Chemical Co. Settles Lawsuit for $1.8 Billion
Legal Topics | 2008/04/09 15:43
W.R.Grace, a specialty chemical company that operated plants inMassachusetts and Montana, agreed to a settlement yesterday forasbestos claims brought against the company in a class action lawsuit.

More than 100,000 claims have been brought against W.R.Grace by individuals who claimed to have been injured by exposure toasbestos. Pending approval by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Judith Fitzgerald,the settlement would allow W.R. Grace to make steps towards moving outof bankruptcy, which the company filed for in 2001, and startcompensating the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

If the settlement is allowed, the company would immediately deposit$250 million into a trust for victims. Starting in 2019, the companywould contribute an additional $110 million to the trust for fivesuccessive years followed by ten annual payments of $100 million. Theagreement would also make public 10 million shares of W.R. Grace stockthat plaintiffs would be able to purchase for $17 a share for up to oneyear after the company’s reorganization.



Eyes on Supreme Court in Execution Case Tuesday
Legal Topics | 2008/04/08 16:36
By 6 p.m. Tuesday, when a Mississippi inmate is scheduled to die by lethal injection, the Supreme Court may give the clearest indication so far of whether it intends to call a halt to all such executions while a case from Kentucky that the justices accepted last month remains undecided.

The Mississippi inmate, Earl W. Berry, convicted of kidnapping and murder in 1988, has been turned down by the Mississippi Supreme Court and by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Late on Monday, the justices denied his appeal of the state court ruling, as well as the application for a stay of execution that accompanied it.

Mr. Berry’s application for a stay of the Fifth Circuit ruling, which his lawyers filed on Monday afternoon, remained pending in the evening, having come in very late in the afternoon.

In turning down the state-court appeal without any apparent dissent, the Supreme Court’s three-sentence order provided a brief explanation. The Supreme Court had no jurisdiction, the unsigned order said, because “the judgment of the Mississippi Supreme Court relies upon an adequate and independent state ground.”

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 11 that Mr. Berry’s challenge to the lethal injection procedure was barred as a matter of state law because he had not presented the claim in his earlier appeals. The United States Supreme Court’s own jurisdiction is limited to deciding independent questions of federal law.

The Fifth Circuit, which sits in New Orleans, similarly dismissed Mr. Berry’s challenge to lethal injection as untimely, in a decision issued on Friday. By contrast, that decision clearly presents an issue of federal procedural law for the Supreme Court to address, whether a challenge to an execution method on the eve of a scheduled execution must be dismissed as untimely. As to whether all pending executions should now be delayed, the appeals court all but challenged the justices to state plainly whether that was the case.

Noting that Mr. Berry’s new federal-court case challenging lethal injection was not filed until Oct. 18, the appeals court said: “Well-established Fifth Circuit precedent is clear: death-sentenced inmates may not wait until execution is imminent before filing an action to enjoin a state’s method of carrying it out.”

That precedent “remains binding until the Supreme Court provides contrary guidance,” the appeals court said.

In the five weeks since the Supreme Court agreed to examine how courts should evaluate the constitutionality of lethal injection, in a case from Kentucky, Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439, the national picture has become increasingly confused. The justices allowed one execution to proceed and granted stays in two others.


Lawyers seek to bar statements obtained by torture
Legal Topics | 2008/04/07 16:39

Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdanon Friday asked a military tribunal to bar the use of statements made by Hamdan that were allegedly obtained through the use of torture and requested that the court declare that Hamdan has been subjected to abusive interrogation techniques. Hamdan contends that he was subjected to prolonged periods of isolation and beatings at the hands of US interrogators and that any statements he has made while in custody are unreliable. The motion argues that the use of these statements would violate the US Constitution, international law and the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which allows evidence obtained through coercion to be introduced if it is reliable, but excludes the use of statements obtained through torture. A spokesman for the Pentagon denied the allegations and said that detainees are treated humanely.

Hamdan has been in US custody since 2001 when he was captured in Afghanistan and accused of working as Osama Bin Laden's driver. In 2006 he successfully challenged US President George W. Bush's military commission system when the Supreme Court ruled that the commission system as initially constituted violated US and international law. Congress subsequently passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, but Hamdan and a number of other Guantanamo detainees ave argued that the current law still violates their rights. Last month, a military judge affirmed a prior ruling report that Hamdan's lawyers may send written questions to Khalid Sheik Mohammedand other alleged high-level al Qaeda detainees to facilitate the discovery of evidence on the issue of whether Hamdan was an al Qaeda agent who conspired in the USS Cole or Sept. 11 attacks.



