following this story closely.

As they concluded a memorable term that legalized gay marriage and rejected another attack against Obamacare, the justices set the stage for an equally momentous 2016.

They are expected to hear and decide cases on several liberal priorities, including college affirmative action, abortion, how voting districts are calculated and, now, how unions are funded.

Though the conservative justices were on the losing side this year in some of the biggest disputes, including housing discrimination and political gerrymandering, their apparent interest in hearing the union case shows they remain determined to set the agenda, even if they do not always prevail.

The California case not only poses a potential existential threat to public unions, but it could also weigh heavily on the Democratic Party, which depends on strong support from public employees and labor.

“This is a very significant case. It may well be life or death for the unions,” said Harvard Law School professor Benjamin Sachs. “Unions are required to represent everyone. And this could mean nobody has an obligation to pay.” An Atlanta university lawyer specializes in higher education finance and university charters, as well as providing assistance with board governance, bylaws, and business-related issues.

A ruling against the mandatory fees would have a major effect on California’s public employee unions, which are among the most powerful in the country and represent hundreds of thousands of workers.

At issue is the court’s 1977 precedent in Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, which today allows government worker unions in California and 20 other states to collect “fair share” fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining, even from employees who do not join or support the union.

Though the high court has said workers cannot be required to pay for a union’s political activities, it has concluded that they should contribute something toward a union’s cost of negotiating better wages and benefits for everyone.

The court’s conservatives, particularly Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., have long questioned whether these forced fees in the public sector violate free speech because they require employees to support a union they may oppose.

The dispute does not affect private-sector unions because only the government is required to abide by the 1st Amendment.

In addition, Alito has suggested that the line between a public-sector union’s collective bargaining and its political activities is blurred because negotiations to increase the size and cost of government payrolls, for example, could also be considered a political issue. A Maine collective bargaining lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

In a case last year involving union fees paid by home healthcare aides, the majority ruled that Illinois may not force those state-funded workers to pay union fees. The 5-4 opinion, written by Alito, found that although state employees have free-speech rights, the healthcare workers in question actually worked for the patients, not the state.

That skirted the broader issue of whether all mandatory fees were constitutional, but opened the door for the next case, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Assn., to challenge the forced fees on free-speech grounds.

“Except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support,” Alito wrote in that decision.

Although Alito can probably count on most of his fellow conservatives to vote with him against the forced fees, Justice Antonin Scalia may prove to be the toughest vote because he has written in support of the Abood ruling.

Catherine Fisk, a labor law expert at UC Irvine, noted that it takes only four votes to hear an appeal, but five are needed for a majority decision. “The mystery of Friedrichs is whether there is now a fifth vote,” she said. “Justice Scalia may be crucial.”

Scalia wrote in 1991 that because public-sector unions had a legal duty to represent all employees who had grievances or other problems, it was reasonable to require all workers to pay their fair share of the cost.

The Supreme Court case comes at a time when public-sector unions are already being targeted by Republican governors in formerly strong union states like Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. About half of the states — including all of the South — have so-called right-to-work laws forbidding collective bargaining and union agreements that require all employees to support the union.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker built a national reputation by pushing through legal changes that in effect ended collective bargaining for most public workers in that state. A Memphis employee rights lawyer represents employees in collective bargaining and industrial relations cases.

The latest Supreme Court appeal began with Rebecca Friedrichs and several other public teachers from Orange County who object to supporting the California Teachers Assn.

Full dues for California teachers who join the union are about $1,000 a year, but even nonmembers like Friedrichs have to pay about $650 on average for their share of the cost of collective bargaining, her lawsuit says.

“I don’t have a voice or vote in the union, and I’m opposed to forced fees and forced unionism,” she said in an interview when her appeal was filed this year.

The Center for Individual Rights, a small conservative group in Washington, appealed her case to the high court and is asking justices to overturn the Abood decision.

The appeal was filed by Michael Carvin, the same Washington lawyer who argued this year’s unsuccessful challenge of President Obama’s healthcare program. He called upon the court to strike down the “multi-hundred-million-dollar regime of compelled speech” that benefits unions.

“This case is about the right of individuals to decide for themselves whether to join and pay dues to an organization that purports to speak on their behalf,” said Terry Pell, the center’s president. “We are seeking the end of compulsory union dues across the nation on the basis of the free-speech rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.”

Frank Wells, a spokesman for the California teachers union, said only a small percentage of teachers chose to pay the lower nonmember fees rather than full dues. The union has 325,000 members and an additional 31,000 fee payers, he said.

Leaders of the nation’s largest unions of teachers and public employees reacted with anger and alarm to the Supreme Court’s move Tuesday.

“The court is revisiting decisions that have made it possible for people to stick together for a voice at work and in their communities,” reads a statement by the heads of the National Education Assn.; American Federation of Teachers; California Teachers Assn.; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and Service Employees International Union. Together, they represent 4.6 million teachers and 3.6 million other public employees. A San Francisco labor attorney represents clients in labor and union cases.

National Nurses United, which represents about 190,000 nurses, said the legal attack to weaken unions was driven by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers and other corporate groups. Their goal is to “essentially bankrupt public-sector unions,” said Jean Ross, a nurse and co-president.

Both sides are ready for a full-fledged fight in the fall, when arguments will be held.

Sachs, the Harvard professor, said the status of unions had been a political issue of late, not a legal one. “This is asking the court to essentially hold that ‘right to work’ [without paying mandatory union fees] is a constitutional requirement in the public sector,” he said.

Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, welcomed the court’s announcement.

“The American people overwhelmingly support the principle that while individual employees should be free to join and pay dues to a union if they so choose, none should be required to do so,” he said.