Settlement talks fail between al-Kidd, feds
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/20 18:03
Court-ordered settlement talks between a man detained in a federal case and the government have failed.

Attorneys on both sides told a U.S. District judge this week that no settlement was reached. That means the lawsuit brought by Abdullah al-Kidd against the United States, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others will likely go to trial.

Al-Kidd filed the lawsuit in 2005, claiming his civil rights were violated when the government improperly used material witness laws to detain him for two weeks.

The government has maintained it did nothing wrong.

Al-Kidd worked on behalf of the Islamic Assembly of North America, a Michigan-based charitable group federal investigators allege funneled money to activities supporting terrorism.



State bar hears from Supreme Court candidates
Headline Legal News | 2008/03/20 15:03

Four of the five candidates for West Virginia's Supreme Court believe it faces several serious threats to its integrity and reputation.

A declining number of opinions, allegedly unfair treatment of businesses and civility among the justices were among the issues cited at a Wednesday forum hosted by the state's bar association.

Two court seats are up this year. All five hopefuls attended, including Chief Justice Elliott "Spike'' Maynard.

The sole incumbent running, Maynard defended the level of discourse among the court's five justices and the quality and quantity of their opinions.

"I don't know any judge who misbehaved in the conference room,'' Maynard said. "I think the written product is as good as any court's in the land.''

Maynard has made national headlines following the release of photos showing him in Monaco with the chief executive of a coal company with cases pending before the court. He has since disqualified himself from at least three cases involving Massey Energy Co.

Fellow Democrat Menis Ketchum was asked about the court's method for handling recusal requests. A Huntington lawyer, Ketchum advocated an independent panel to resolve such issues.

While court rules require judicial officers to recuse themselves from "a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned,'' it also gives that judge the final say.



Mayor Addresses Philadelphia Bar Association
Legal Business | 2008/03/19 18:05
Philadelphia - Mayor Michael Nutter proved that he could work a room - even a huge one with hundreds of lawyers - at yesterday's Bar Association Quarterly Meeting and Luncheon in the Park Hyatt Hotel's grand ballroom.

The mayor's first address to the 13,000-member association, the oldest bar association in the country, was laced with humor although the mayor insisted that he's not a very good joke teller - he often forgets the punch line. But, he noted, he has impressive skills in sarcastic comebacks.

In a roomful of dignitaries, including Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham and the Honorable Ronald D. Castille, Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the mayor admitted that it was still "quite embarrassing" to listen to laudatory introductions of himself. "I hope soon we can just go with 'He's here!'"

Mayor Nutter acknowledged the awarding of the Bar Association's iconic golden snuff box, its highest honor, to the former Chancellor of the Bar Association, Jane Dalton, whose remarks preceded his. Ms. Dalton spoke of the strides the organization has made over the last year, including the retention and promotion of women attorneys.

Mr. Nutter, who promised no lawyer jokes and stuck to that promise, then addressed some vital issues affecting the city and its law community in his 30 minute remarks.

"Historically, lawyers have played a central role in government, and will hopefully continue to. Your pro bono efforts are critically important and you've handled diversity issues impressively."

The mayor also outlined his determination to change the public's mindset about city government, emphasizing that in some ways, the city is actually a $4 billion corporation with citizens as stockholders who, in his words, "...have the right to expect high quality services and the lowest possible cost."

The mayor's commitment to increase the population of Philadelphia by 75,000 people over the next five years would, he suggested yesterday, inure to the benefit of lawyers as well as other professionals and businesses in the city.

One of the comments that drew loud applause was Mayor Nutter's promise that in his sweeping ethical reforms, the days of "...who you are or who you are connected to are over."

One special plea to the legal community came with the mayor's urging of law firms to help lower the criminal recidivism rate in the city, which is currently a sobering 72 percent, by making efforts to give those who have struggled a break by hiring them. The same urging to the city's legal community concerned reaching out to young people who need mentors and models.


Legal battle rages over whether ankles exist
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/19 18:04
For every foot, there's an ankle. Or not.

In Texas, that all depends on a legal battle between medical doctors and podiatrists, who both claim the ankle as their turf. The debate has raged to the point that the two sides disagree in court on whether the ankle actually exists.

A state appeals court recently sided with medical doctors when it determined that the state board that licenses podiatrists exceeded its authority in defining the ankle as part of the foot.

"You don't have an ankle," said Mark Hanna, a lawyer for the Texas Podiatric Medical Association. "The foot actually includes the ankle. If you took the foot off the leg, there is nothing lying there that's the ankle."

