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.


David Perecman Fights for Worksite Safety
Court Watch | 2009/02/05 18:31
David Perecman, leading attorney for the personal injury accident group The Perecman Firm PLLC, is on the forefront fighting for construction worksite safety. He is pleading for engineers to review their construction site safety plans and complete their construction inspections for maximum safety. This comes after several years of worksite accidents at the former Deutsche Bank tower, with the latest being when a construction worker fractured his leg in an accident in the basement.

New York City's Buildings Department cited the contractor for not providing enough shoring or netting for fall protection.
The tower's sloppy deconstruction is a tragic reminder of the importance of construction safety inspections and regulations. When governments and contractors don't hew to these rules, people get hurt, said David Perecman, founder of The Perecman Firm, PLLC.

According to Newsday.com, "New York City's Buildings Department cited the contractor for not providing enough shoring or netting for fall protection." This same building is where two firefighters lost their lives in a blaze in 2007. Since then, John Galt Corp. and three construction officials have been charged with manslaughter for that incident.

"The tower's sloppy deconstruction is a tragic reminder of the importance of construction safety inspections and regulations. When governments and contractors don't hew to these rules, people get hurt, said David Perecman, founder of The Perecman Firm, PLLC. "Thankfully, the building's deconstruction is nearly complete. For the sake of those who work there, let it finish quickly and, most of all, safely. Moving forward people need to review their construction site safety plans to prevent as many accidents as have happened at this one building."

About David Perecman and The Perecman Firm, PLLC:
For the past 25 years, the New York personal injury, auto accident and medical malpractice attorneys at The Perecman Firm, PLLC have championed all types of cases for personal injury arising from a host of circumstances including construction accidents in New York State. The founder of The Perecman Firm, David Perecman, is also the current Secretary of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA) and a chair of its Labor Law (Construction Accident Law) Committee. Mr. Perecman's achievements have brought him recognition as an Honoree in the National Law Journal's 2008 Hall of Fame, in New York Magazine's 2007 and 2008 publication of "The Best Lawyers in America" and has earned him the votes by his peers as among the top lawyers in New York and its surrounding region as published in both of the past two issues of The New York Times Magazine "New York Super Lawyers, Metro Edition."
He has recovered millions of dollars for his clients over the course of his career. Among his more recent victories, Mr. Perecman won a $15 million verdict* for an injured NYC construction worker who fractured his arm and injured his knee, a $5.35 million dollar verdict** for a woman who seriously injured her heel in an automobile accident, and a $40 million dollar structured settlement for a baby born with brain damage as a result of medical malpractice. Mr. Perecman has spent much of his career advocating for injured victims' rights and addressing safety issues in the workplace. He has also spoken out on the need to update wrongful death laws to create fairness for the unfortunate death of infants, housewives and other low earners in a family. The New York City personal injury, vehicle accident lawyers and medical malpractice lawyers at The Perecman Firm, PLLC have a depth of expertise and breadth of knowledge well recognized in NYC, while their record and reputation speaks for itself.
*later settled while on appeal for $7.940 million
** later settled for $3.5 million
"Attorney Advertising"
"Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome."


SEC Charges Merrill Lynch with Securities Violations
Legal Topics | 2009/02/02 17:56
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. and two of its former investment adviser representatives with securities laws violations for misleading pension consulting clients about its money manager identification process and failing to disclose conflicts of interest when recommending them to use two of the firm’s affiliated services. Merrill Lynch has agreed to settle the SEC’s charges and pay a $1 million penalty.

“There has been tremendous growth in the pension consulting business in recent years. This case is an important reminder to firms and their investment adviser representatives that, whenever they sit across the table from their advisory clients, they need to make sure that all material conflicts of interest are disclosed,” said Scott W. Friestad, Deputy Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

According to the SEC’s order, Merrill Lynch failed to disclose its conflicts of interest when recommending that clients use directed brokerage to pay hard dollar fees, whereby the clients directed their money managers to execute trades through Merrill Lynch. These clients received credit for a portion of the commissions generated by these trades against the hard dollar fee owed for the advisory services provided by Merrill Lynch Consulting Services. Consequently, Merrill Lynch and its investment adviser representatives could and often did receive significantly higher revenue if clients chose to use Merrill Lynch directed brokerage services. The SEC’s order finds that Merrill Lynch also failed to disclose a similar conflict of interest in recommending that clients use Merrill Lynch’s transition management desk. In addition, the SEC finds that Merrill Lynch made misleading statements to the clients served by its Ponte Vedra South, Fla. office regarding the process used to identify new money managers to present to its clients.

