NYPD Detectives Cleared Of Charges In Bell Shooting

April 25, 2008

Three detectives charged in the shooting death of Sean Bell were found not guilty of all charges this morning. Bell was shot to death on Nov. 25, 2006 – his wedding day – after leaving his pre-wedding bachelor party in Jamaica, Queens.

The detectives fired more than 50 shots, killing Bell, who was unarmed, and wounding friends with him in his car, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield.

Dets. Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper were charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. Det. Oliver, who fired 31 shots, was charged with reckless endangerment.

The verdict came after a 7-week trial, without a jury, before Justice Arthur Cooperman. In announcing the verdict, Justice Cooperman said that many of the prosecution’s witnesses, including Bell’s wounded friends, were not credible. “The testimony of those witnesses just didn’t make sense,” Cooperman said.

Isnora and Cooper are both black, as was Bell. Oliver is white.

http://www.legalnewsjournal.com/entry/3-NYPD-Detectives-Cleared-Of-All-Charges-In-Sean-Bell-Shooting

eBay sues Craigslist over alleged stake dilution

April 24, 2008

EBay Inc, the world’s largest online auctioneer, sued Craigslist, a competitor in which it holds an ownership stake, in a dispute over whether the Internet bulletin board tried to blunt eBay’s control.

EBay alleged in the lawsuit that the board of directors of Craigslist, the Web’s dominant classifieds listing service, took “unilateral actions” to dilute eBay’s 28.4 percent stake by more than 10 percent, eBay said in a statement.

The suit, filed on Tuesday under seal, asked a Delaware Chancery Court to rescind the unspecified actions to protect eBay’s stockholders and preserve its stake in Craigslist.

The suit names as defendants Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, who runs the company in a famously open-minded style, and Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster. Newmark and Buckmaster are the only members of Craigslist’s board of directors.

In a blog posting late on Tuesday, Craigslist said it was “surprised and disappointed” by eBay’s allegations, which “came to us out of the blue, without any attempt to engage in dialogue with us.”

The lawsuit by “a company that views Craigslist as a prime competitor … seems unethical, and suggests ulterior motives” such as a “hostile takeover” of Craigslist or the sale of eBay’s stake to an “unfriendly party,” the posting said.

Craigslist said it has always treated eBay “very fairly” and plans to continue doing so, despite this “unfortunate development.”

EBay bought a minority ownership stake in 2004, and launched its own free online classifieds site, called Kijiji, three years later in the United States.


http://breakinglegalnews.com/entry/eBay-sues-Craigslist-over-alleged-stake-dilution

Bible distribution in La. schools unconstitutional

April 24, 2008

A federal judge has ruled that a school district in Louisiana must stop allowing the distribution of Bibles in schools, saying that the distribution is “a religious activity without a secular purpose” in violation of the First Amendment. The Tangipahoa Parish School System allowed The Gideons International to visit one of the district’s schools to distribute Bibles in May 2007. The Bibles were not distributed in classrooms and students were not required to take a Bible, but US District Judge Carl J. Barbier ruled Tuesday that:

this Court determines that the distribution of Bibles was ultimately coercive as Jane was pressured     to accept a Bible in violation of Lee; that distribution of Bibles is a religious activity without a secular     purpose in violation of Lemon; and that the distribution by the Gideons amounted to promotion of     Christianity by the School Board in violation of County of Allegheny. As a result, the distribution of     Gideon Bibles to elementary school children at Loranger Middle School violated the First Amendment     of the United States Constitution, specifically, the Establishment Clause.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of the family of a fifth grade student, welcomed the ruling [press release], noting that “We couldn’t find a single case from any court in this country holding that Bible distribution to grade school students is constitutionally permissible.” A lawyer representing the school board indicated that he expected an appeal to be filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, though he said that he had not yet consulted with the board on a possible appeal.