Not so, said Dr. David Teuscher, an orthopedic surgeon in Beaumont who said treating the ankle is complicated enough to require medical school training.

"If they say the ankle doesn't exist, why do they want to operate on it?" asked Teuscher, immediate past president of the Texas Orthopaedic Association. "Everyone knows what an ankle is."

The Texas State Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners bypassed the Legislature to create its ankle-is-part-of-the-foot definition in 2001. Podiatrists say they've been treating ankles for decades and accuse medical doctors of trying to limit competition. The Texas Medical Association argues podiatrists should stick to corns, calluses and diabetic foot care.

The physicians group interprets last Friday's ruling as saying the ankle and foot are separate. The podiatrists group says the ruling doesn't go that far and plans to appeal. About 900 podiatrists await the outcome.



Gun law in sights of US Supreme Court
Legal Topics | 2008/03/18 18:07
Advocates of gun rights and opponents of gun violence demonstrated outside the Supreme Court Tuesday while inside, justices heard arguments over the meaning of the Second Amendment's "right to keep and bear arms."

Dozens of protesters mingled with tourists and waved signs saying "Ban the Washington elitists, not our guns" or "The NRA helps criminals and terrorist buy guns."

Members of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence chanted "guns kill" as followers of the Second Amendment Sisters and Maryland Shall Issue.Org shouted "more guns, less crime."

A line to get into the court for the historic arguments began forming two days earlier and extended more than a block by early Tuesday.

The high court's first extensive examination of the Second Amendment since 1939 grew out of challenge to the District of Columbia's ban on ownership of handguns.

Anise Jenkins, president of a coalition called Stand Up for Democracy in D.C., defended the district's 32-year-old ban on handgun ownership.



Judges Bar Law on Violent Video Games
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/18 18:05
A federal appeals court has upheld an injunction against a Minnesota law that would have kept children under 17 from renting or buying violent video games.

A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said Minnesota has a compelling interest in the psychological health of children.

But the judges wrote that the state didn't have enough proof that violent video games cause psychological harm and agreed with a lower-court judge that Minnesota went too far when it passed the law two years ago.

Under the law, kids under 17 would have faced a $25 fine if they rented or bought a video game rated "M" for mature or "AO" for adults only. The law also would have required stores to put up signs warning of the fines.



Supreme Court to Hear Indecency Case
Legal Topics | 2008/03/18 08:07
The U.S. Supreme Court has stepped into one of the biggest free speech fights of the past three decades, but it's unclear how far the court will go when it rules on just how much trouble broadcasters can get into for a slip of the tongue.

On Monday, the court agreed to hear arguments over the Federal Communications Commission's policy regarding so-called "fleeting expletives" in a closely watched case that will decide whether the government can fine or revoke a broadcaster's license because someone says a bad word. The case will be argued late this year.

Both News Corp., the Fox Broadcasting parent that wanted its victory in a lower court to stand, and the FCC, which pushed the Bush administration to appeal the case, applauded the justices' decision.

"The commission, Congress and most importantly parents understand that protecting our children is our greatest responsibility," FCC chairman Kevin Martin said.

Solicitor general Paul Clement, the Bush administration's top lawyer, urged the court to take the case, arguing that the appeals court decision had placed "the commission in an untenable position," powerless to stop the airing of expletives even when children are watching.

Fox said the move would "give us the opportunity to argue that the FCC's expanded enforcement of the indecency law is unconstitutional in today's diverse media marketplace, where parents have access to a variety of tools to monitor their children's television viewing."

The case surrounds two incidents in which celebrities used profanity during the Billboard Music Awards. In 2002, Cher told the audience: "People have been telling me I'm on the way out every year? So f--- 'em." The next year, Nicole Richie said: "Have you ever tried to get cow s--- out of a Prada purse? It's not so f---ing simple." (The Nielsen Co. owns Adweek and Billboard.)

Although the case concerns those utterances, it is grounded in a policy the commission developed after a 2004 incident in which U2's Bono said on NBC that winning a Golden Globe was "really, really f---ing brilliant." After that, the commission changed its long-standing policy and decided that some words are so inherently awful that broadcasters are liable even if the words come as a surprise. (NBC challenged the decision, but that case has yet to be resolved.)

The FCC found that Fox violated the Bono doctrine for the comments made by Cher and Richie, but the panel decided against issuing a fine because the shows aired before the commission altered the policy.

Fox, CBS, NBC and other broadcasters challenged the commission's decision, arguing that it chills free speech, threatens live programming and is unduly vague.


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