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 of Arizona to move Tucson regional office
Headline Legal News | 2008/03/07 03:13

The State Bar of Arizona is moving its southern regional office in Tucson. The new 5,300-square-foot office is at 270 N. Church Ave., next door to the Z Mansion.

The increased space will allow the office to hold meetings and educational training to better serve the 3,000 attorneys practicing in southern Arizona. The move is projected for the third quarter of this year after building renovations are complete.

The state Bar's current office at 310 S. Convent Ave. will remain open until the move.
 
Attorney Jeffrey Hursh represented the bar in the purchase of the Tucson building, with Lawyers Title Agency handling the escrow.



Minnesota Bars Beat Smoking Ban
Headline Legal News | 2008/03/07 02:50
All the world's a stage at some of Minnesota's bars. A new state ban on smoking in restaurants and other nightspots contains an exception for performers in theatrical productions. So some bars are getting around the ban by printing up playbills, encouraging customers to come in costume, and pronouncing them "actors."

The customers are playing right along, merrily puffing away — and sometimes speaking in funny accents and doing a little improvisation, too.

The state Health Department is threatening to bring the curtain down on these sham productions. But for now, it's on with the show.

At The Rock, a hard-rock and heavy-metal bar in suburban St. Paul, the "actors" during "theater night" do little more than sit around, drink, smoke and listen to the earsplitting music.

"They're playing themselves before Oct. 1. You know, before there was a smoking ban," owner Brian Bauman explained. Shaping the words in the air with his hands, like a producer envisioning the marquee, he said: "We call the production, `Before the Ban!'"

The smoking ban, passed by the Legislature last year, allows actors to light up in character during theatrical performances as long as patrons are notified in advance.

About 30 bars in Minnesota have been exploiting the loophole by staging the faux theater productions and pronouncing cigarettes props, according to an anti-smoking group.

"It's too bad they didn't put as much effort into protecting their employees from smoking," grumbled Jeanne Weigum, executive director of the Association for Nonsmokers.

The Health Department this week vowed to begin cracking down on theater nights with fines of as much as $10,000.

"The law was enacted to protect Minnesotans from the serious health effects of secondhand smoke," Minnesota Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan said. "It is time for the curtain to fall on these theatrics."

At The Rock earlier this week, a black stage curtain covered part of the entrance, and a sign next to it with an arrow read, "Stage Entrance." Along the opposite wall, below a sign saying "Props Dept.," was a stack of the only props needed: black ashtrays.

At the door was a printed playbill for that night's program, with a list of names of the people portraying bartenders and security guards. Playing the owner: "Brian."

Courtney Conk paid $1 for a button that said "Act Now" and pinned it to her shirt. That made her an actor for the night, entitling her to smoke. She turned in an understated, minimalist performance, sitting with cigarette in hand and talking to a bass player with the band.

"I thought it was funny that they found a loophole," Conk said. "I'm more of an activist-actor tonight, you could say. I think it's kind of this way of saying what we think about the ban."

While The Rock asks nothing of its actors by way of creativity, a few other bars have been a little more theatrical.

At Barnacles Resort and Campground along Lake Mille Lacs, a "traveling tobacco troupe" dressed in medieval costume on the first theater night. Mark Benjamin, a lawyer who pushed bars to exploit the loophole, wore tights, a feathered cap and black boots.

"Hey, I'm a child of the '60s. I can do a little improv," he said. His improv amounted to speaking in medieval character to other patrons.

In Hill City, Mike's Uptown owner Lisa Anderson has been offering theater night once a week. The bar had a Mardi Gras theme last Saturday, attracting about 30 patrons, most of them in costume.

"I was dressed in a Victorian dress with the old fluffy thing that weighs 500 pounds," she said. "We had some fairies and some pirates and a group of girls — I'm not sure what they were, but they had big boas and flashy makeup."

Though there were no skits, Anderson said some people "start talking with different accents." She added: "It's turned into the funnest thing I can imagine."

One bar on northern Minnesota's Iron Range, the Queen City Sports Place, calls its nightly smokefest "The Tobacco Monologues."

Proving anew there's no business like show business, Anderson said her theater-night receipts have averaged $2,000 — up from $500 right after the ban kicked in. Similarly, Bauman said revenue at The Rock dropped off 30 percent after the ban took effect, then shot back up to normal once the bar began allowing smoking again.

He and other bar owners said they plan to continue putting on theater nights.

"There's no question we were struggling," he said. "And we are extremely nervous that this is going to go away, and we will be back to the way it was."