Earlier this year, a federal judge in Missouri issued a similar ruling, finding that the distribution of Bibles at elementary schools by religious organizations is unconstitutional.

http://www.legalnewspost.com/entry/Bible-distribution-in-La-schools-unconstitutional

Attorney Sues ‘Washingtonienne’ Author

April 24, 2008

Former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel Robert Steinbuch sued Jessica Cutler, author of the “Washingtonienne” blog and subsequent book, claiming she invaded his privacy by publishing “in graphic detail the intimate amorous and sexual relationship between Cutler and the Plaintiff,” including his alleged predilection for spanking.

Steinbuch also sued Hyperion Books, a division of Disney Publishing Worldwide, which allegedly paid Cutler a $300,000 advance for her book, after her blog became a sensation.

n his federal complaint, Steinbuch says, “At the time of his relationship with Cutler, Plaintiff did not know that Cutler was simultaneously engaged in sexual relationships with another man, let alone with five other men, and let alone that she was prostituting herself to some of them; and Plaintiff did not know that Cutler was recording the details of her relationship with Plaintiff in her blog, and Defendant Cutler described Plaintiff as, among other things, a committee counsel who likes spanking. That blog is the subject of a separate and distinct litigaion.

Steinbuch also claims Cutler profited by “capitalizing on the publicity generated by her blog and her relationship with Plaintiff” by signing a deal with Playboy that included a nude photo spread of her, and the “thinly disguised novel, of the roman a clef genre,” in which her relationship with him is “described in graphic detail.”

His complaint adds: “Hyperion specifically advertised the book as being in ‘a witty, unapologetic voice, the novel’s narrator Jackie tells the story of … the staff counsel whose taste for spanking she “accidentally” leaks to the office.'”

Steinbuch demands $10 million damages for invasion of privacy, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is represented by Jonathan Rosen of Clearwater, Fla.

http://www.clickthelaw.com/entry/Attorney-Sues-Washingtonienne-Author

Ex-Justice Official Expected To Plead Guilty

April 22, 2008
The former deputy chief of staff in the Justice Department’s criminal division – which investigated and indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and more than 10 others on corruption charges – was charged Monday in Federal Court with accepting “things of value” from a lobbyist for an unnamed lobbying firm – believed to be Abramoff’s, The Los Angeles Times reported today.

Robert E. Coughlin II was charged with violating conflict of interest laws while he worked for the Justice Department’s office of legislative affairs, from 2001 to 2003.

Coughlin, 36, was expected to plead guilty today before U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, the Times reported.

Coughlin became deputy chief of staff in the DOJ’s criminal division in 2005. In 2006, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gave him the “Attorney General’s Award for Fraud Prevention.”

Coughlin resigned from the DOJ one year ago.

The Times reported that the Justice Department refused its request for comment on the information, or on the hearing scheduled for today. The newspaper said investigators focused on Coughlin’s relationship with Kevin Ring, a former Abramoff assistant who had previously worked for Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville, Calif.

http://www.legalnewspost.com/entry/Ex-Justice-Official-Expected-To-Plead-Guilty

Former Justice official charged in Abramoff lobbying probe

April 22, 2008

A former high-ranking Justice Department official was accused Monday of criminal conflict of interest in the latest case stemming from the investigation of disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Robert Coughlin was deputy chief of staff of the Justice Department’s criminal division – the same division handling the Abramoff probe – before resigning a year ago, citing personal reasons. He was due in federal court in Washington on Tuesday for a plea hearing.

Prosecutors accused Coughlin in court papers Monday of providing assistance from 2001-2003 to a lobbyist and the lobbyist’s firm while receiving gifts from the firm and discussing prospective employment there.

The lobbyist isn’t named but The Associated Press has previously reported that Coughlin was lobbied during the period in question by Kevin Ring, a member of Abramoff’s lobbying team who also is under investigation. At the time Coughlin worked for the Justice Department’s office of legislative affairs and its office of intergovernmental and public liaison, and Ring worked for Abramoff’s Greenberg Traurig firm.

Coughlin talked with Ring about going to work for Greenberg, according to an attorney with knowledge of the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. Ring also provided Coughlin with meals and tickets to events, the AP has reported.

