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).


Bar association moving to first permanent location
Headline Legal News | 2008/02/23 03:25

The Hillsborough County Bar Association will hold a grand opening for its new offices on Feb. 27.

The Chester H. Ferguson Law Center, a 17,000-square-foot facility located at 1610 N. Tampa St. and adjacent to Stetson University's College of Law in Tampa, is will be the bar association's first permanent location. It will contain administrative offices for the bar association and the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation, meeting rooms for continuing legal education programs, a lounge, mediation rooms and a ballroom.

Founded in 1896, the Hillsborough County Bar Association has more than 3,700 members and is the largest voluntary bar association in the Florida.



Virginia Bar president considers attorney trust audits
Headline Legal News | 2008/02/22 05:04
The president of the Virginia State Bar is proposing random audits of lawyer trust accounts.

Lawyers use trust accounts to temporarily hold real estate proceeds or retainers until they are disbursed to a third party or -- once a fee is earned -- to the lawyer.

It is a severe violation of professional conduct for a lawyer to mingle trust account money with personal funds or operating money.

But it does happen.

According to the state bar, a Virginia Beach attorney had his license revoked after he wrote 72 checks that he couldn't cover from 2002 to 2005. The checks totaled $3.3 million.

Bar president and Norfolk lawyer Howard Martin Junior says will make the audit proposal to the bar's executive committee next month. The American Bar Association recommends that every state conduct random audits to protect the public.



Drexel Law Gets Provisional Accreditation
Headline Legal News | 2008/02/21 03:12
Drexel University's new law school has received its much-awaited provisional accreditation, an important step toward providing its first students with usable legal degrees.

The university announced the provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association yesterday. It will allow graduating students to take the bar exam and, upon passing the test, practice professionally. Final accreditation will take at least two more years.

"To reach this milestone less than 18 months after welcoming our first law students to Drexel is remarkable and a testament to the vision and commitment of our Board of Trustees and the hard work and passion of the faculty and staff of the College of Law and its founding dean, Roger Dennis," Drexel President Constantine Papadakis said in a statement. "Drexel Law has gathered some of the most talented, innovative law faculty, practicing professionals and students anywhere, and it shows in every initiative."

In a city already boasting a healthy number of law schools, Drexel broke onto the scene in 2006. It was the first new law school in the region more than 30 years.

The law school's first class of 180 was drawn from a pool of more than 1,700 applicants and will graduate in 2009. And this year students are enjoying the school's new $19 million home on Market Street.


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