NJ State pays $250K to settle lawsuit
Headline Legal News | 2008/03/06 03:14

The state quietly agreed to settle a little-known lawsuit that claimed Public Defender Yvonne Segars improperly fired a deputy for political reasons, three weeks before Gov. Jon S. Corzine announced plans to nominate Segars to be a Superior Court judge.

The state has agreed to pay $250,000 to former deputy public defender Christine Leone-Zwillinger, who was a supervisor in a unit that represented children who were abused and neglected, until Segars became public defender under Gov. James E. McGreevey in September 2002.

Within a month, Leone-Zwillinger, 57, of Cherry Hill, who had run for Camden County sheriff as a Republican in 1997, was fired by Segars, even though her position did not involve policy-making or require her to be of the same party as the governor, the 2004 federal suit claims.

"Upon information and belief, defendant Segars made the decision to terminate plaintiff at the request of defendant McGreevey, or those acting on his behalf, on account of plaintiff's affiliation with the Republican party and to do a "political favor' for the governor in order to make room for John (Doran), Esq., who is a Democrat," the suit says.

The suit also claims Leone-Zwillinger got an "exceptional" rating — 28 of 30 points — on her last performance review and that Doran's qualifications were "vastly inferior."

In April 2007, U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson dismissed McGreevey and the Office of Public Defender from the suit, leaving Segars as the sole defendant. Court records indicate the case was settled Feb. 1 — 20 days before Corzine filed a notice of intent to nominate Segars, 52, of Ridgewood, for the Superior Court in Bergen County.

Both Segars and Doran declined comment through a spokesman, who referred all questions to Corzine's office, which citing confidentiality reasons refused to say whether Segars disclosed the matter on her nomination questionnaire or whether she was deemed qualified by a panel of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

The chairman of that review panel, Ralph J. Lamparello, said the committee cannot discuss its confidential reviews of potential judges and prosecutors. Even members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must approve appointments, don't learn whether a candidate is deemed qualified unless the bar association chooses to testify against a candidate a governor nominated despite being deemed unfit by the bar association.

Corzine spokesman Jim Gardner said the administration was aware of the lawsuit but unconcerned about it.

"The office is well aware of this legal matter because it is a matter of public record and is being handled by (the Department of) Law and Public Safety," Gardner said.

Asked why the state would settle the suit as it neared trial after more than three years in litigation, David Wald, a spokesman for the Department of Law and Public Safety, said "We thought this was a fair and reasonable settlement."

Chris Farella, the state-paid private lawyer retained to represent Segars, did not return calls for comment. The state has paid his firm $31,301 to defend the suit in 2005 and 2006. The Office of the Attorney General could not provide cost figures for 2004 and for 2007 through the present.

Richard M. Schall, Leone-Zwillinger's lawyer, declined comment until the settlement is signed, which he expected to happen in a week.



Legislators get bar's ear on lawyer discipline
Headline Legal News | 2008/03/06 03:07

Two House members pressing to take the power to regulate lawyers away from the State Supreme Court have won a meeting with an American Bar Association committee visiting Columbia.

The committee is in town reviewing the state’s lawyer discipline system. Chief Justice Jean Toal requested the review more than a year ago, long before the questions were raised about the court’s handling of a bar exam controversy.

The lawmakers, Reps. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, and Ted Pitts, R-Lexington, will meet with the ABA committee Friday.

The inner workings of the state judiciary have gotten statewide attention since November. At that time, news reports disclosed the Supreme Court had quietly thrown out a section of last July’s bar exam, a move that reversed the grades of 20 people who flunked the exam.

Those 20, now lawyers, included children of prominent state officials and law clerks to state judges.

The Supreme Court, the final authority in the matter, said the grade changes were made because of scoring errors. It has declined requests from The State for detailed information on its decision.

“I just believe when you look at any branch of government, there should be checks and balances and divisions of power,” said Crawford, a physician. He is lead sponsor of a bill that would remove lawyer regulation from the Supreme Court’s supervision and place it under the S.C. Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation.

LLR regulates other S.C. professions, including medicine and architecture. Part of the executive branch under Gov. Mark Sanford, its decisions can be appealed to the judiciary branch of state government up to the Supreme Court. But lawyers’ regulatory and disciplinary procedures, from start to finish, stay within the judiciary branch.

“We are glad to have (the lawmakers) talk to the committee,” Toal said Tuesday.

But the committee really isn’t set up to hear observations on proposed changes in the law, she said.

“If they want to see me, if they want to conduct hearings, that is the way to approach it,” she said, adding she would be glad to provide information to lawmakers about practices in other states.

The Supreme Court has paid a fee to the ABA to finance the committee’s evaluation. The ABA unit evaluates various states’ legal disciplinary systems.

