April 14, 2015 by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am
After 30 years as a journalist and more than a decade reporting on the legal profession and high-profile trials for the Houston Chronicle, Mary Flood has a distinct perspective on how lawyers and the news media interact. We asked her about her transition from journalism to PR.
You covered hundreds of trials as a journalist – notably several Enron-related trials – but is there another lesser-known trial experience that has stuck with you over the years?
The fact that I was in trial a few times when I practiced law is my least known courthouse experience. As a reporter, you worry that readers won’t understand what happened if you aren’t good enough. As a lawyer, you worry that your client’s life could be significantly altered if you aren’t good enough. Now I go to court with lawyers and their high-profile clients to work with the media. Now I worry about it all.
What is the biggest misperception lawyers have about reporters that you wish you could change?
Lawyers sometimes think reporters have an agenda other than to try to explain what’s going on fairly, accurately and quickly. Sure, a few reporters have an agenda. But most just want to get it right in whatever small amount of time and space they have. Reporters usually need something quick, clear and preferably colorfully explained. The lawyerly instinct is the opposite. Trial lawyers are the easiest to train because communicating with journalists is a bit like talking to juries.
What makes for a fulfilling experience in working with your clients?
I love knowing I’ve really helped a client, whether it is publicizing a firm generally; helping a client understand how the media will cover a high-profile case; or developing a marketing message that resonates. When I left 30 years of journalism behind me, I was worried about feeling fulfilled in my new role. But in this job, I use even more of what I’ve learned over the years to help our clients, whether that means being a lawyer, writer, investigator or someone who brings a creative point of view.
What are some of the positive things you see law firms doing to better position themselves from a business development perspective?
The best thing a lawyer or a firm can do is realize they are a business, and they need to compete in a marketplace where word of mouth doesn’t always cut it. I have a boutique client I love working with. The lawyers there don’t shy away from PR or marketing, which has helped them triple in size in the last few years. They deserve the burgeoning reputation they have gained. But you can’t get that even by winning cases if no one knows it happened.
What’s one thing that people don’t know about you?
I come from a whistling family. My older brother (who holds a Ph.D. in economics) can even whistle and hum at the same time. I have tried to carry on the tradition by whistling Happy Birthday to a few folks. The older I get, the more notes go off key. Smartphones have been a blessing to my friends. I can send the whistle attached to an email and they don’t have to listen if they don’t want to.
Are you really the Olivia Pope of Houston?
Nope. It was very nice of the local ABC station to characterize me that way and for lawyer Rusty Hardin, who I respect immensely, to suggest it. I do know something about working with the media in a crisis. As a reporter, I saw the best and the worst and I’ve been able to build on that. But the fabulous Olivia has a wardrobe worth more than my home, a lover who lives in the White House and a subordinate who kills and maims. Me, not so much.
February 11, 2015 by Dave Moore at 2:05:00 pm
The recent developments in the public corruption case against Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price illustrate the devastating impact federal court actions and investigations can have on defendants, even if they’re later cleared of charges. Price faced a firestorm of public criticism when he sought court assistance in paying for his legal defense, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“On the surface, a lot of people would think that (court assistance) is something he should not qualify for,” John R. Teakell, a federal criminal defense attorney in Dallas, said in a recent interview on the Stinchfield Report. “But I think the point he was making was that he had a lot of assets that were seized from him, and accounts frozen. So, he has limited resources.”
Teakell, who has handled numerous cases involving the government seizure of assets, says it’s common for many federal cases to result in reduced charges or no conviction, yet the resulting damage from the charge lingers.“It happens a lot,” says Teakell. “Even in cases where someone comes to a plea agreement for a reduced charge, when the outcome doesn’t hurt them too badly, they’ve still had to spend resources on an attorney. A lot of people lose their jobs, because they’re arrested and charged. It affects their reputation; if they had a business, it can knock out their business. It’s devastating.”
January 12, 2015 by Dave Moore at 4:00:00 pm
An upcoming United States Supreme Court case – Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Projects Inc. – demonstrates the ripple effect the Court can have on how business is done in the United States.
On Jan. 21, the Court will hear arguments over whether Texas discriminates and violates fair housing laws when it decides where federally subsidized low-income affordable housing developments are built. But in agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court has agreed to clarify the use of a principle called the “disparate impact” theory.
The disparate impact theory suggests that discrimination can still occur even if an institution’s business policies are designed to avoid prejudice. If those policies are shown to disproportionately impact one protected group more than another, the theory states that discrimination has occurred, despite efforts to avoid it.
“Because the federal government uses the theory in settling fair-lending cases, this decision could affect not only affordable housing in the U.S. but also the automobile finance industry and banking industry," says Dallas attorney John Shackelford, managing partner at Shackelford, Melton, McKinley & Norton, L.P.
Shackelford, who has more than 20 years of experience representing financial institutions, automobile dealerships and real estate developers in land acquisition, tax-credit acquisition and approval matters, can readily see the ripple effect that the Court's decision can have on major sectors of the U.S. economy.
December 11, 2014 by Dave Moore at 3:00:00 pm
From Texas' multiple Ebola diagnoses to an indicted governor to lawsuits over immigration policy, the Lone Star State once again was at the forefront of the country’s top legal news for 2014. Following are the state’s top legal news stories this year as determined by the staff at Androvett Legal Media & Marketing.
10. Mexico Announces Energy Reform
After three-quarters of a century, Mexico’s federal government moved to end its complete control of the country’s energy production in 2014. A bill signed by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in August set numerous wheels in motion: The government now is establishing ground rules for private investment in energy while sorting out what oil fields should remain with Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex. The move toward privatization has spurred Texas energy companies and law firms alike to prepare for an increased number of transactions and greater activity in exploring Mexico’s energy potential.
9. Adrian Peterson Pleads No Contest
In a case that grabbed international headlines and roused spirited debate over corporal punishment, NFL standout running back Adrian Peterson pleaded no contest to a Texas charge that he injured his 4-year-old son while disciplining him in May 2014. Prosecutors alleged that Peterson struck his son with a thin tree branch, or “switch.” Peterson remains suspended by the NFL while the league decides when he should return, with media outlets predicting that Peterson will not return to the field this season. An East Texas native, Peterson holds numerous NFL records, including the most yards rushed in a single game, and the second-most yards rushed in a single season.
8. Undocumented Immigrant Children Pouring In
Texas made national headlines in July when immigration officials announced a sudden surge in unaccompanied children crossing the Texas-Mexico border. The state’s Office of Refugee Resettlement reported handling more than 42,000 children in the first half of 2014, compared to only 24,668 in all of 2013. Communities across the state offered to set up facilities to accommodate the children, who are fleeing from gang violence, sexual assaults and kidnapping. The influx of immigrant children further intensified political arguments over U.S. border-enforcement policies, with lawsuits coming from Texas and other states.
