CA Court to Rule Over Gay Marriage Ban
Headline Legal News | 2009/03/04 17:38
The California Supreme Court may reveal Thursday whether it intends to uphold Proposition 8, and if so, whether an estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages will remain valid, during a high-stakes televised session that has sparked plans for demonstrations throughout the state.

By now, the court already has drafted a decision on the case, with an author and at least three other justices willing to sign it. Oral arguments sometimes result in changes to the draft, but rarely do they change the majority position. The ruling is due in 90 days.

Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who wrote the historic May 15, 2008, decision that gave same-sex couples the right to marry, will be the one to watch during the hearing because he is often in the majority and usually writes the rulings in the most controversial cases.

Most legal analysts expect that the court will garner enough votes to uphold existing marriages but not enough to overturn Proposition 8. The dissenters in May's 4-3 marriage ruling said the decision should be left to the voters.

One conservative constitutional scholar has said that the court could both affirm its historic May 15 ruling giving gays equality and uphold Proposition 8 by requiring the state to use a term other than "marriage" and apply it to all couples, gay and straight.

"The alternatives are for the court to accept Proposition 8 and authorize the people to rewrite the Constitution in a way that undermines a basic principle of equality," said Pepperdine law professor Douglas Kmiec. If the court overturns Proposition 8, "that is the short course toward impeachment."

The court is under intense pressure. Opponents of gay marriage have threatened to mount a campaign to boot justices who vote to overturn the initiative. The last time voters ousted state high court justices was in 1986, when then-Chief Justice Rose Bird and two colleagues lost a retention election.

On the other side, the Legislature has passed two resolutions opposing Proposition 8, and protests are being planned statewide to urge the court to throw out the measure.

Thousands are expected to descend Thursday on the San Francisco Civic Center to watch the hearing live on a giant outdoor screen, just steps from the courtroom where the justices will be prodding lawyers in a jammed courtroom.

"It is one of the most important cases in the history of the California Supreme Court," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. "The core tenet of our constitutional democracy is that fundamental rights of historically disadvantaged minorities are not dependent on the whim of the majority."

The challenges to the initiative are based on novel legal theories. Gay rights lawyers argue that the measure was an illegal constitutional revision, rather than a more limited amendment. The court has struck down constitutional amendments passed by voters as impermissible revisions only twice in its history, and there are relatively few precedents on the subject.

"While no case forecloses the revision argument, there is no case that really supports it, and most of the cases mildly cut against it," said UC Davis law professor Vikram Amar.

Upholding existing same-sex marriages would be a lower hurdle for the court, Amar and other scholars said.

"There is enough ambiguity in Prop. 8 that the court could easily interpret the measure as not applying to existing marriages," Amar said. "That is a legally plausible interpretation, and it is so clearly the just interpretation that I think getting four votes for that seems easier."

State Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown's office will ask the court to uphold the marriages and strike down the initiative as an illegal repeal of an inalienable right without compelling justification. Brown's argument is even more novel than the revision challenge, which his office said had no merit.

The Proposition 8 case has attracted more friend-of-the-court briefs than the marriage dispute that led to last year's historic ruling -- the previous record-holder. Most of the outside groups that have weighed in have asked the court to overturn the initiative.

Pepperdine's Kmiec said replacing the word "marriage" with another term would both leave intact the court's May 15 ruling and deter a recall campaign that could damage the court as an institution. He said couples could still marry in their religious communities.

That would "restore a religious meaning to a word that is a religious word," he said. Kmiec, a Catholic, said he reluctantly voted for Proposition 8 "because of the instructions of my faith community" but felt "entirely unsatisfied" with the outcome.

"I am not sure Ron George wants to be remembered as the chief justice who denied the principle of fundamental equality," the law professor said. "It is not a legacy we should ask anyone to live with, and it is wholly unnecessary."

George, a moderate Republican, is considered a swing vote on the court and, until the marriage decision, was widely regarded as cautious. Scholars have said the marriage ruling would be pivotal to his legacy on the court.

