MasterCard "welcomes" dismissal of antitrust suit
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/13 21:40

MasterCard International said on Thursday it welcomed a U.S. appeals court's dismissal of an antitrust lawsuit by a group of merchants claiming that the company, Visa USA and three banks had conspired to set fees charged to businesses for credit card sales.

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a San Francisco federal judge's 2005 dismissal of the case led by hair salon operator Sheri Kendall and James Maser, who operated a restaurant in Alameda County.

MasterCard General Counsel Noah Hanft said in a statement that the company "welcomed" the appellate ruling on March 7.

"No U.S. court has found interchange to be illegal," he said, referring to the fees charged among card association member banks.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Richard Archer, had no comment on the ruling.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the merchants had failed to present facts to support claims of a conspiracy among the credit card companies and Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co and U.S. Bancorp.

The merchants had accused the card associations of fixing prices on "merchant discount fees," which are transaction fees between merchants and banks, and interchange fees.

The court dismissed the case without leave to amend, which means the merchants cannot refile the case.



French court unfreezes Iranian funds
Legal Topics | 2008/03/12 21:38

In a setback for terror victims, a French court lifted a freeze on Iranian state funds.

Victims of Iranian-sponsored attacks in Israel in 1995 and 1997 are suing Iran for compensation.

While the Paris Court of Appeal this week released the $117 million held in the Natexis Banques Populaire, it did not seek interest and court fees from the plaintiffs, their Paris-based attorney Christoph Martin Radtke told the JTA in a telephone interview.

The court told the attorneys to reapply for the Iranian funds once a decision is made on whether funds in the Iranian Central Bank may be confiscated to pay the damages in a U.S. court decision.

Federal judges in Washington ordered Iran to pay damages and interest of $87.5 million to 12 U.S. citizens injured in the two terrorist attacks in Israel. The U.S. courts determined that Iran was liable for the damages due to its sponsorship of Hamas, which orchestrated the attacks.

Radtke said the French court decided to release the Iranian funds because "the law that protects state accounts does not allow an exception for provisional seizure measures."

In January, Radtke in another Paris court sought the enforcement of the U.S. court judgments. He told JTA he hoped for a decision within a few months.

In an e-mail to the JTA, the plaintfffs' U.S.-based attorney, David Strachman of Rhode Island, said they "are really disappointed with the outcome" in the French court.



Miami appraiser pleads guilty to fraud scheme
Legal Topics | 2008/03/11 16:59

A Miami real estate appraiser has pleaded guilty to wire fraud for her involvement in the Southwest Ranches-area fraud scheme in Broward County, the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida said.

Martine Yanisse Castrillon is one of 15 defendants charged with buying homes through straw buyers at an inflated price, and then getting cash back at the closings. So far, nine defendants have pleaded guilty to various federal charges in the indictment.

Castrillon admitted that she did fraudulent appraisals -- valuing the properties at the amount requested by another defendant, not the true market price -- and forged the name of the certified appraiser who was to review her work.

According to the indictment, co-defendants Lazara Villalba and Henry Quintero-Lopez would offer the owner's full asking price and then inflate the contract purchase price to allow their companies, New World International and D&H Investments of South Florida, to receive a finder's fee, assignment fee or additional funds to allegedly construct improvements to the properties. They would then recruit individuals, who, for a fee, acted as straw buyers of the properties. Villalba and a co-defendant would obtain fraudulent pay stubs, IRS documents, verification of employment and verification of deposit forms; documents would be submitted to cooperating mortgage brokers and the loans were approved to purchase the properties.

Castrillon faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the wire fraud counts and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count. Sentencing is scheduled for May 22.



Lawyer says imprisoned man innocent
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/11 16:58
A lawyer says a man imprisoned for killing another man at a Chicago McDonald's 26 years ago is innocent and he may get a new trial.

Alton Logan was sentenced to life in prison as an accomplice in the 1982 killing. The alleged shooter, Edward Hope, received the death penalty.

Hope told his lawyer, Marc Miller, he had never seen Logan in his life, telling him to relay to Logan's attorney that he is "representing an innocent man," The Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday.