Attorneys for Coughlin declined comment and Ring’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

The investigation of Coughlin’s conduct was handled by federal prosecutors in Maryland because of his ties at Justice Department headquarters. The document filed in court Monday is known as an information and is normally filed as part of a plea deal.

Ring and Coughlin worked together for John Ashcroft when he was a Republican senator from Missouri, before he became attorney general in 2001. Ring lobbied Coughlin and other Justice Department officials on a variety of issues, including getting federal money for a jail for the Choctaw tribe.

The Justice Department probe of Abramoff and his team of lobbyists has led to convictions of a dozen people, including former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles. At least one current member of Congress, Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., remains under investigation.

Ring worked for Doolittle, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this year, before going to work for Abramoff.

Abramoff is serving prison time for a criminal case out of Florida and has not yet been sentenced on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion stemming from the influence-peddling scandal in Washington.

Climate Work Heating Up at Law Firms

April 14, 2008

Kenneth Berlin and his team at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom have been working on climate-related matters for years. He headed the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division, chaired the Environmental Law Institute and has shepherded a mountain of environmental litigation for major corporations.

Skadden hadn’t needed a climate change group before: It simply tapped environmental, energy regulatory, intellectual property and tax lawyers to help out when the need arose. Partners, however, at the nation’s highest-grossing law firm have changed their minds: This week, they were scheduled to launch a 23-lawyer group specifically devoted to climate change issues.

“The whole area is changing,” says Berlin, who will head the group. “The area is developing so quickly now that it now merits a practice area.”

The firm is joining an ever-growing list of major firms that are creating a climate change brand. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, for example, debuted its climate change practice in November. Vinson & Elkins announced its climate change practice last spring, and many others have organized groups in recent months. In fact, 26 Am Law 100 firms tout some form of a climate change practice. A handful of others hype clean technology groups.

“Climate is hot in a way that nothing else has been before,” says Latham & Watkins partner Robert Wyman Jr., the firm’s lead counsel for Clean Air Act matters. “We’re talking about transforming the energy and transportation economy.”

Unlike other fleeting law firm trends — remember those Y2K practices? — there appears to be real work to be done here. Heightened regulation of companies releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has led to a host of new legal questions. Although Congress is still working out federal emissions limits, corporate clients are facing state and regional emissions caps as well as standards outside the United States set by the Kyoto Protocol. The work, mainly, falls into two categories: helping companies navigate emissions caps issues and litigating disputes arising from emissions limits or from problems caused by greenhouse gases.

That said, there’s still a marketing ploy at work: “Climate change” groups, primarily, rely upon lawyers from existing practice areas, such as corporate, energy, tax and, of course, environmental. Labeling a multidisciplinary group as a “climate change practice” is shorthand for clients who are genuinely fearful about regulation and litigation. “I don’t think there’s a single Fortune 100 company who has not had a board-level conversation about their exposure to climate change regulation,” says Todd Glass, chair of Heller Ehrman’s energy practice and a partner in the climate change group.

Naturally, there’s money to be made here, too.

Covington & Burling’s Rubén Kraiem, who co-chairs the firm’s carbon markets, climate change and clean technology practice, says the 17-lawyer area has generated $1.5 million annually since its inception in 2005.

Kraiem estimates that at least 250 of the hours Covington lawyers spent for clients Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Texas Pacific Group on their $45 billion leveraged buyout of TXU Corp. in 2007 were billed as climate change work. (Partner Stuart Eizenstat is the Covington group’s other co-chairman. During the Clinton administration, Eizenstat led the U.S. delegation that negotiated the Kyoto Protocol.)

During the TXU buyout, investors became concerned about opposition from environmental groups because of the Texas energy company’s coal-powered generation of electricity. The buyers wanted the deal to include a number of policies addressing climate change issues. Covington, Kraiem says, helped structure those commitments, which included increasing TXU’s investments in renewable energy and creating an advisory board with representatives from environmental groups.

Latham’s Wyman says his firm’s global climate change practice, which started in 2004, is generating serious revenue. He says one of his current climate projects alone has brought in more than $1 million in fees. He declined to disclose the name of that client.