"It is difficult to imagine, although obviously plausible, that the majority of justices who ruled in the marriage cases would so quickly endorse an undermining of at least a significant portion of their ruling," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Pepperdine law school Dean Kenneth Starr, hired by the Proposition 8 campaign, will urge the court to uphold the measure and declare that existing same-sex marriages are no longer valid. Benefits, such as inheritance, acquired by couples during their marriages would not be taken away, but couples would have to register as domestic partners to protect their future rights.

"The people ultimately decided," Starr wrote in his final brief in the case. "Under our system of constitutional government, that is the end of the matter."


Killing of Sea Lions Allowed to Continue
Legal Topics | 2009/02/27 17:45
The 9th Circuit has refused to stop the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho from trapping and killing California sea lions that prey on endangered salmon at the Columbia River's Bonneville Dam.

In a three-page order, a panel of the San Francisco-based federal appeals court declined to issue a stay sought by the Humane Society of the United States. The society opposed the National Marine Fisheries Service's decision to authorize three states to "lethally remove" up to 85 sea lions per year.
The court found that the Humane Society's arguments are unlikely to prevail.
The states argued that the plan was necessary, because sea lions eat up to about 4.2 percent of the salmon run.
The Humane Society countered that fishermen and dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers kill more fish than sea lions do, and that cutting back on fishing would offset the amount of salmon and steelhead fish killed by sea lions.
The 9th Circuit's decision was limited to whether the lower court's decision to grant summary judgment to the states was arbitrary and capricious.
"Given the narrow and deferential standard of review, and the district court's well-reasoned decision ... we conclude that appellants have not met their burden of demonstrating a likelihood of success on the merits," the appeals court wrote.


Former Employees Sue the State of Arizona for Lay Offs
Legal Topics | 2009/02/23 18:02
Arizona violated its own rules by firing employees without five days notice and without offering a voluntary separation program, a class action claims in Maricopa County Court. The Service Employees International Union Local 5 Arizona and its members want the state enjoined "from terminating their employment in violation of their rights."
The Arizona Administrative Code sets forth termination procedures including "the use of a 'retention point' system to determine the order of terminations ... with points based on an employee's performance evaluation and length of service," five-day notice of termination, the ability to request a termination review before it becomes official, and "the offer of a voluntary separation agreement," according to the union.
Plaintiffs were or will be fired in a force reduction, effective on the day they receive notice, the union says. They were not offered a voluntary separation program and one plaintiff never received a response from the Department of Administration after requesting a review of her termination, according to the lawsuit.
SEIU Local 5 Arizona represents 5,000 state employees. It claims that more than 700 state employees will be fired as part of the force reduction.
The union and eight named plaintiffs are represented by SEIU attorney Gene B. Mechanic and Nicholas J. Enoch with Lubin & Enoch.


US Demands 52,000 IDs from Swiss Banks
Headline Legal News | 2009/02/20 17:34
The United States filed for an injunction Thursday against Swiss bank USB AG, asking it to disclose the identities of the bank's nearly 52,000 American customers with Swiss accounts. The complaint claims that an estimated $14.8 billion in assets was hidden in these secret accounts as of the mid-2000s.
The United States says the Swiss bank marketed its services to wealthy U.S. citizens and helped set up dummy offshore companies to make it easier for them to duck taxes on income from the accounts.
The lawsuit, in Miami Federal Court, alleges that the bank trained its agents to avoid U.S. detection, and sent them to the United States to meet with U.S. clients nearly 4,000 times per year, in violation of federal law.
"This action sends a strong signal to taxpayers hiding their money offshore," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, who urges taxpayers to come forward under the IRS' voluntary disclosure process.