7. Governor-Elect Abbott Continues to Sue Feds
Prior to the July 2013 launch of his campaign for Texas governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott proudly claimed, “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and then I go home.” Abbot has sued the federal government more than 30 times. In early December, he joined 17 states in suing President Barack Obama for his executive order suspending deportations of immigrants with clean criminal records. Abbott and the co-plaintiffs say they have standing to sue because state taxpayers will be left on the hook for expenses related to health care, education, and police to handle illegal immigrants who now have federal permission to stay in the U.S. without permanent citizenship.
6. Lethal Injections Continue Despite Drug Controversy
As a result of highly publicized shortages of the drugs used for legal injection, Ohio, Arizona and Oklahoma have begun relying on various cocktails of drugs to execute those sentenced to death. However, Texas continued to find a way to obtain pentobarbital for the same purpose even though the manufacturer stopped sales in 2011. While many anesthesiologists say a single, fatal dose of pentobarbital – the same drug used to euthanize animals – likely is painless, critics question whether the drug is actually used by Texas since the state won’t disclose its source. State District Judge Darlene Byrne of Austin ordered the state to identify its lethal drug supplier in December after ruling the information should be public. Related lawsuits continue to work their way through Texas courts. Since 2012, Texas has fatally injected more than 40 inmates, at least three times more than any other state.
5. BP Slapped for Gross Negligence
In September, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans issued gross negligence findings against energy giant BP Plc. in a criminal case stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 people and leaked 208 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The London-based oil company presumably hoped for a negligence finding, but the judge completely rejected BP’s arguments, clearing the way for possible fines of up to $18 billion. The judge found BP largely responsible before assigning lesser blame to rig operator Transocean and Houston-based contractor Halliburton. BP previously pleaded guilty to 14 federal charges for the explosion and for obstructing a related Congressional investigation. Now, BP has until January before it will hear how much the court says the company should pay.
4. Denton Bans Fracking
Denton’s voter-approved citywide ban on fracking unleashed a firestorm of litigation and heated debate over land and property rights in a state whose economy is largely built on oil and gas. In early November, 58 percent of Denton’s voters approved a referendum that drastically restricts drillers’ efforts to employ hydraulic fracturing of oil and natural gas. Within hours of the vote, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Commission filed lawsuits attempting to declare the ordinance illegal based on claims that municipalities do not have the authority to govern drilling. Since then, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other interest groups have aligned with Denton voters to support the ban in the ongoing dispute.
3. Voter ID Law Approved
In the balancing act between eliminating voter fraud and potentially disenfranchising voters, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 2011 Texas law requiring voters to present a valid photo ID at polling places. The high court’s unsigned opinion did not spell out the reasoning for upholding the law, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg did not hide her opinion in an accompanying dissent. “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections . . . is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote.
2. Ground Zero for Ebola
Infectious disease experts knew the United States eventually would see its first case of Ebola, but the when and where were unknown. The answer came in September, with Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas as ground zero. Thomas Eric Duncan’s well-publicized early dismissal from the hospital’s emergency room and his death in early October dominated international headlines. The nurses who treated him, Nina Pham and Amber Joy Vinson, were diagnosed with Ebola and later recovered. With the media and public focused on the hospital’s alleged lack of protocols and proper equipment for handling the deadly disease, Presbyterian Dallas ultimately apologized to Duncan’s family and reached an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount.
1. Gov. Rick Perry Indicted
Texas political wonks got a crash course in criminal justice in August with the indictment of Gov. Rick Perry on a first-degree felony charge for allegedly abusing his power and a third-degree felony claim of coercion. The charges came after a Travis County grand jury found a potential smoking gun when Perry made good on his threat to cut funding for the state’s Public Integrity Unit. Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg leads the unit, which lost funding after the DA refused Perry’s ultimatum that she resign following her arrest for driving under the influence. A month after the indictment, Perry’s political action committee printed T-shirts with his mug shot. Perry’s well-heeled defense team has vowed to fight the charges until the bitter end.
December 5, 2014 by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:00:00 am
The newest member of the Androvett team in our Dallas office, Bria Burk is helping law firms better manage the challenges of the online environment – how to maintain that presence, keep content fresh, and effectively integrate social media opportunities.
Can you tell us about your personal and professional background?
I grew up in Plano, Texas, and come from a very close family, literally. More than half of my entire family lived in our neighborhood growing up. I attended the University of Missouri for their Journalism school and earned degrees in both Strategic Communications and Graphic Design. While there, I worked for the University to build websites and design collateral for all of the student organizations on campus. After graduating, I moved back to Dallas and worked for another law firm marketing agency, managing digital and design projects for small and solo law firm clients. I’m really excited to make the move to Androvett.
Can you offer an overview of the tasks you’re focusing on for Androvett clients?
I’m working on all things digital -- auditing, planning, developing and maintaining websites, and creating social media campaigns, emails and content schedules for both attorneys and firms to increase their digital presence over time. I’m also implementing Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising strategies to make our clients more accessible.
So what are the things that individual lawyers should be doing to take advantage of social media?
Start small and block off a little social media time each week to focus on one platform. For most lawyers LinkedIn is the best place to start because you can demonstrate your industry knowledge, generate traffic to your firm’s website and build a community of potential and existing clients that will look to you for information. Make sure your profile is 100 percent complete and optimized with descriptive headlines and summaries. Join relevant groups and continue connecting with like-minded professionals. To make a great impression when sending an invitation, avoid sending the default message and personalize it if you can. Grow your industry influence by creating relevant and interesting content to post and share with your network and groups. The key is being patient and sticking with it.
If a law firm could make one change to its website, what would that be?
As more people access information on the go, the expectation is to have a responsive, mobile device-friendly, website that looks just as good on a smartphone or tablet as it does on a desktop computer. If your website was created even just a few years ago it may not function well on the mobile platforms. A responsive website will auto-detect what device someone is using and optimize the content to make it easier to click buttons and find information on a smaller screen. Another key functionality of a great website is search engine optimization. Having your site on the first page of search results for key practice areas and phrases is a very valuable feature. There are many factors that go into optimizing a website for search, but it starts with having great content that is relevant to your clients.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I never set my alarm clock on anything ending in 5 or 0. There must be something about getting those few extra minutes that helps get out of bed in the morning. Also, I swam competitively for 12 years, and my best events were the 200 and 500 freestyle.
October 28, 2014 by Dave Moore at 3:30:00 pm
Far too often, the practice of law focuses on fixing blame and seeking cash awards, rather than solving problems. In a column recently published by Texas Lawyer, Bill Chamblee discusses how Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas – which treated the first U.S. Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan – became the proving ground for how to take ownership of medical mishaps.