The SEC also charged Michael Callaway and Jeffrey Swanson, who were formerly employed in Merrill Lynch’s Ponte Vedra South office.

In a settled enforcement action against Swanson, the SEC finds that he made misleading statements to some of the firm’s pension consulting clients regarding the process by which Merrill Lynch assisted them in identifying new managers. As a result, the SEC charged Swanson with aiding and abetting and causing Merrill Lynch’s violation of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Swanson has agreed to a censure, and to cease and desist from committing or causing violations of Section 206(2) of the Advisers Act.

In the contested enforcement action against Callaway, the SEC’s Division of Enforcement alleges that Callaway breached his fiduciary duty in making misrepresentations about the manager identification process used by the Ponte Vedra South office and his compensation in connection with transition management services. The Division of Enforcement further alleges that Callaway was a cause of Merrill Lynch’s violation of the Advisers Act because he failed to ensure that Merrill Lynch disclosed to clients the conflicts of interest in recommending that clients enter into a directed brokerage relationship with Merrill Lynch and in recommending that they use Merrill Lynch for transition management services. The Division of Enforcement charges that, by this conduct, Callaway willfully aided and abetted and caused Merrill Lynch’s violations of Section 206(2) of the Advisers Act.

The SEC charged Merrill Lynch with violations of an anti-fraud provision of the Advisers Act, which does not require a showing of scienter. The SEC also charged Merrill Lynch with failing to maintain certain records and failing to supervise its investment adviser representatives in the Ponte Vedra South office. Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Merrill Lynch has agreed to a censure, to cease and desist from committing or causing violations of Sections 204 and 206(2) of the Advisers Act, and to pay a $1 million penalty.


Texas Supreme Court Justice Sues over Ruling
Areas of Focus | 2009/01/29 18:30
Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht sued the Texas Ethics Commission over its ruling that reduced legal fees constitute a political donation. Hecht says the Jackson Walker law firm represented him in a 2006 proceeding "that affected the free speech rights of all Texas judges" - Hecht's public endorsement of Harriet Miers' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. He says Jackson Walker charged reduced fees because of its dedication to public interest work, which is ethical and permissible.
Judge Hecht, the longest-serving justice on the Texas Supreme Court, says the Preamble to the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct states that lawyers should do public interest work. Rule 1.04 spells out appropriate procedures on which to base legal fees.
Hecht says Jackson Walker charged him "a reasonable fee" that was less than it could have billed for its hourly rate, but that the reduced rate is ethical under the Rules.
A complaint was filed against Hecht in July 2007, claiming that the reduced rate was a de facto political contribution. The Commission ruled on Dec. 11, 2008 that that was the case. Hecht claims that the Commission's ruling actually would require attorneys "to ignore their Rules of Professional Conduct and charge judges differently than any other client."
The Texas Ethics Commission fined Hecht $29,000 in the case, the Dallas Morning News reported. "The commission ruled that it was a contribution to his campaign, that it exceeded legal limits on what judges can accept and that he failed to disclose the donation on his state reports," the Morning News reported on Dec. 5, 2008.
(The Morning News quoted Hecht after he emerged from what it called a 4-hour hearing. The discrepancy between the date of the Morning News report and the Commission's "final ruling" on Dec. 11 apparently results from the time needed to prepare the ruling for publication.)
The original case stemmed from Hecht's public endorsement of Harriet Miers' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Morning News reported.
The newspaper reported that the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct admonished Hecht for endorsing Miers in May 2006, and that Hecht's "one-year legal fight resulted in a $476,000 legal fee, of which he paid $308,000. Justice Hecht said that he negotiated a lower price, a common practice with lawyer fees, and paid the discounted amount with campaign contributions."
Texas Watch filed the complaint against Hecht, saying he failed to disclose the discount. Texas law limits judicial campaign contributions to $5,000 for individuals and $30,000 for a law firm.
Hecht is represented in Travis County Court by Steve McConnico with Scott, Douglas & McConnico.


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