Palo Alto loses legal battle over police brutality
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/14 10:27

The city of Palo Alto on Wednesday lost an 11-year legal battle over whether police officers violated a man's civil rights and now faces the prospect of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to finally settle the case.

The California Supreme Court turned down the city's request to review and overturn lower court rulings in Schmidlin vs. City of Palo Alto, the civil case in which Michael Schmidlin successfully contended police used excessive force when they arrested him March 29, 1997, on suspicion of public drunkenness.

Unless the city appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, it could pay $24,000 plus interest to Schmidlin and at least $300,000 in legal fees to his lawyer, Mark Martel. That figure might swell to more than $500,000, said Martel, who will spend the next month or so calculating the exact cost.

City Attorney Gary Baum expressed disappointment when reached for comment Wednesday evening. "We did not feel the elements of excessive force had been met," he said. "Obviously, the (6th District) Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court disagreed with us."

The appeals court in December upheld a 2003 jury verdict against the three police officers Tim Martin, David Trujillo and Burt Milliken accused of excessive force. The officers said they believed Schmidlin was drunk and alleged he "displayed an uncooperative and resistive attitude toward complying" with their demands, according to court



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.



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.


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.



D.C. Gun Case Draws Crowd of High Court 'Friends'
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/09 03:35

With the Supreme Court examining for the first time in 70 years the right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment, a group of gay and transgender gun owners called the Pink Pistols could not miss out on a chance to tell the justices about its special needs. With the opaque and oddly punctuated 27 words of 18th-century prose at last under the microscope, linguistic professors wanted the court to know that "the Second Amendment's absolute construction functions as a sentence modifier."

With the intentions of the Framers in question and modern social policy at stake, justices considering whether the District of Columbia's ban on handguns violates the Constitution have received an avalanche of advice from professors, doctors, social scientists, district attorneys, historians, religious groups, members of Congress and, of course, Vice President Cheney. They may be nothing more than an ego boost for a client or provide the argument that wins the case, but such amicus curiae briefs have become an essential part of high-stakes Supreme Court cases.



AutoAdmit defendant sues Yalies
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/07 03:32

When three Yale Law School students were targeted by sexually explicit and derogatory posts in the online legal chatroom AutoAdmit in 2005, two of them took their case to court. Now the people they sued are firing back.

Anthony Ciolli, a former AutoAdmit director, filed a lawsuit against those two students and their lawyers on Tuesday in a Philadelphia state court, seeking at least $50,000 in damages for abuse of process, libel and false light that he alleges cost him a job offer at a Boston law firm.

Ciolli was originally named a defendant in the students’ suit, filed last June in a federal court in New Haven. But he was dropped from the suit in November when the plaintiffs decided to focus on pursuing the 39 authors of the allegedly defamatory posts.

Ciolli declined to comment Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, in the original suit, one of the unnamed defendants — whose identities are still unknown — moved last week to quash the subpoenas a federal judge issued to their Internet service providers in January in the hopes of unmasking them. That motion is still pending.

Ciolli’s lawsuit contends that he was improperly sued for those comments when he was not liable for them, said his attorney, Mark Jakubik.

“This case is not about defending or exonerating anyone for the absolutely reprehensible comments that were made about the female law students on AutoAdmit,” Jakubik said. “It’s about what are the appropriate boundaries for seeking redress for those comments, and we think those boundaries were crossed to Anthony’s great detriment.”

Marc Randazza, who represented Ciolli when he was still a defendant in the Connecticut suit, said while everyone can agree the targeted students were wronged, suing Ciolli was not the proper legal remedy.

“It exceeded the boundary of what the law is there for,” he said.

Federal law immunizes Web site administrators from liability for content posted by others, Daniel Solove LAW ’97 — a law professor at The George Washington University and author of “The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet” — wrote in an e-mail to the News.

David Rosen LAW ’69, an attorney for the Yale students and now a defendant in Ciolli’s suit, could not be reached for comment Wednesday because he is out of the country. Mark Lemley, the other attorney-turned-defendant, also could not be reached for comment. The two law students did not reply to e-mails.

Both wrongful initiation and libel claims are typically very hard to win, said Robert Post LAW ’77, a professor at Yale Law School. A very stringent test applies to proving that any harm the plaintiff sustained was a direct consequence of being sued, he said.

But people who allege they have been libeled or wrongfully prosecuted often sue as a way of vindicating their reputation by demonstrating they believe in their innocence, whether they win or not in the end, he said

Ciolli, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in May 2007, worked at Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge in the summer of 2006 and had been offered a full-time job there after graduation, according to the complaint he filed.

But in late March 2007, the firm’s hiring partner called him about several accusations leveled against Ciolli related to the AutoAdmit case, such as that Ciolli was responsible for starting a Web site that ranked the physical appearance of female law students at the nation’s top 14 law schools. The complaint denies Ciolli had any involvement with that site. The following month, the firm rescinded his job offer, the suit says.

The complaint alleges that the law students and their lawyers wrongfully initiated civil proceeding against Ciolli, that the students and a Web site they solicited to help restore their reputations libeled and slandered him and that the publicity they directed toward him placed him in a false light, with the result that he lost his job offer.

The two law students, who were anonymous as the plaintiffs in the Connecticut suit, were named in the Pennsylvania case.

“There was no real big secret about who they were,” Randazza said.

Unlike the original suit, Ciolli’s complaint contains nothing that would be considered scandalous or would justify withholding the students’ names, Jakubik said.

“When folks engage in the kind of conduct that is outlined in the complaint, I’m not sure they should be given the cloak of anonymity,” he said.



Judge to let Qualcomm outside lawyers speak out
Areas of Focus | 2008/03/07 03:09

Qualcomm Inc's outside lawyers, who may face disciplinary action for discovery violations, can defend themselves in court even if it means revealing information Qualcomm previously resisted disclosing, according to a ruling by a U.S. judge.

In January, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Major referred six of Qualcomm's outside attorneys to the State Bar of California for possible disciplinary action after Qualcomm did not turn over about 46,000 documents in a patent infringement case it lost against rival Broadcom Corp last year.

The attorneys appealed the sanctions to U.S. District Judge Rudi Brewster, who presided over the patent infringement lawsuit in San Diego federal court.

Brewster on Wednesday vacated Major's sanctions against the six outside lawyers and ruled that Qualcomm's attorney-client privilege should not stop them from defending themselves in an appeal.

Brewster said the six lawyers identified as Batchelder, Bier, Leung, Mammen, Patch and Young, could exercise a "self-defense exception" to the attorney-client privilege previously asserted by Qualcomm in a sanctions hearing.

Brewster sent the case back to Major for a rehearing on the lawyer sanctions, but shielded Qualcomm and its employees from exposure to further punishment in the discovery violations.

On Jan. 7, Major had ordered Qualcomm to pay $8.6 million to Broadcom after citing a "monumental and intentional discovery violation" in the case involving patents for high-definition video compression technology.

Qualcomm representatives were not immediately available to comment on the ruling on Thursday afternoon.

San Diego-based Qualcomm has been embroiled in multiple legal disputes with Broadcom including a case which involved the U.S. government banning Qualcomm from importing chips that infringed on Broadcom patents.



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