Amidst all the panic, hysteria and moral indignation, leaders at Presbyterian Dallas did something unexpected by personally apologizing to Duncan's fiancée, Louise Troh, and taking responsibility for what happened.
"This official said the hospital was 'deeply sorry' for the way this tragedy played out," Troh said in the statement released to the media. "I am grateful to the hospital for this personal call. I am grateful to God that this leader reached out and took responsibility for the hospital's actions. Hearing this information will help me as I mourn Eric's death."
Suddenly, the discussion no longer focused on how Presbyterian Dallas wronged a West African carrier of Ebola and threatened the public health. The hospital's apology shifted the conversation to the importance of caring for people such as Mr. Duncan who have contracted the Ebola virus. Most would agree that it was inevitable that Ebola would appear somewhere in our country, but the important question was how our health care providers and government officials would respond.
Chamblee, who has defended health care providers for 29 years, adds that medical professionals frequently overlook the fact that a kind word, a thoughtful gesture and an open ear can prevent lawsuits from patients who are unhappy about a medical outcome.
September 22, 2014 by Robert Tharp at 4:40:00 pm
More than a few called Dallas attorney Mark Werbner quixotic when he first posed a complex legal argument more than 10 years ago on behalf of a group of American victims of terror attacks in Israel. Over the subsequent decade the civil action would extend its reach around the world with claims that Arab Bank, an international Jordan-based bank, should be held responsible for a wave of suicide bombings in the early 2000s that left several Americans dead or wounded.
On Monday in a Brooklyn federal courtroom – more than five weeks after jury selection began in the long-awaited trial – jurors returned a verdict for Werbner’s clients, finding that the bank should be held responsible.
Writes the AP this afternoon:
The high-stakes legal offshoot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had pitted American victims of terror attacks in Israel in the early 2000s against an international bank with several branches in Gaza and the West Bank. The victims sued in 2004, accusing the bank of knowingly helping Hamas fund a "death and dismemberment benefit plan" for martyrs from the occupied territories. The civil action marked the first time a bank had faced a trial under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation. The U.S. State Department designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1997.
During closing arguments last week, Werbner, co-founder of Dallas-based Sayles Werbner, acknowledged the challenge in bringing a case of such importance to trial.
“What am I doing here? What difference will it make?” he told jurors. “You know what’s going on in the world since then. It’s not any better. You know what we’re facing.”
The argument's complexity was obvious to international media watching the trial.
The burden of proof was high, notes the New York Times. The plaintiffs had to prove that the terrorist attacks were indeed conducted by Hamas, and that the bank’s support of Hamas was the “proximate cause” of the events. In addition, the plaintiffs had to demonstrate that their injuries were “reasonably foreseeable” as a consequence of the bank’s acts.
After 10 years of litigation and a five-week trial, the jury apparently found that the plaintiffs met the legal threshold, and ruled that the bank was liable. A separate hearing will be held to determine damages.
September 17, 2014 by Dave Moore at 12:00:00 am
There’s no doubt that prearranged bankruptcies have become popular in the realm of corporate reorganizations. There are plenty of reasons: many key players are incorporated into the process of settling debt issues; they’re much quicker and (as a result) less expensive than traditional bankruptcies; and the company can continue to operate throughout the process.
But, as Dallas bankruptcy attorney Rakhee Patel wrote (paywall-protected link here) recently for Texas Lawbook, something unanticipated happened in the prearranged bankruptcy planned for Energy Future Holdings (EFH) and its subsidiaries:
From the start of the bankruptcy process, one of EFH’s main goals has been a tax-free spinoff of its TXU Energy division. However, an unexpected wrinkle arose when a competitive bidding war emerged relating in part to the Oncor division, resulting in EFH potentially having more value than initially thought.
Patel, a partner in the restructuring and bankruptcy section of Shackelford, Melton, McKinley & Norton, LLP, indicates that the increased value of the Oncor division effectively nixed the prearranged bankruptcy planned for Energy Future Holdings, very likely increasing the length and expense of the bankruptcy.
The gain in Oncor’s value in the EFH reorganization might reinforce the maxim: Good things come to those who wait.
August 1, 2014 by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am
What do reporters understand least about lawyers?
Lawyers often ignore deadlines that aren’t dictated by a court, which can infuriate reporters who make their living by meeting countless deadlines on a daily basis. That can create a dynamic where a deadline-efficient reporter becomes frustrated or upset with a lawyer when they do not get a reply in time to meet their deadline. Although work on a last-minute filing may preclude you from taking a call from your own mother, reporters still will be perplexed by why you can’t take their call. That is why it is so important to make sure and respond to a reporter’s request, even if it is to tell them that you’re too busy to comment. Making this small gesture has preserved many reporter/lawyer relationships that could have turned sour in the absence of a response.
What is the top thing you find that lawyers don’t understand about reporters?
With today’s Internet deadlines, reporters literally don’t have an idle minute. If a reporter takes the time to sit down with you to discuss a case, that means they want to cut to the chase quickly with as few extraneous details as possible. Reporters are no longer willing to spend an entire afternoon interacting with a lawyer-source for a story. That’s why you should be able to provide the most important facts and state your position within the first few minutes of an interview. If it is clear that the reporter has time, then that is when it’s appropriate to include the related details.
What has been the biggest attitude shift you’ve seen by law firms in their approach to media relations during the past decade?
The era of “no comment” for law firms is largely a thing of the past. When The American Lawyer magazine began publishing its annual listing of law firm revenue, plenty of firms opted not to participate only to later discover that an anonymous firm member had surreptitiously turned over the firm’s financial numbers, or, worse, delivered incorrect information. That spurred many firms to opt in during the years that followed, which improved the reporting and provided a better picture of the firms overall. The cooperation between law firms and the media that began with AmLaw’s firm finance list has grown exponentially ever since, and now firms have entire marketing teams devoted to interacting with the media.
What are some of your pet peeves when it comes to writing, grammar and punctuation?
Writing that buries the most important points deep within the overall text is a common mistake, even for lawyers who are trained to frame their issue initially before getting into the facts. Much like the interview process, writing should grab readers quickly and include the details later. In terms of grammar, the useless and practically meaningless word “moreover” is on my Top 10 Don’t Do list. “Moreover” is defined as “in addition to what has been said.” Based on that definition, “moreover” could be used to begin every sentence after the opening line in any document ever written, which is ridiculous. Also, text messaging and social media have led many people who know better to butcher the rules of punctuation in their emails, letters to clients and other communications. If it’s worth writing down, then it’s worth punctuating correctly. We all make mistakes, but I’ve always remembered this solemn warning from my college writing professor: “People judge you by what you write, fair or not, and they never lose that first impression no matter what you do afterward.”