Career criminal Andrew Wilson admitted to the crime, but Hope's attorney's were bound by attorney-client privilege and only came forward with the new information following Wilson's death in November. Wilson was never charged in the McDonald's shooting.

Three attorneys representing defendants in the case signed an affidavit in 1982 that Hope was innocent but could not reveal it because of attorney-client privilege. The affidavit sat in a lock box under a bed for 26 years.

Logan, now 54, could get a new trial, but that all depends on whether or not Miller's testimony in a Cook County court about Wilson's confession is admissible or not.


Lawyer who abandoned client suspended
Headline Legal News | 2008/03/11 15:56
The Supreme Court of Georgia issued the following decisions disciplining members of the State Bar:

In the Supreme Court of Georgia Decided: March 10, 2008 S08Y0168. IN THE MATTER OF ALICE CALDWELL STEWART. PER CURIAM. This disciplinary matter is before the Court pursuant to a Notice of Discipline filed by the State Bar alleging that Respondent Alice Caldwell Stewart violated Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.16 (d) and 9.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct found in Bar Rule 4-102 (d). The maximum sanction for a single violation of Rule 1.3 is disbarment, while the maximum sanction for a single violation of Rule 1.4, 1.16 (d) or 9.3 is a public reprimand. The State Bar asserts that due to the facts of this case and Stewart's prior disciplinary record, an indefinite suspension is the appropriate sanction for her violations. We agree. According to the Notice of Discipline, Stewart accepted payment to represent a client in the appeal of a criminal conviction; she entered an appearance in that case and undertook some actions on the client's behalf, but ceased working on the case before the appeal was heard; Stewart abandoned the client and failed to keep him informed of the status of his case; she never requested that she be allowed to withdraw; she never returned case materials or any unearned fee to the client; and she failed to timely answer the properly-served Notice of Investigation regarding these allegations. Further, Stewart failed to file a Notice of Rejection despite being properly served by publication with the Notice of Discipline pursuant to Bar Rule 4-203.1 (b) (3) (ii). Therefore, she is in default, has waived her rights to an evidentiary hearing and is subject to such discipline as may be determined by this Court. See Bar Rule 4-208.1 (b). Based on our review of the record, which contains no explanation from Stewart, we find that Stewart violated Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.16 (d) and 9.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct found in Bar Rule 4-102 (d). We note in aggravation that Stewart has been twice suspended, see In the Matter of Stewart, 280 Ga. 821 (631 SE2d 106) (2006) (“Stewart I”) (two year suspension for abandonment of a client), and In the Matter of Stewart, 282 Ga. 337 (647 SE2d 53) (2007) (concurrent, indefinite suspension with conditions on reinstatement, for neglect of numerous clients) (“Stewart II”); that she accepted a letter of admonition in December 1983 regarding an incident wherein she improperly obtained access to, and reviewed, a police officer's confidential notes regarding her client and that she received a Review Panel Reprimand on October 27, 2000 for willfully, and without just cause, abandoning a client. We further take note, however, that the incidents in issue here occurred during the same period of time as the incidents which gave rise to Stewart's prior indefinite suspension and that during this time period Stewart may have been laboring under a medical impairment which the State Bar has considered in the past. Based on this fact, we accept the recommendation of the Investigative Panel and hereby impose, as discipline for Stewart's current actions, an indefinite suspension, to run concurrently with the previously-imposed suspensions. Further, we impose the same conditions on Stewart's reinstatment as were set out in Stewart II, specifically: Stewart will promptly undergo evaluation and treatment at a medical facility approved by the State Bar and its Lawyer Assistance Program; return all client files, or provide an explanation of her inability to return the materials; and return all unearned attorney fees. Prior to reinstatement, she will demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Review Panel that her medical providers have certified that she is not impaired within the meaning of Rule 4-104 and that she has met all the above requirements. Indefinite suspension with conditions. All the Justices concur, except Hunstein, P.J. and Carley, J., who dissent. S08Y0168. IN THE MATTER OF ALICE CALDWELL STEWART. HUNSTEIN, Presiding Justice, dissenting. The Investigative Panel of the State Bar found that Stewart violated Rule 1.3 (lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client and shall not wilfully abandon or disregard a legal matter entrusted to her), among several other rules set forth in the Rules of Professional Conduct. Bar Rule 4-102 (d). The maximum sanction for a single violation of Rule 1.3 is disbarment. Stewart did not timely respond to the Notice of Discipline and she is thus in default and is subject to such discipline as this Court may determine. Bar Rule 4-208.1 (b). This Court has already suspended Stewart twice, once for two years for abandonment of a client, In the Matter of Stewart, 280 Ga. 821 (631 SE2d 106) (2006), and again in the following year with a concurrent indefinite suspension for the neglect of numerous clients. In the Matter of Stewart, 282 Ga. 337 (647 SE2d 53) (2007). As the majority notes, Stewart has provided no explanation for her behavior in this case and the record is completely devoid of any mitigating factors. Given Stewart's extensive disciplinary history, I see no reason to impose yet another suspension and would instead disbar Stewart for her violation of Rule 1.3. See also Bar Rule 4-103 (finding of third disciplinary infraction shall, in and of itself, constitute grounds for disbarment). Accordingly, I respectfully dissent to the majority's imposition of an indefinite suspension in this disciplinary case. I am authorized to state that Justice Carley joins this dissent.


