Chemical Co. Settles Lawsuit for $1.8 Billion
Legal Topics | 2008/04/09 15:43
W.R.Grace, a specialty chemical company that operated plants inMassachusetts and Montana, agreed to a settlement yesterday forasbestos claims brought against the company in a class action lawsuit.

More than 100,000 claims have been brought against W.R.Grace by individuals who claimed to have been injured by exposure toasbestos. Pending approval by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Judith Fitzgerald,the settlement would allow W.R. Grace to make steps towards moving outof bankruptcy, which the company filed for in 2001, and startcompensating the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

If the settlement is allowed, the company would immediately deposit$250 million into a trust for victims. Starting in 2019, the companywould contribute an additional $110 million to the trust for fivesuccessive years followed by ten annual payments of $100 million. Theagreement would also make public 10 million shares of W.R. Grace stockthat plaintiffs would be able to purchase for $17 a share for up to oneyear after the company’s reorganization.



Eyes on Supreme Court in Execution Case Tuesday
Legal Topics | 2008/04/08 16:36
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.


Lawyers seek to bar statements obtained by torture
Legal Topics | 2008/04/07 16:39

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.



Federal court decertifies status of cigarette lawsuit
Legal Topics | 2008/04/04 16:33

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Thursday overturned class action certification for a lawsuit brought by "light" cigarette smokers against Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and other light cigarette makers. The class action, which included anyone who has ever bought light cigarettes since they hit the market in the 1970s, had alleged that tobacco companies used deceptive advertising tactics to mislead smokers in response to growing health concerns over the risks of smoking cigarettes. Attorneys for the tobacco companies argued that determining why every light cigarette consumer bought the product would be impossible and therefore made class certification impractical.

In September 2006, Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the United States District Court in Brooklyn certified the class of 50 million plaintiffs for the class-action suit. Lawyers estimated that sales of light cigarettes brought tobacco companies between $120 billion and $200 billion in extra sales since 1971.



Know Your Lawyer in Illinois
Headline Legal News | 2008/04/04 16:25
The demands of society to protect personal and property rights of all persons have resulted in an increasingly complex system of laws. Long ago it became necessary for some to devote themselves to study and knowledge of the law so the majority could be advised of their rights and obligations. The lawyers in your community perform this service.

Who Can Practice Law?

Only one who has a license to practice law in Illinois may do so.

The preparation for such a license and legal practice requires a great deal of time, hard work and expense. The licensed lawyer must graduate from an accredited law school and thereafter must pass the Illinois State Bar examination, a rigid test of knowledge in all fields of law. Finally, he or she must submit to an examination of personal character and fitness to practice law before being admitted to the bar.

When Do You Need A Lawyer?
The person who is accused of a crime or is sued for damages in a civil suit usually becomes acutely aware of the need for professional legal help. But legal assistance is highly desirable and often indispensable in many other situations in life which may have nothing to do with crime or a court action. Some of these situations are:
When Your Status Changes -- Coming of age, marriage, the birth or adoption of children and moving to a different state may result in new or different legal and personal responsibilities. Such may also require changes in the way you conduct your business or financial affairs. Your lawyer can help you plan for and meet such obligations, including the preparation of various legal documents which may be required.

When You Make Or Revise A Will -- The planning and drafting of your Will is an important legal matter. In drafting your Will, your lawyer can plan your estate in a way that will be most beneficial to you and to those for whom you wish to provide and your lawyer can suggest proper methods whereby substantial savings in taxes and other estate costs may be realized.

When You Buy Or Sell Real Estate -- Whenever you buy or sell real estate, you should have legal counsel. A real estate broker may be most helpful in putting the transaction together, but legally may not prepare certain legal documents necessary to the transaction, nor may the broker give legal advice as is often needed. There are potential legal pitfalls in the buying or selling of any real estate which can be avoided only by one with knowledge of the laws relating to real estate, taxes, insurance, contracts and other related subjects. Your lawyer can protect your against such pitfalls.

When You Enter Into Any Contract -- Any agreement, oral or written, which involves a consideration -- that is, the exchange of something of value in return for some goods or service rendered -- may be binding and enforceable. As a general rule, oral agreements should be avoided and written agreements should be either prepared by or examined by a lawyer on your behalf before being signed by you. You should consult with him or her regarding any agreement, particularly one representing a major financial obligation, before being entered into by you.

When You Are Involved In An Accident -- If you are involved in an accident of any kind resulting in personal injury or property damage you should consult with your lawyer. He or she can help you protect your rights and should be contacted immediately in order that such action may be taken quickly. In addition, you should notify your casualty insurance company immediately.

Whenever Your Rights Are Threatened -- The law exists to protect your rights, but often you must take definite action to make those laws work for you. Your lawyer is prepared to protect and enforce your rights under the law in all your personal or business affairs.



Hazard Receives 2008 Franck Responsibility Award
Legal Interview | 2008/04/03 15:52

Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr., a professor at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, has been selected to receive the 2008 Michael Franck Professional Responsibility Award conferred by the American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility.

“Geoffrey Hazard has rightly been described as the most distinguished ethicist in the country, in recognition of his many and substantial contributions to the development of standards for lawyer and judicial conduct and to fostering awareness and understanding of those standards throughout the American legal profession and the world.  His judgment and scholarship were instrumental in refining the ABA’s model ethics standards for lawyers into a consistent and dynamic compilation, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.  His leadership has influenced generations of law students, practicing lawyers and judges, and his clarity of thought has brought consensus in the profession to resolving difficult questions of propriety and professionalism,” said Donald B. Hilliker of Chicago, chair of the center’s Coordinating Council. 

Justice Samuel Alito of the Supreme Court of the United States supported Hazard’s nomination for the award, saying “I cannot think of anyone who, during my professional career, has done more to advance the highest professional standards in this country.”

The award, created in 1994, is named for a former executive director of the State Bar of Michigan and long-time champion of improvements in lawyer regulation in the public interest.  It will be presented to Hazard May 29 during the 34th National Conference on Professional Responsibility in Boston.

Hazard has been on the Hastings faculty since 2005, and also has been a professor of law for the University of Pennsylvania since 1994.  He formerly taught law at Yale University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Michigan; the University of Chicago; Stanford University; Harvard University; the University of Arizona; and the Universite d’Aix-Marseille, and he is a former acting and deputy dean of the Yale School of Organization and Management.  He has served on boards and committees for a range of organizations from the Friends of the Library for the Supreme Court of Israel to the Legal Advisory Committee of the New York Stock Exchange.  He is a past director of the American Law Institute and executive director of the American Bar Foundation, and has served on numerous committees and projects of those organizations and of the American Bar Association, as well as other legal professional groups.  He has written leading texts on legal ethics, and many articles for professional publications, and has practiced law in Oregon, California, Connecticut and Pennsylvania

The ABA Center for Professional Responsibility is marking its 30th anniversary as a national leader in developing and interpreting standards and scholarly resources in legal and judicial ethics, professional regulation, professionalism and client protection mechanisms.

With more than 413,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.  As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.



Federal court strikes down new patent rules
Legal Topics | 2008/04/02 16:10

The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Tuesday rejected new US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) rules that would have retroactively limited the number of claims that can be included in a patent application and the number of times a continuation application can be filed for a given invention. The court ruled that the new rules were "substantive in nature" and therefore beyond the scope of the USPTO's authority to govern the submission procedure of patent application.

The lawsuit challenging the new rules was brought by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which has approximately 100 applications pending at the USPTO. Supporting the company was the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), which filed an amicus curiae brief. In October, a judge enjoined the USPTO from implementing the new rules pending a ruling on their validity.



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