Can you recall one or two examples of working with Androvett clients that you found the most rewarding, fulfilling or just fun?
The most fulfilling part of my job comes when I can help a lawyer or law firm overturn negative perceptions about their case or their client. I’ve found that the “common knowledge” often isn’t common or knowledge, but rather the result of a spin from the opposing party that simply hasn’t been addressed effectively. In terms of rewarding efforts, I have to say that working with the good people at Dublin Bottling Works tops the list. They eventually lost an ugly partnership dispute with Dr Pepper Snapple, but we helped raise awareness of the legal battle and promoted Dublin Bottling Works’ plans to continue its operations, which allowed us to play a small part in successfully re-launching the company as a non-Dr Pepper entity. I hope more and more people discover that Dublin is still bottling the world’s best sodas today.
What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I may well have become a school teacher but for a third-grader I was monitoring as part of an elementary education class in college. I had a date to a basketball game that was scheduled to start shortly after the class, so I wore a new shirt. Unfortunately, the student apparently thought the shirt would benefit from a swipe of orange watercolor paint. I wore the now-ruined shirt to pick up my date, and noticed one of her roommates reviewing the same textbook from a journalism course I’d completed the previous semester. I commented that the professor was tough, and she agreed, telling me “He says he’s only had one student who understood journalism in the 30 years he’s taught this class.” Trying to make a joke, I told her that it was probably me. The roommate, who I hadn’t met before, replied: “I doubt it. He said it was some guy named Bruce Vincent.” I switched my major to journalism the next semester.
July 15, 2014 by Dave Moore at 12:00:00 am
One in seven people worldwide use Microsoft Office. Civilized free time is dominated by Netflix and Facebook. Many of our communications depend on smartphones.
Since modern society leans so heavily on software that operates those and other technological wonders, many had hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would define what sort of software deserves legal patent protection when it decided Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank.
To some degree, it did just that.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling … confirms that United States patent laws will continue to protect investors who create truly innovative software,” Dallas patent litigation attorney Adam Sanderson told Texas Lawbook’s Jeff Bounds recently. In the case of Alice Corp., however, the Supreme Court determined that abstract ideas aren’t patentable, even if they involve the use of computers to help apply them. However, the court stopped short of defining what is patentable.
“Software presents a special challenge to courts because it has not always been easy to recognize when a software engineer has done enough to ‘transform’ a mere idea into a new and useful invention,” Sanderson, a partner at Dallas-based Reese Gordon Marketos, told Lawbook.
Since the question of what’s a truly innovative patent has yet to be answered, it’s likely the Supreme Court will face the question again.
May 23, 2014 by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am
What’s the best thing about your job?
I work with smart people, and every day is different because we work with a variety of lawyers and law firms. No two projects are alike because every firm has different practice areas and cultures, which makes it fun. Our challenge is to identify what makes each firm special and parlay that into something that can be branded and communicated to the desired target audience(s).
How have you seen the legal profession change in the 20+ years you’ve been working with lawyers and law firms?
I worked for Texas Lawyer newspaper in the early 90s when few firms were advertising, and those that did ran “tombstone” ads only. Eventually, law firms evolved and began full-blown branding campaigns, especially in print publications. That was about the time when this thing called the Internet came about and changed everything. The fax machine, annual reports and printed tombstone cards were replaced by email, websites, video and online/digital marketing. Law firms began to realize that a website is both a virtual lobby and the most important item in their marketing tool belt. Today, firms have multiple blogs, microsites for various practice areas, and social media initiatives to communicate with various audiences.
What do you wish most lawyers knew about advertising?
Advertising is most effective when you can define your primary target audience, focus on one core message, and repeat that message over and over again. Don’t try to fill the ad space with too much information or it will become a cluttered mess that no one wants to read. You have only a couple of seconds to capture a reader’s attention before they turn the page. Ask yourself the crucial question: What is the one thing you want the reader to know?
What’s the most important thing lawyers and law firms need to know about the Advertising Review process?
There are many ways for attorneys to disseminate information about their legal services that fall outside the filing requirements established by the State Bar of Texas and its Advertising Review Committee. While some communications are exempt from filing, one must always comply with the attorney advertising rules. All attorney communications are covered under R. 7.02. The related rules prohibit false, misleading and deceptive statements regardless of whether the communication is being made to the public or lawyer-to-lawyer. It’s really all about the content rather than the tools used to disseminate the information (print, digital, online). Remember, the rules do not emphasize the means by which attorneys spread the word about their legal services, regardless of whether it is via an electronic or non-electronic avenue. The rules operate to protect the public.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I am a member of the State Bar’s Advertising Review Committee. In my free time, I enjoy coaching and I’m a sucker when it comes to watching football and baseball games, especially youth teams. Sometimes, I’ll stop by a field and watch teams play even when my own kids aren’t involved.
May 13, 2014 by Robert Tharp at 3:15:00 pm
Popular comedian and top-rated iTunes podcaster Adam Carolla is going on the offensive to defend himself in a suit filed against him in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas by so-called patent troll Personal Audio Inc. The company claims Carolla is infringing its patent for podcasting technology. But Carolla says he will not settle, and he’s calling on crowd funding to raise money for his defense.
Writes Inside Counsel:
James Logan, founder of PersonalAudio, claims he has never made a podcast, but has helped create the medium of podcasting in 1996 – and he has the patents to prove it. According to USA Today, in a legal battle, PersonalAudio is suing comedian Carolla's ACE Broadcasting, two other podcasters and networks Fox, CBS and NBC, claiming they are infringing on his intellectual property. According to The Economist, PersonalAudio once owned a patent on customized cassette tapes with current news. It updated that patent in 2009 to cover any serialized podcast that can be downloaded from a specific URL.
Before the trial begins in September, Carolla is raising money for legal fees against patent trolls. According to Carolla, he needs $1.5 million to face PersonalAudio in an East Texas courtroom that has been favored by patent litigants. So far, Carolla has pulled in just over $370,000 on the Fundanything.com, including a $20,000 donation from e-commerce giant Amazon.
“Carolla argues that Personal Audio is not a legitimate patent owner enforcing its ‘technology ownership rights’ but rather an entity formed for no redeeming industry purpose with no intention to ever manufacture or market the patented invention,” says intellectual property attorney William Munck of Dallas’ Munck Wilson Mandala. “Carolla’s argument strikes a nerve because what he argues Personal Audio is doing feels un-American. The U.S. patent system is broken. The Patent and Trademark Office issues too many fundamentally flawed patents that years later place tremendous financial burdens on U.S. businesses defending against cost-of-defense patent trolls.”
