Holocaust Survivors' Class Action Dismissed
Headline Legal News | 2009/01/05 17:01
A federal judge dismissed Holocaust survivors' class-action claim that the Republic of France and its railroad company stole thousands of Jews' property as they were being deported to Nazi-run concentration camps. "(T)he court concludes that the bounds of its jurisdiction are not coterminous with the moral force of Plaintiffs' claims,' U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan wrote.      Judge Sullivan ruled: "(T)he Court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate Plaintiffs' claims under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ... and that, even if jurisdiction were proper, the case presents serious justiciability issues that make abstention appropriate. Accordingly, Defendants' motions to dismiss are granted."
    Suing for the class of Holocaust deportees and their heirs, Lead plaintiff Mathilde Freund sued The Republic of France, the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français, and the Caisses des Dépôts et Consignations.
    Plaintiffs' lead counsel was Harriet Tamen. France's lead counsel was Jeremy Goldman Epstein with Shearman & Sterling.


Judge gives $65M to USS Pueblo Captives
Legal Topics | 2009/01/02 17:41
A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered North Korea to pay $65.85 million to two crew members of the USS Pueblo, the commander's widow and a civilian oceanographer for kidnapping and torturing the ship's crew in 1968.
    In a sordid 33-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy describes how the crew members were systematically beaten and tortured during 11 months in captivity.
    William Thomas Massie, Donald Raymond McClarren, Dunnie Richard Tuck and the estate of Lloyd Bucher, the ship's commander, sued North Korea for damages, alleging egregious violations of human rights.
    The USS Pueblo was captured in the Sea of Japan, about 25 miles off the coast of North Korea, while on an electronic surveillance mission on Jan. 23, 1968.
    The crew was dragged off the ship while bound and blindfolded, and led through a crowd of hostile and unruly North Koreans, who shouted insults and spat at them. The guards also kicked their legs and administered "karate chops," the ruling states.
    The captives were then transported to Pyongyang, where they were taken to a "prison" nicknamed the "Barn" on the outskirts of town. There, they were separated into rooms of four prisoners each. The conditions were cold and dark, and there was no running water. The prison was infested with rats and bed begs, one of which bit Massie, causing him to develop a severe infection that had to be lanced by a North Korean doctor without the use of an anesthetic. Bucher lost about 50 pounds, Massie lost 51 and Tucker lost 37.
    For almost a year, North Korean officers beat, starved, tortured and intimidated the men, in order to coerce them into confessing that they were spies for South Korea. The captors tried to get Bucher to sign a typed statement that he was a CIA spy trying to incite a war.
    Though Bucher initially refused to sign, he eventually capitulated after his captors threatened to shoot his crew, in his presence, one by one.
    While the men were being held hostage, the North Koreans tried to extract a public apology from the U.S. government. The hostages were forced to participate in staged press conferences and propaganda films, which they sabotaged by inserting corny, archaic language into the prepared statements and sticking up their middle fingers in pictures and videos. They told the North Koreans that the middle finger gesture was the "Hawaiian Good Luck Sign." When the captors discovered the true meaning of the obscene gesture, they ramped up the beatings, launching a campaign of torture dubbed "Hell Week."
    Judge Kennedy said countries that sponsor terrorism forfeit their sovereign immunity. And although the plaintiffs were released 25 years before Congress enacted the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty of 1996, Kennedy said Congress intended it to apply retroactively.
    Because North Korea never responded to the damage claim, Kennedy entered judgment for the plaintiffs. He awarded Massie, McClarren and Tuck $16.7 million each, while Bucher's estate recieved $14.3 million. Bucher's widow, Rose, won $1.25 million.
    "The effects of the outrageous conduct of North Korea will be felt by Massie, Tuck, McClarren and Rose Bucher for the rest of their lives," Kennedy concluded.


Relatives mourn family slain in Santa shootings
Headline Legal News | 2008/12/29 17:24
Joseph and Alicia Ortega came from Mexico and raised a large, loving family supported by the metal painting business they started in Southern California.

The remaining members of that family now are in mourning, after a Christmas Eve attack on the Ortegas' home by the vengeful ex-husband of one of their daughters, Sylvia Pardo.

Bruce Pardo donned a Santa Claus suit and killed nine members of the Ortega family during the Christmas party where the close-knit family gathered each year, before spraying the home with racing fuel that set it on fire. Pardo later killed himself.

"They really were a great family," said Jose Castillo, Sylvia Pardo's brother-in-law from an earlier marriage, who came to pay his respects Sunday at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac where the Ortegas' two-story home once stood. "They used to be together all the time."

Joseph Ortega, 80, and Alicia, 70, had retired about 10 years ago from their business painting metal furniture and other items in nearby El Monte.

The couple immigrated to the United States shortly after their marriage 53 years ago in the Mexican city of Torreon, that city's newspaper, El Siglo de Torreon, reported Saturday.

The family is well-known in the city, where Alicia's sisters are prominent businesswomen, the newspaper's editorial director Javier Garza told the Los Angeles Times.

Sylvia Pardo, 43, had been living at her parents' home since her divorce from Bruce Pardo, a 45-year-old electrical engineer, about a year ago, Castillo said.