Federal court decertifies status of cigarette lawsuit
Legal Topics | 2008/04/04 16:33

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Thursday overturned class action certification for a lawsuit brought by "light" cigarette smokers against Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and other light cigarette makers. The class action, which included anyone who has ever bought light cigarettes since they hit the market in the 1970s, had alleged that tobacco companies used deceptive advertising tactics to mislead smokers in response to growing health concerns over the risks of smoking cigarettes. Attorneys for the tobacco companies argued that determining why every light cigarette consumer bought the product would be impossible and therefore made class certification impractical.

In September 2006, Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the United States District Court in Brooklyn certified the class of 50 million plaintiffs for the class-action suit. Lawyers estimated that sales of light cigarettes brought tobacco companies between $120 billion and $200 billion in extra sales since 1971.



Federal court strikes down new patent rules
Legal Topics | 2008/04/02 16:10

The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Tuesday rejected new US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) rules that would have retroactively limited the number of claims that can be included in a patent application and the number of times a continuation application can be filed for a given invention. The court ruled that the new rules were "substantive in nature" and therefore beyond the scope of the USPTO's authority to govern the submission procedure of patent application.

The lawsuit challenging the new rules was brought by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which has approximately 100 applications pending at the USPTO. Supporting the company was the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), which filed an amicus curiae brief. In October, a judge enjoined the USPTO from implementing the new rules pending a ruling on their validity.



Taking A Look At Surveillance
Legal Topics | 2008/04/01 16:16

US Attorney General Michael Mukasey said Friday that he was willing to compromise with Congress on legislation amending the Foreign Intelligence Security Act but that the legislature would have to provide a "workable bill". Mukasey said that the bill passed by the US House of Representatives last week, which did not provide retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the NSA warrantless surveillance program, did not meet this threshold. Last month, the Senate passed a version of the bill that did provide retroactive immunity to the companies. Mukasey stopped short of urging the House to adopt that version of the bill, however, and instead expressed hope that a compromise could be reached between the House bill and the Bush administration, which supports the immunity provision.

Mukasey's comments come roughly a week after President Bush said again that he would veto any FISA amendment legislation that did not include the immunity provision. The House bill would defer the issue of immunity to the courts to be resolved on a case-by-case basis, but would also allow the cases to be heard in closed-door hearings. Last month, Mukasey and US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said that vital intelligence had been lost while telecommunications companies circumvented wiretapping orders as they waited for word on whether the immunity provision would be included in the new legislation. Mukasey said that the relationship between the private companies and the government had since been repaired and that intelligence gathering activities were now running smoothly.



Supremes weigh habeas rights of US citizens held in Iraq
Legal Topics | 2008/03/27 16:24

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in the consolidated cases of Munaf v. Geren and Geren v. Omar where the Court is considering whether federal courts have jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions filed by American citizens detained by US military personnel operating under a multinational force. The cases also present the issue of whether a federal court would have jurisdiction over a habeas petition filed by an American citizen if a foreign court convicted the citizen of a crime, but the citizen is still in the physical custody of American authorities. Mohammad Munaf was convicted and sentenced to death for the kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad, and the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in April 2007 that it lacked authority to interfere with the Iraqi court case. Two months earlier, however, the same court ruled that Shawqi Omar, arrested for allegedly harboring insurgents in Iraq, has a right to argue his case in US courts. The appeals court blocked Omar's transfer to Iraqi courts. Earlier this month, Munaf's conviction was overturned by an Iraqi appeals court. Lawyers for the detainees argued that because they are in US custody, they should have access to US courts, but several justices seemed to reject that argument, noting that could lead to any Multi-National Force-Iraq detainee challenging their arrest in US courts. AP has more.

The Court also heard oral arguments in United States v. Ressam, where "millennium bomber" Ahmed Ressam is challenging his conviction under 18 USC § 844(h)(2), which authorizes a mandatory minimum ten year jail term for anyone carrying explosives while committing a felony. In Ressam's case, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the count as the underlying felony - lying on customs papers - was not related to the explosives charge. Ressam has been sentenced to 22 years in prison  for plotting to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve 1999. US Attorney General Michael Mukasey argued the case on behalf of the government.



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