April 22, 2014 by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 6:00:00 am
DIGITAL MARKETING PROJECT MANAGER JOB DESCRIPTION
The Digital Marketing Project Manager will work collaboratively as a member of the Ad/Marketing team to plan, oversee and execute various digital projects and services for clients. The Digital Marketing Project Manager position requires creativity, technical insights and skills, and a professional business sense. This role requires strong foundation in digital production, website production, online advertising, SEM, SEO and social media along with project management, vendor relations and organizational skills.
- Manage the execution of design and production for digital media using freelance design talent.
- Work with the marketing team to conceptualize designs that will advance clients’ business, marketing or branding objectives.
- Manage and communicate digital production creative and technical standards and guidelines.
- Develop social media campaigns based on client objectives. Carry out social media initiatives over time.
- Develop website site maps, technical requirements, work flow and project timeline schedules.
- Update client website content via WordPress and other content management systems.
- Conduct monthly content and functionality audits for client websites, identifying ways to improve or optimize.
- Establish and maintain ongoing reporting of metrics for all digital marketing activities in a succinct and compelling format with key insights highlighted
- Make recommendations for improved execution and performance, and incorporate insights into subsequent campaign designs to drive improved performance.
- Manage website updates for Androvett.com, working with the team to identify content to showcase and promote.
- Remain current and informed on new offerings and interactive technologies.
- Bachelor’s degree in Marketing or Communications - or relevant degree in related field.
- 3-5 years in an agency or in-house creative environment, concepting, creating and managing digital marketing projects.
- Hands-on experience with day-to-day execution of email marketing:
- Knowledge of best practices for email marketing, including email creative, segmentation, dynamic content, testing methodologies, deliverability, list growth, etc.
- Experience working with web analytics tools (preferably Google Analytics).
- Familiarity with CAN SPAM regulations.
- Print production.
- Law firm or other professional services experience.
- Ability to think conceptually and globally about projects and brands as a whole.
- Excellent organizational and project management skills: able to work on multiple projects, reprioritize as needed, and consistently deliver on time.
- Ability to anticipate potential project problems and dependencies, and can effectively implement solutions or contingency plans.
- Knowledge of relevant Web Content Management systems and HTML.
- Strong technical knowledge of website management, SEM, SEO, rich media, direct email.
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills.
- Working understanding of all facets of web development including strategy, planning/discovery, definition/requirements, design, development/production, implementation, quality assurance and deployment/launch.
- Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver).
- PC proficiency in MS Excel, Word and PowerPoint.
- Very detail-oriented. Self-starter and pro-active.
- Strong client-service skills.
- Salary commensurate with experience.
- Benefits including Medical, Dental and Vision.
- Paid vacation.
- A 401k program is also available.
- A casual work environment with a well-stocked pantry of snacks.
- Free parking.
Androvett Legal Media and Marketing is a full-service marketing firm working primarily with lawyers, law firms and their clients. We also represent clients in the areas of energy, retail, construction, education and government, among others. Founded in 1995, we specialize in public relations, advertising, marketing, brand strategy, web and developing positive relationships with members of the news media.
See our work at http://www.androvett.com/marketing-gallery/websites/
Send resume to firstname.lastname@example.org
April 15, 2014 by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:45:00 am
It’s been really interesting to be on the other side of a news story. That means helping clients provide careful answers to aggressive reporters while also maintaining client confidentiality.
Are there parallels or similarities with your previous experience that you didn’t anticipate?
I’m a little surprised at the diversity of the issues we deal with at Androvett, which is similar to the variety of news I used to confront every day. Also, I am enjoying the familiarity of an editor role – working with lawyers on articles or press releases in what almost feels like an editor-reporter relationship.
Where do you see your lengthy experience as a journalist being most helpful to Androvett clients?
I know how to find a story and how to pitch it to a reporter or editor. It might be something for TV, a local newspaper, a national website, or a narrow-interest trade publication. But there is an audience for almost every subject. Plus, I know a lot of reporters and editors working in newsrooms across the country, and that is useful to our clients. Also, having directed news coverage of everything from the Branch Davidian standoff to missions to Mars to genetic discoveries, I’m not afraid of the unfamiliar. I know how to translate complex or obscure matters into something that’s more easily understood.
What have you worked on recently that you’ve found particularly fulfilling?
I helped a client attract major media attention to a very sad case that deserved to be in the spotlight. It was a tragedy in which a young man died, and I think his family found some comfort in the fact that others cared about it. Hopefully they will benefit from the result of that case. I also have had success helping clients get published in some prominent legal publications by making the pitch and then editing the material. I enjoy collaborating and brainstorming with clients, and it’s not so different from the kind of thing you do in a newsroom.
What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I grew up in Burlington, Oklahoma, a town so small that in sixth-grade social studies class we conducted our own census. We didn’t even have to leave the room. We just named the families house-by-house while Miss Neff tallied them up on the blackboard.
April 11, 2014 by Dave Moore at 12:00:00 am
In a recent interview published in the Dallas Business Journal, Dallas trial lawyer Bill Chamblee explained the 76 percent spike in the number of cases before the Texas Medical Board.
Chamblee, who handles cases on behalf of physicians facing actions before the Texas Medical Board, says that when Texas passed laws that capped noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, it also expanded the enforcement powers of the state.
The Dallas Business Journal’s Bill Hethcock writes:
Once tort reform passed, measures such as a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages took away plaintiff’s lawyers’ financial incentive to pursue cases, Chamblee added.
“Even though a plaintiff’s attorney today might believe there was negligence on the part of a health care provider, the economics aren’t there to pursue it,” he [Chamblee] said. “So the plaintiff’s lawyer will tell the client, 'The only real avenue is to file a board complaint.’”
Texas isn’t alone in this phenomenon. Other states that implemented tort reform, including California, Florida and others, have seen an increase in medical board complaints and investigations as well, said Chamblee, managing partner of Chamblee, Ryan, Kershaw & Anderson.
The winners in this sea change?
“Tort reform primarily — not exclusively, but primarily — benefited health care professionals,” Chamblee told Hethcock.
March 19, 2014 by Dave Moore at 12:00:00 am
He said/she said legal cases are among the hardest for jurors and judges.
When a verdict is handed down, there can be nagging doubt: Is the wrong person being punished in this case? With the increasing use of portable audio and video technology, such doubts are evaporating in disputes involving traffic stops. A good recent example of how audio and visual evidence can change the legal dynamic is the dashcam video taken from a March 13, 2013, traffic stop in Electra, Texas (2010 population 2,791).
The video – which has logged more than 200,000 views on YouTube – has become a symbol of abuse of power in small-town police departments to many.
"The police officers in the video used coarse language and ordered the person they were investigating to be silent, and they refused to answer his questions,” says Dallas criminal defense attorney John R. Teakell, who has more than 25 years of trial experience. “The prosecutor had to consider how that behavior looked and the case likely was dropped for that reason. In the Electra traffic stop, the dashcam became an equalizer.