UBS Bank Agrees to Pay $780M to SEC
Legal Topics | 2009/02/19 17:07
The second largest bank in Europe, UBS AG, has agreed to pay $780 million to settle SEC charges of unethical investment practices that allowed clients to avoid taxes through offshore accounts.
The Securities and Exchange Commission brought charges against UBS on Wednesday citing the firm for operating unregistered as a broker-dealer and investment adviser. The final amount of the settlement includes $500 million in disgorgement and tax related payments UBS is ordered to pay in connection with a related criminal investigation conducted by the Department of Justice.
As alleged by the SEC in its complaint, UBS from at least 1999 through 2008 has unlawfully acted as a broker-dealer and investment advisor to approximately 14,000 U.S clients. UBS's clientele also included offshore entities with U.S citizens as the beneficial owners. According to the SEC, UBS, through is illegal and unethical practices, has enabled its clients to avoid paying taxes on assets associated with undisclosed offshore accounts. UBS held billions of dollars worth of assets for these clients, generating revenues of $120 million to $140 million per year.
The Swiss company conducted cross boarder business primarily through unregistered client advisors who allegedly travelled to the U.S. carrying encrypted laptop computers that they used to provide clients with account related information and to communicate orders and transactions to UBS's Swiss headquarters.
The SEC alleges that UBS was aware that it was required to be registered but went the extra mile to conceal its use of U.S. jurisdictional means to provide securities services.
The advisors were allegedly trained on how to avoid being detected by U.S. authorities. During the trips, which took place two to three times per year, advisors would go to art shows, yachting events, and sporting events with clients or prospective clients, all funded by UBS, says the SEC. The SEC's is continuing its investigation into UBS's violations of securities laws


Media Giants Forcing Smaller Guys Out
Headline Legal News | 2009/02/10 17:54
A magazine wholesaler claims industry giants - including The News Group and Time Inc. - are colluding to drive it out of business, and already have destroyed "the only other non-colluding wholesaler in the market," which went out of business last week. In its federal antitrust complaint, Source Interlink Cos. claims 10 monopolist conspirators have cut it off from People, Sports Illustrated, Time, Entertainment Weekly and other major mags, threatening Source's 8,000 employees.
Source sued these defendants: American Media, Bauer Publishing Co., Curtis Circulation Co., Distribution Services Inc., Hachette Filipacchi Media US, Hudson News Co., Kable Distribution Services, The News Group, Time Inc., and Time/Warner Retail Sales & Marketing.
"if defendants' schemes are not stopped, Source's entire business, including its good will, reputation, 8,000-employee work force and customer base, will be destroyed," the complaint states. "Indeed, defendants already have succeeded in destroying Anderson, the only other non-colluding wholesaler in the market, by also recently cutting it off from all supplies of the publishers' magazines. Anderson announced on Feb. 7, 2009, that it had no recourse but to cease normal business activities immediately."
Source demands a restraining order and injunction "to enjoin defendants from continuing their collusive anti-competitive scheme - in clear violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, and common law - to attack, disparage and destroy Source's business. Emergency relief is necessary to prevent the imminent irreparable harm - the destruction of Source's business and the monopolization of the United States wholesale magazine distribution market - that the misconduct of defendants, major magazine publishers, their distributors, and two of the only four major wholesalers in the United States, will, if not restrained, doubtless cause."
Source claims the defendants have "cut Source off from People, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, Time and other major magazines; spread disparaging rumors about Source and its financial condition to its customers, employees and others in the industry; encouraged Source's customers to cease doing with it through, among other things, such false rumors; sought to coerce Source into selling its distribution facilities to defendants at fire sale prices; and raided Source's employees and sought to steal the intellectual property that those employees used to run its business. ...
"Defendants' indisputable goal is to destroy Source's business so that defendants - through Hudson and News Group, the two remaining wholesalers - will monopolize the wholesale market and use that monopoly power to shift to retailers and consumers - and away from publishers - the entire financial burden resulting from worsening market conditions and publisher-induced inefficiencies in the distribution system."
Source is represented by Marc Kasowitz with Kasowitz, Benson & Torres.


McDermott Will & Emery Lay of 60 Attorneys, 89 Staff
Legal Topics | 2009/02/06 19:18
McDermott Will & Emery LLP has laid off 60 attorneys and 89 staff members, becoming the latest Chicago law firm to retrench amid a sharp decline in business.

In an internal memo sent to employees Tuesday, Chairman Harvey Freishtat said the firm performed well last year and remains strong as it moves into 2009.

"However, we are not immune to the continued deterioration in market conditions," Freishtat said. "The business of our clients has slowed, and this has affected our own levels of activity, particularly in the transactional area."

The cut represents about 5 percent of the firm's 1,100 lawyers in 15 offices. It was not known how many lawyers received pink slips in the Chicago office. The firm declined to comment beyond the memo.

The blog "Above the Law" first reported McDermott's layoffs.


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