Her earlier marriage to Jose Castillo's brother, Sabino Castillo, ended with Sabino's death in a traffic accident about 20 years ago, when she was pregnant with their youngest of two children.

Both children, a 21-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son, had escaped unharmed from the party where Bruce Pardo opened fire.



Court: No obligation for company to give teen drug
Legal Topics | 2008/12/17 18:20
A pharmaceutical company does not have to provide an experimental drug to a Minnesota teen who is terminally ill with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in reversing a lower court decision.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia was a blow to 17-year-old Jacob Gunvalson, who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The court ruled that U.S. District Judge William J. Martini in Newark erred in his August ruling that PTC Therapeutics of South Plainfield, N.J., must provide the drug to Gunvalson. That decision had been stayed pending the company's appeal.

"I just think it's really unfair that these drug companies get all these benefits from the federal government," said Jacob's mother, Cheri Gunvalson. "And then they're allowing boys to fall through the cracks and die." She said she would not give up her fight but didn't know what the next step would be.

In its ruling, the appeals court said it was "sympathetic to the plight of Jacob and his family," but that the lower court "abused its discretion" in ordering PTC to supply the drug to Gunvalson.

The Gunvalsons, who live in Gonvick, Minn., maintained that the company led them to believe that Jacob could participate in a clinical trial of the drug, which is being investigated as a possible treatment — and that the company then went back on its word.



Internet gambling tycoon gives up $300M in plea
Headline Legal News | 2008/12/17 18:19
A co-founder of an Internet gambling company and one of the world's richest people pleaded guilty Tuesday to violating the federal wire act and agreed to forfeit $300 million as part of a cooperation deal.

A smiling Anurag Dikshit, of the British colony of Gibraltar, entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to charges that he used the Internet to transmit interstate and foreign wagering information. The charge carries a potential prison term of up to two years.

The 37-year-old citizen of India is the co-founder of PartyGaming, a Gibraltar online gambling company that offered casino and poker games and catered to a U.S. audience.

Dikshit signed a cooperation agreement and prosecutors indicated they may eventually submit a letter to the judge asking for leniency.

Dikshit and defense lawyer Mark Pomerantz declined to comment.

Prosecutors said in a release that Dikshit developed a proprietary software platform and directed the company's computer operations from 1998 through October 2006, when he also was PartyGaming's principal shareholder.

Bail was set at $15 million, but Dikshit was not required to post any cash or property, prompting Judge Jed S. Rakoff to ask what incentive Dikshit had to attend future court dates.

But prosecutors and Pomerantz agreed that Dikshit had demonstrated his desire to cooperate, in part by already paying $100 million to the U.S. Treasury and pledging to pay another $100 million within three months and the last $100 million installment by Sept. 30.

"Mr. Dikshit decided to come to the United States to enter the plea under his own volition. He's been interviewed in Europe. We believe Mr. Dikshit is dedicated to following through," Pomerantz said.

Forbes magazine estimated Dikshit's worth last year at $1.6 billion, making him the 618th richest person in the world.



Ill. gov. says ready to tell his side of scandal
Headline Legal News | 2008/12/16 18:25
Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Wednesday he is ready to tell his side of the scandal to the people of Illinois and that he would do so no later than Thursday.

"I can't wait to begin to tell my side of the story and to address you guys and, most importantly, the people of Illinois. That's who I'm dying to talk to," he said as he left his home Wednesday morning for a jog.

"There's a time and place for everything. That day will soon be here and you might know more about that today, maybe no later than tomorrow."

On Tuesday, an impeachment inquiry against Blagojevich hit a speed bump shortly after getting under way, with state lawmakers seeking guidance from federal prosecutors and postponing any real action until the governor's attorney arrives.

The attorney, Ed Genson, planned to attend Wednesday's meeting of a special Illinois House committee reviewing potential impeachment and may provide the first hint of the embattled Democratic governor's strategy.

The committee's chairwoman, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, said Wednesday's meeting would focus on a review of the criminal case against Blagojevich and no witnesses would be called.



2nd suspect arrested in Oregon bank bombing
Legal Topics | 2008/12/16 18:21
Two law enforcement officers killed in a bank bombing last week believed the device was a hoax and were trying to open it when it exploded, according to court documents released on Tuesday.

A probable cause statement in the case of bombing suspect Joshua Turnidge says a state trooper inspected and X-rayed a green metal box found Friday outside the West Coast Bank building in Woodburn.

The document says Oregon State Police Senior Trooper William Hakim, a bomb disposal technician, was confident it was a hoax device, so he took it inside.

The statement says a bank employee saw Hakim trying to open it while Woodburn Capt. Tom Tennant held it, and then it exploded.

Hakim and Tennant were killed. Woodburn Police Chief Scott Russell was critically injured — he has lost his right leg from the knee down and his left leg was mutilated, according to the statement. The bank employee was treated at Salem Hospital and released.

According to the statement, at 10:19 a.m. Friday a man called in a bomb threat to the Wells Fargo Bank in Woodburn, which is close to the West Coast Bank branch. The man said "if 'they' didn't leave the building, all of them would die," the court document states.



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