The case wasn't going to be about the word of two police officers versus the man they were questioning. It was about what the camera captured."
As audio and video surveillance becomes more prevalent in American society, it’s likely the amount of such evidence will continue to grow for courts.
March 7, 2014 by Robert Tharp at 4:10:00 pm
KTRK-TV in Houston recently piggybacked on the popularity of ABC’s hit show “Scandal” by seeking out a real-life local example of the show’s brilliant fixer, Olivia Pope. They found her in Androvett Legal Media’s own Mary Flood.
In a segment that aired on the opening night of the show’s new season, KTRK’s Melanie Lawson spoke with Mary about the show (she’s a big fan), the challenges of crisis-related public relations, and how her real-world professional life differs from what viewers see on “Scandal.”
While Mary hasn’t had to deal with any PR-crises involving dead bodies (yet), she routinely helps clients navigate the media gauntlet. The stakes can be high, often involving professional reputations or critical business conflicts and criminal or ethical questions. Discretion is at a premium here, so anyone wanting juicy stories will have to stick to “Scandal.”
Those who find themselves in a jam listen to Mary because she has the professional bona fides – she’s a Harvard-trained lawyer and a former nationally respected news reporter – but also because she doesn’t put any shellac on her advice.
“We find out what the true story is, and we remind them that you never, ever, ever lie,” she tells KTRK.
A full list of our crisis-communications advice can be found here.
March 4, 2014 by Robert Tharp at 3:30:00 pm
Business analysts are expecting a jump in the number of H-1B visa applications filed this year by U.S. companies trying to fill coveted science, technology and engineering jobs. As many as 160,000 or more foreign-worker visa applications are expected when the H-1B visa filing season begins April 1. While job offers are plentiful, the H-1B applicants will be vying for 85,000 available visas this year. Businesses must seek the visas because U.S. universities are simply not turning out enough U.S. students with these specialized skills.
“It just shows the U.S. still lags behind other countries when it comes to an emphasis on educating American-born students in computer science, math and other areas," said Dallas immigration attorney Marc Klein of Thompson & Knight in an interview with CNBC.
"So many get advanced degrees at American universities that natural-born citizens don't receive, and (which) are needed for the hard-to-fill jobs," he said. "They go home, and yet so many of them make up the number of applications to work here."
Writes CNBC: It's not just the areas of technology and science that are seeing a need for foreign-born workers in the U.S., Klein added. He said he's processing applications for jobs in accounting, advertising and architecture.
H-1B visas have been part of immigration reform talks that have stalled in Congress, with many on Capitol Hill and the business community— especially those in high-tech industries—urging the government to raise the 85,000 limit or remove it completely. With reform stalled in Congress, the quota will remain for now.
Some U.S. business leaders say they have no problem finding American-born workers for the high-tech jobs that often go to foreign nationals. However, Klein said the economics indicate otherwise.
"It's not cheap to try and get H-1B visas," he said. "Companies don't really want the expense if they can avoid it. But they're having trouble avoiding it."
February 20, 2014 by Robert Tharp at 11:28:00 am
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases next week in which businesses are seeking to recover attorney fees for the cost of defending frivolous lawsuits. The two cases – Highmark Inc v. Allcare Health Management Systems, Inc. and Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc.– ask the Court to revisit the Patent Act and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and invoke “loser pays” fee-shifting in patent disputes.
“Making fee-shifting more common in patent litigation could be one tool to help control the rise in filings from patent trolls or so-called non-practicing entities,” says intellectual property attorney Matthew Anderson of Dallas’ Munck Wilson Mandala.
Indeed, patent infringement lawsuits filed by non-practicing entities have risen sharply, costing U.S. businesses dearly. According to RPX Corporation, patent trolls in 2012 filed more than 2,900 infringement lawsuits nationwide (nearly six times higher than the number in 2006).
The cost of defending against bogus patent litigation reached $29 billion in 2011, according to a Boston University study. Lawsuits by "patent assertion companies" made up 61 percent of all patent cases filed in 2012, according to the Santa Clara University School of Law.
Meanwhile, this litigation trend is ncreasingly targeting smaller businesses. In 2005 patent trolls sued 800 small firms (those with less than $100 million annual revenue), the number growing to nearly 2,900 such firms in 2011; the median defendant's annual revenue was $10.3 million.
“Even frivolous patent lawsuits can be extremely expensive for businesses to defend against," Mr. Anderson says. "The Court here has an opportunity to expand the definition of what constitutes an ‘exceptional case’ that allows fee-shifting. A broader application of fee-shifting could discourage trolls from filing suits that are frivolous or primarily aimed at ‘shaking down’ the defendants for a quick settlement.”
January 17, 2014 by Robert Tharp at 11:55:00 am
Now that adults over age 21 in Colorado can purchase and consume marijuana without fear of prosecution under state law, hospitality industry entrepreneurs are already gearing up for a boom in what they’re calling “weed tourism.” Imagine just 5 percent of the state’s 60 million visitors testing the newly decriminalized recreational marijuana market – that’s roughly 3 million individuals that Slate describes as “wealthy old stoners” on the equivalent of a Napa Valley wine tour.
But it’s not that simple. The Colorado law creates confusion for marijuana tourists who might not realize that while smoking small amounts of marijuana will not get you arrested in Colorado, the actions may run afoul of employment policies back home. After all, evidence of a weekend of smoking weed in Colorado could still show up in employment-related blood tests 30 days later. Many job candidates and employees in certain occupations must undergo periodic drug screenings. Meanwhile, workers involved in on-the-job accidents are often required to submit to a drug test. Even if an employee isn't intoxicated at the time of the incident, a drug test that returns positive for marijuana could jeopardize a career.
"Employers everywhere should view this as an opportunity to review HR handbooks and policies to ensure that, for example, policies are crystal-clear for workers who may be subject to for-cause, post-accident or random drug tests," says employment attorney Audrey Mross of Dallas' Munck Wilson Mandala. "Making sure that workers know and understand employment policies is far preferable to being surprised by consequences that can end a career. A well-written handbook is a great medium for conveying that information."
January 10, 2014 by Robert Tharp at 1:44:00 pm
As the business world shakes off a long holiday season, the start of the New Year presents an ideal time to look forward, and reevaluate business and marketing goals. That starts broadly, not only with assessing goals and competitive positioning, but also important tasks such as ensuring that a firm's website operates properly on all mobile devices with fresh and relevant content.
"It's easy for busy firms to forget about these details, but a stale or outdated website does not create a good first impression," says Androvett Legal Media & Marketing founder Mike Androvett. "Businesses should regularly reevaluate changing business trends, positioning and visibility within the market. That doesn't have to be complicated; it starts with a disciplined and thoughtful approach." Androvett Legal Media has created a white paper outlining strategies for refreshing firm marketing materials and business development plans in 2014.