Claudia O’Brien, a partner in Latham’s Washington office and a member of the global climate change practice, says she can recall at least 30 recent deals at the firm that have involved climate change.

Wyman, a partner in the firm’s Los Angeles office, organized the California Climate Coalition and now counts it as one of his major clients. The coalition’s 18 members include Shell, Chevron, General Electric, Northrup Grumman and a number of startup clean-technology companies. The startups can potentially provide the carbon-emitting members with ways to reduce their emissions, and, in turn, those members can invest in and help expand the startup companies.

Wyman formed the coalition in anticipation of the 2006 enactment of the California Global Warming Solutions Act, which mandates that greenhouse gas emissions from major industries are reduced to 1990 levels by 2020.

American Honda Motor Co. Inc. belongs to the carbon-emitting side of Wyman’s coalition. David Raney, senior manager of environmental and energy affairs for Honda, says he sought out Latham, and specifically Wyman, for the firm’s expertise on carbon trading. “We’re breaking new ground,” Raney says. “This is fundamentally asking some new legal questions.”

One of the key business drivers for firms is the Kyoto Protocol. Though the United States has never adopted it, Kyoto took effect in much of the rest of the world in 2005 — and U.S. companies are bound by it when they operate in international markets.

The protocol requires developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to below-1990 levels and allows companies to invest in clean energy projects in other countries in exchange for credits to offset emissions. The European Union, for example, has set up a cap-and-trade system under which companies are assigned emissions limits. They can then trade for carbon credits if they exceed their caps. Pending legislation in the United States could set up the same type of scheme here. (U.S. companies also engage in voluntary carbon trading, often in response to shareholder concerns.)

And that’s where the “carbon lawyers” come in. Alston & Bird partner Kipp Coddington, for instance, helps his greenhouse gas-emitting clients navigate the carbon market by advising them on emissions trading issues. He says 90 percent of the practice’s clients are new to Alston and were, specifically, looking for climate change expertise.

Coddington proudly declares himself a carbon lawyer. In many ways his practice bears the markings of traditional corporate work. The Washington partner leads the climate change and carbon management group and says Alston has 10 to 15 lawyers working full time for the practice.

Firms are also anticipating eventual federal regulation in the United States. Clifford Chance created its environmental and climatic trading group back in 2003. Washington counsel William Thomas says his energy and manufacturing clients are increasingly aware that the Securities and Exchange Commission may soon require companies to comply with climate-related disclosures. The firm is helping companies “craft appropriate communications in their financial statements and in their voluntary sustainability reports,” Thomas says.

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, led by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., has held hearings on getting the SEC to require public companies to disclose the financial impact of climate regulation. In September, a number of states and investors petitioned the SEC to expand and further explain disclosure requirements related to climate change. So far, the SEC hasn’t taken definitive action.

http://www.clickthelaw.com/entry/Climate-Work-Heating-Up-at-Law-Firms

Fed Appeals Court Dismisses Free Speech Case

April 10, 2008

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by Kentucky high school student Timothy Morrison against the Boyd County Board of Education over a 2004 policy that banned Morrison and other students from expressing their opposition to homosexuality. Judge Deborah L. Cook, in a 2-1 ruling, said that Morrison failed to show he had been harmed by the policy prior to the school district repealing the policy and also that winning the lawsuit, which sought $1 in damages, would not rectify the issue. Morrison sued the school district over a now-repealed policy that required students to undergo anti-harassment training. The school district changed the policy to exempt speech that would ordinarily be protected under the First Amendment. Wednesday’s ruling reverses an earlier decision by the same Sixth Circuit panel allowing the case to proceed.

In another student free speech case, the US Supreme Court held last year in Morse v. Frederick that public schools do not violate the First Amendment rights of students by sanctioning them for speech during a school-sanctioned activity that may be reasonably interpreted to promote the use of illegal substances. A high school student was suspended after he displayed a banner with the message “Bong hits 4 Jesus” during a televised parade on a school day. The student subsequently sued his principal, arguing that the principal unreasonably restricted his right to free speech.