Toal did not know how much the committee’s study would cost. Asked if its report would be made public, Toal said she won’t know until the report is done, but added, “I imagine some sort of results would be made public.”

Crawford said he hopes a Judiciary Committee subcommittee, where his bill now is, will soon hold hearings on the matter.

Pitts, a real estate broker, wants the results of the ABA committee’s findings to be made public.

“Our legal system is the foundation of this country, and the general public just wants to make sure everybody is treated fairly and equally,” Pitts said.



A Key Case on Gun Control
Headline Legal News | 2008/03/06 02:52

Dick Heller, a longtime resident of the District of Columbia, carries a handgun for his job as a private security guard. But at the end of his shift, he packs up the .38 revolver and stashes it in a vault. He would like to keep a gun for protection at his Capitol Hill home, where he has endured the sound of gunfire for years. But he can't, because D.C. law forbids it. "They give me a gun to protect them," he says of the government, "but I'm a second-class citizen when I finish work."

One of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, the D.C. statute is the focus of a March 18 U.S. Supreme Court hearing that marks the most significant case on gun control in decades. With Heller as plaintiff, it is the first test since 1939 of whether the Second Amendment supports an individual's right to bear arms and not just a state's right to form a militia. It is a crucial distinction. A ruling in favor of the individual right could trigger a wave of constitutional challenges to gun

control laws nationwide. And it could suddenly bring a volatile issue—one particularly uncomfortable for Democrats—into play during a presidential election year.

"It's significant because either it's going to fuel attempts to restrict gun ownership or it could put a constitutional wet blanket on any effort to control gun ownership," says Martin Redish, a constitutional law professor at Northwestern University.

For all the passion on both sides of the Second Amendment debate, the Supreme Court has said remarkably little over the years about to whom the right applies. Specifically, the amendment states that "a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

For most of American history, courts have interpreted the Second Amendment to apply to the collective right of states to assemble groups of armed citizens, such as the National Guard. Nine federal circuit courts have upheld that position, and the Supreme Court favored it when it last considered the issue in the 1939 case. (While that decision upheld the federal regulation of an individual's use of sawed-off shotguns, it didn't directly address the scope of the Second Amendment.)



Notable California Trials
Headline Legal News | 2008/02/29 22:48
Childhood abuse
Award: $11,000,000
Six female former parochial school students alleged sexual molestation by a lay teacher at their elementary school (Confidential v. Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Superior Court, Plaintiff attorney: Eric F. Yuhl).

Rear-end fatality
Award: $1,500,000
A 28-year-old woman was killed when the vehicle in which she was riding was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer (Estate of Ana Rosa Gutierrez v. Kem-Iron Transport Inc., Los Angeles County Superior Court, Plaintiff attorney: Michael H. Whitehill).

Post-surgical death
Award: Defense
A 47-year-old man allegedly died as a result of negligent post-surgical care following an appendectomy (Tillery v. Ladenheim, Fresno County Superior Court, Defense attorney: Richard S. Salinas).

Worker burned
Award: $27,514,746
A 41-year-old worker was severely burned by a fireball at a bio-mass power production plant (Hall v. North American Industrial Services Inc., Eastern District Federal Court, Plaintiff attorney: Richard C. Watters).

Police brutality
Award: $1,500,000
A man arrested for public drunkenness alleged excessive force by police officers, resulting in a comminuted leg fracture (Andrews v. Ventura County Sheriff, Central District Federal Court, Plaintiff attorney: Michael C. Alder).

Student pedestrian struck
Award: $3,025,000
A 45-year old student struck by an SUV while attempting to cross a campus street claimed that her line-of-sight was blocked by trees that had not been properly pruned (Burkhart v. California State University, Long Beach, Los Angeles County Superior Court, Plaintiff attorney: Stanley K. Jacobs).

Infant scarred
Award: $385,000
One newborn twin sustained extensive facial scarring allegedly as a result of a negligently taped oxygen apparatus (Woo v. Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, Los Angeles County Superior Court, Plaintiff attorney: Robert V. Chin).

Medical malpractice
Award: Defense
A patient who underwent a lumbar puncture alleged that the procedure was improperly performed and resulted in numerous spinal cord injuries (Loerch v. The Regents of the University of California, San Diego County Superior Court, Defense attorney: Richard D. Carroll).

Construction accident
Award: $1,600,000
A 27-year-old fence installer working on a scissor-lift was injured when it toppled over due to a missing steel grate on a catch basin (Boughamer v. Abboud Diamond Construction Inc., San Bernardino County Superior Court, Plaintiff attorney: Paul J. Ultimo).


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