December 18, 2013 by Dave Moore at 9:30:00 am
There certainly was no shortage of angst and drama in the Texas legal scene during 2013. From the state's new restrictive abortion law taking effect to billionaire Mark Cuban escaping insider-trading charges, the Lone Star State once again was home to some of the nation's most intriguing legal news. Following is a list of the year's top Texas legal stories as determined by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing, which specializes in work for law firms and legal clients:
1. Perry signs voter ID law
After a six-year legislative battle, Gov. Rick Perry signed Texas' version of a voter ID law. Effective Oct. 21, voters now must present one of five forms of identification before they can cast a ballot. Supporters argued that the law was needed to curtail voter fraud. Opponents argued that voter fraud is rare, and that the new law's actual intention is to reduce voter turnout, mostly among Democrats.
2. Texas abortion law survives appeals
Texas' new abortion law survived a significant challenge when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in November. Shortly after an earlier injunction that blocked the law was lifted, Planned Parenthood reported 12 of Texas' 36 licensed abortion providers stopped offering abortions. The case now will be heard by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January.
3. New Chief at Supreme Court of Texas
After 25 years on the bench, Wallace Jefferson stepped down as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas in October. Gov. Rick Perry selected Nathan Hecht – who has served for 24 years on the court – as Jefferson’s successor. Hecht's appointment caused many pundits and other observers to speculate that the court won't change its pro-business stance in the near future.
4. Harris County DA Mike Anderson dies; widow appointed successor
In May 2013, after serving just five months in office, Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson announced he had cancer. Four months later, he passed away, leaving his seat vacant. Gov. Rick Perry appointed Anderson's widow, Devon Anderson, to complete her late husband's unexpired term. Anderson spent 12 years as a felony criminal court judge after serving 16 years as a prosecutor. The new DA previously worked as a criminal defense attorney and served as a state district judge.
5. American Airlines merger with US Airways approved, DOJ drops case
Air travelers breathed a collective sigh of relief in November when the Department of Justice dropped its antitrust case against American Airlines and US Airways, effectively approving the two airlines' merger. Key to the DOJ's decision were concessions by both airlines to give up gates at Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C., LaGuardia Airport in New York, and others. That compromise eased the federal government's fears that the merger will result in a monopoly.
6. First phase of the DeepWater Horizon case concludes, first criminal trial starts
Energy giant BP and its partners, Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton, went to civil trial in February on charges that they were responsible for causing one of the biggest environmental catastrophes in U.S. history. The second phase of the trial began in late September, focusing on the extent of the damage and which party/parties were responsible. The final decision could result in more than $13 billion in Clean Water Act penalties, and possibly tens of billions more in punitive damages. Earlier this month, the first criminal trial started for a former BP engineer, who faces obstruction of justice charges.
7. Jury clears Mark Cuban of insider trading
Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Mark Cuban stood his ground against the Securities Exchange Commission, which claimed he used insider information to avoid a $750,000 stock loss in one of the year's highest profile insider trading cases. Cuban’s victory lap following the October verdict was more somber than his exuberant celebration of the Mavs' World Championship in 2011. "This is a horrific example of how government does work," Cuban told reporters who gathered around him following the verdict. "I won't be bullied. I don't care if it’s the United States government."
8. Houston-area judges under fire
It would be an understatement to say that 2013 was a bad year for Houston-area judges. County Court-at-Law Judge Christopher Dupuy resigned after pleading guilty to abuse of office and perjury. Houston federal Judge Lynn Hughes and Judge Edith Jones of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals both came under fire for racially-charged comments. And Harris County Family Law Judge Denise Pratt was accused of falsifying court records.
9. Enron's Jeff Skilling’s sentence reduced, appeals end
The vestiges of the Enron collapse continued to wash ashore in Texas courts in 2013. In June, a federal judge trimmed 10 years from the 24-year sentence for Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling, saying trial Judge Sim Lake erred in determining Skilling's sentence. The resentencing will free up about $41 million in assets from Skilling's estate to be distributed to victims of the fraud. This includes about $3 million from the sale of a Dallas condominium and a Houston home Skilling owned, funds from bank accounts, and $5 million he posted as bond when he was first indicted.
10. Lance Armstrong admits drug lies, unleashes torrent of litigation
Embracing the newfound American tradition of "televised confession makes everything OK," Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah Winfrey on national television that he'd lied for 10 years about being drug free when he racked up seven Tour de France victories. Soon after his January confession, former Armstrong sponsors started lining up to claim that the disgraced athlete committed fraud when he accepted their money while claiming to be clean. Among those is the U.S. Postal Service, which seeks $100 million.
11. Kaufman County district attorneys assassinated
First, Kaufman County assistant district attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down in broad daylight near the county courthouse. That case was still unsolved when Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, fell in a hail of gunfire in their own home two months later. The horrific murders sparked rumors that white supremacists were waging open war against the Texas legal community before authorities arrested former Kaufman County Justice of the Peace Eric Williams and his wife, Kim, on murder charges. Investigators believe the hits were in retaliation for Williams' dismissal from his JP job for allegedly stealing county property.
12. Brownsville courthouse corruption
A multi-year federal investigation into corruption at the Cameron County courthouse led to the December sentencing of Austin attorney Marc Rosenthal to 20 years in prison for racketeering and bribery. Former state district Judge Abel Limas also began serving his six-year prison sentence in December for racketeering. Limas' cooperation with federal authorities led to guilty pleas and convictions of numerous defendants, including former Cameron County District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos, who was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, and five counts of extortion.
13. Michael Morton Law to take effect
It was a nightmare scenario worthy of a Hollywood script: After serving 25 years for murdering his wife, Michael Morton was freed from prison after it was revealed that his trial prosecutor had buried evidence of his innocence. In the intervening years, Morton's prosecutor, Ken Anderson, became judge of the 277th District Court in Williamson County. Anderson eventually was charged with contempt of court over his misdeeds, earning him 10 days in jail, a nominal fine, 500 hours of community service and loss of his law license. On Jan. 1, the Michael Morton Act will require prosecutors in criminal cases to disclose all evidence in their files to defense lawyers.
December 12, 2013 by Robert Tharp at 12:15:00 pm
Benjamin Stewart, who recently joined the Dallas complex commercial litigation boutique Bailey Brauer PLLC, joined KLIF-AM’s Kurt Gilchrist to talk about the ongoing kerfuffle between Snuffer’s Restaurant and Pat Snuffer, the restaurant’s former owner.