 

http://www.dailybarnews.com/entry/Fed-Appeals-Court-Dismisses-Free-Speech-Case

Lawyers seek to bar statements obtained by torture

April 8, 2008

Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdanon Friday asked a military tribunal to bar the use of statements made by Hamdan that were allegedly obtained through the use of torture and requested that the court declare that Hamdan has been subjected to abusive interrogation techniques. Hamdan contends that he was subjected to prolonged periods of isolation and beatings at the hands of US interrogators and that any statements he has made while in custody are unreliable. The motion argues that the use of these statements would violate the US Constitution, international law and the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which allows evidence obtained through coercion to be introduced if it is reliable, but excludes the use of statements obtained through torture. A spokesman for the Pentagon denied the allegations and said that detainees are treated humanely.

Hamdan has been in US custody since 2001 when he was captured in Afghanistan and accused of working as Osama Bin Laden’s driver. In 2006 he successfully challenged US President George W. Bush’s military commission system when the Supreme Court ruled that the commission system as initially constituted violated US and international law. Congress subsequently passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, but Hamdan and a number of other Guantanamo detainees ave argued that the current law still violates their rights. Last month, a military judge affirmed a prior ruling report that Hamdan’s lawyers may send written questions to Khalid Sheik Mohammedand other alleged high-level al Qaeda detainees to facilitate the discovery of evidence on the issue of whether Hamdan was an al Qaeda agent who conspired in the USS Cole or Sept. 11 attacks.


http://dailybarnews.com/entry/awyers-seek-to-bar-statements-obtained-by-torture

Eyes on Supreme Court in Execution Case Tuesday

April 8, 2008

By 6 p.m. Tuesday, when a Mississippi inmate is scheduled to die by lethal injection, the Supreme Court may give the clearest indication so far of whether it intends to call a halt to all such executions while a case from Kentucky that the justices accepted last month remains undecided.

The Mississippi inmate, Earl W. Berry, convicted of kidnapping and murder in 1988, has been turned down by the Mississippi Supreme Court and by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Late on Monday, the justices denied his appeal of the state court ruling, as well as the application for a stay of execution that accompanied it.

Mr. Berry’s application for a stay of the Fifth Circuit ruling, which his lawyers filed on Monday afternoon, remained pending in the evening, having come in very late in the afternoon.

In turning down the state-court appeal without any apparent dissent, the Supreme Court’s three-sentence order provided a brief explanation. The Supreme Court had no jurisdiction, the unsigned order said, because “the judgment of the Mississippi Supreme Court relies upon an adequate and independent state ground.”

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 11 that Mr. Berry’s challenge to the lethal injection procedure was barred as a matter of state law because he had not presented the claim in his earlier appeals. The United States Supreme Court’s own jurisdiction is limited to deciding independent questions of federal law.

The Fifth Circuit, which sits in New Orleans, similarly dismissed Mr. Berry’s challenge to lethal injection as untimely, in a decision issued on Friday. By contrast, that decision clearly presents an issue of federal procedural law for the Supreme Court to address, whether a challenge to an execution method on the eve of a scheduled execution must be dismissed as untimely. As to whether all pending executions should now be delayed, the appeals court all but challenged the justices to state plainly whether that was the case.

Noting that Mr. Berry’s new federal-court case challenging lethal injection was not filed until Oct. 18, the appeals court said: “Well-established Fifth Circuit precedent is clear: death-sentenced inmates may not wait until execution is imminent before filing an action to enjoin a state’s method of carrying it out.”

That precedent “remains binding until the Supreme Court provides contrary guidance,” the appeals court said.

In the five weeks since the Supreme Court agreed to examine how courts should evaluate the constitutionality of lethal injection, in a case from Kentucky, Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439, the national picture has become increasingly confused. The justices allowed one execution to proceed and granted stays in two others.

http://dailybarnews.com/entry/Eyes-on-Supreme-Court-in-Execution-Case-Tuesday