State Bar scolds Robeson DA for media comments
Legal Interview | 2008/03/11 12:53

Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt has been reprimanded by the N.C. State Bar for talking too freely with the media about Robeson County deputies accused of corruption in the Tarnished Badge scandal.

The State Bar licenses lawyers in North Carolina and punishes them when it finds they have breached their code of ethics. Britt’s reprimand was issued Nov. 19 by the Bar’s Grievance Committee and announced this month by the Bar in a list of lawyers who have been punished recently.

In the reprimand, Grievance Committee Chairman James Fox told Britt that after the deputies in Tarnished Badge were indicted in 2006, “you made numerous statements and comments containing details about the matters which were not in the public realm at that point, or expressing your opinion regarding guilt of the accused men, to representatives of a least one media outlet and/or to the public.”

These statements violated two rules, Fox said. One rule bars a lawyer who took part in an investigation or lawsuit from making public statements that could prejudice a trial. The other rule says a prosecutor may not make statements publicly that “have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused.” The reprimand includes a $50 fine.



Justice often slow for elder crimes
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/09 16:42
So far, Mary Morris has spent three years and $73,000 to get back just part of the $475,000 that was withdrawn from her mother's accounts by the relative who was overseeing the elderly woman's affairs.

Morris' mother agreed, three years before she died at age 96 in 2004, to give legal power of attorney to a grandnephew. It's a step that many advocates for older people say should be considered when people begin to show signs they are having difficulty managing finances, selling property, making acquisitions and buying insurance.

But a caution always accompanies that advice: Be careful whom you trust, and be careful about giving total authority to one person.

"You need to make sure that you either thoroughly trust your agent or you have some kind of controls on the agent's abilities to move assets," said Bob Mason, an Asheboro lawyer and vice chairman of the elder law section of the N.C. Bar Association.

Legal experts project a massive increase in lawsuits and prosecutions involving older Americans in decades to come as baby boomers reach retirement age and beyond. Already, substantiated instances of elder abuse are rising nationally at the rate of 15 percent a year, according to the American Bar Association. ABA members recently adopted a resolution urging that prosecutors be given more resources to fight elder crime.

Last year, North Carolina adult protective services sent county district attorneys written notices of 1,451 cases involving abuse, neglect or exploitation of adults. The numbers represent a 15 percent increase in cases since 2004.

Advocates say civil and criminal legal protections for older people are at the stage where domestic violence and child abuse safeguards were two decades ago -- in need of reform.

"As we have an aging population, there are reasons to say prosecutors should be paying more attention and using more resources to deal with what's going to be an increasing problem," said Stephen Salzburg, a Georgetown University law professor and co-author of the ABA resolution.



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