Mr. Snuffer, who lost control of the Snuffer’s name after Snuffer’s Restaurants filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, planned to open a new Snuffer’s in the original lower Greenville Ave. location. However, the new owner of Snuffer’s Restaurants, Firebird Restaurant Group, demanded that Mr. Snuffer stop using the Snuffer’s name. Consequently, Mr. Snuffer changed the name of his new restaurant to Pat’s Burgers & Cheddar Fries. Problem solved, right?
Snuffer’s Restaurants then filed suit and obtained a TRO against Mr. Snuffer to prevent Pat’s from opening.
The lawsuit makes many complaints against Mr. Snuffer, but the toughest one to prove may be the trademark and trade dress violation claims, said Mr. Stewart, whose extensive litigation experience includes claims made in conjunction with bankruptcy proceedings.
“The Snuffer’s brand isn’t as well-known as some of the others,” he explained, referencing McDonald’s Golden Arches and the brown background and distinctive blue font on a Snickers candy bar wrapper. “You know what a McDonald’s looks like. When you drive past those arches, you know . . . Snuffer’s hasn’t reached that level.”
Neither Mr. Stewart nor Bailey Brauer PLLC are involved in the Snuffer’s litigation.
November 25, 2013 by Dave Moore at 3:50:00 pm
The forced relocation of Native American tribes from their ancestral homes in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee in the 1830s is considered by many to be among the most shameful chapters in American history. Suffering from exposure, disease and starvation, thousands died along the “Trail of Tears” en route to present-day Oklahoma.
Given the tragic connection, the run-through banner the cheerleaders from Alabama’s McAdory High School displayed at a recent football playoff game was especially troubling. Facing the Pinson Valley Indians, the sign’s message was “Hey Indians, Get Ready to Leave in a Trail of Tears.”
The principal at McAdory issued an immediate apology, claiming that the squad’s sponsor who is tasked with reviewing banner content was out on maternity leave and that role unintentionally had gone unfilled.
Dallas attorney Tom Brandt of Fanning Harper Martinson Brandt & Kutchin, P.C. cites the McAdory controversy as a clear example of why school districts need to have the authority to oversee what signs are displayed at school-sponsored events. Brandt represents Kountze ISD in ongoing litigation involving the right of approval for that district's banners after its cheerleaders began using Christian themes for their spirit signs.
"If a district loses the right to review and approve school-sponsored messaging, it opens the door to situations such as what happened in McAdory," he says. "In Alabama, the district has acknowledged that the absence of adequate district oversight helped create a situation where a glaringly offensive message was brought to the football field."
November 15, 2013 by Dave Moore at 2:00:00 pm
Scientists, social scientists and journalists have used mapping for decades in attempts to make sense of investigative data. Perhaps most famously, physician John Snow used the technique in the 1850s to locate the source of a cholera epidemic in London.
Most recently and locally, NBC5 investigative reporter Scott Friedman used TxDOT data to map drunken driving clusters in North Texas. His data showed a concentration of drunken-driving accidents near the Dallas Cowboys’ and the Texas Rangers stadiums in Arlington.
While Friedman’s investigation proved inconclusive as to locating the businesses that might be involved in creating the drunken-driving cluster, Fort Worth personal injury attorney Steven C. Laird asks the pivotal question of the story: "Is this a question that really doesn't want to be asked because some people may be afraid of the answer?"
Having represented victims of drunken driving accidents in the past, and having a thorough knowledge of Texas' dram shop laws, Mr. Laird has demonstrated in court that the State of Texas makes establishments legally liable for over-serving patrons. In one DUI case, he helped obtain a $1 million judgment for the family of a drunken driving victim (click http://bit.ly/17sIiXk for more details).
While what’s driving the DUI crash “hot spots” near the stadiums in Arlington remains a mystery, it’s good to know that courts still hold businesses accountable for over-serving patrons.
October 15, 2013 by Amy Hunt at 11:04:00 am
If you’re a divorced parent receiving child support payments, you might be getting a little more money now than you did a few months ago. That’s thanks to the Texas Legislature updating the Texas Family Code with changes that took effect Sept. 1.
"This could mean an extra $210 a month for one child, which is a lot to parents struggling to make ends meet,” says Brad LaMorgese, a partner in the Dallas Family Law boutique McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing, L.L.P. "Of course, there are possible exceptions to the child support guidelines, so be sure to talk to your attorney if your needs exceed those envisioned by the Family Code.”
There has long been a cap on the amount of income the parent paying child support must pay. Before Sept. 1, the cap was $7,500 a month. Using the standard percentage formula under child support guidelines, that meant the most a parent would pay in support for one child would be 20 percent of $7,500, or $1,500 a month. The updated cap is now $8,550, meaning a parent paying child support for one child could now pay up to $1,710, 20 percent of $8,550.
Under the guidelines, 5 percent is added for each child with a maximum of up to 40 percent for five or more children. (It’s important to note that adjustments can be made if the non-custodial parent has children from other marriages or relationships.)
October 10, 2013 by Amy Hunt at 10:30:00 am
A May 2013 ruling by the Texas Supreme Court temporarily put a chill up the collective spine of the Texas Family Law bar when the court declared in Tedder v. Aldrich that attorney fees and expenses in a divorce case shouldn’t be considered part of one spouse’s statutory requirement to support the other while the divorce is pending.
Traditionally, Texas courts have considered such expenses to be “necessaries” and often ordered one of the parties to pay them. The Tedder ruling, however, meant that those fees would no longer fall under the heading of “necessaries.” That opened up the possibility that they could end up being the responsibility of the lesser-earning spouse, who may not have the money to pay them.
Fortunately, the Texas Legislature was in session when the high court handed down its ruling and amended the Family Code to say that such expenses may be included as “necessaries,” thus restoring balance to the universe. Kind of.
"We're glad the Legislature and Gov. Perry addressed the availability of legal fees in divorce, but the courts still have a lot of discretion to order – or not order – legal fees to be paid," says Brad LaMorgese, a partner in the Dallas Family Law boutique McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing, L.L.P. "Unless a premarital agreement says otherwise, legal fees should be considered 'necessary.'"
October 1, 2013 by Dave Moore at 12:00:00 am
Big Tex – the symbol of the State Fair of Texas – was publically unveiled Thursday, a day earlier than planned. Intense winds actually caused the premature premiere, according to media accounts.
Big Tex 2.0 was scheduled to be unveiled on opening day of the State Fair. But due to high winds, and the size of the tarp, covering him, as a precaution, State Fair officials unveiled him early. The new size of Big Tex is: 55ft high, and weighs 25,000 pounds. Big Tex has had a facelift and looks 25 years younger and more cartoonish.
Dallas real estate attorney Marc Fanning says the early unveiling calls further attention to the vulnerability of – and need for properly insuring – all possessions, even reborn 55-foot-tall cowboy statues.
“Like all property owners, the State Fair organization should insure their prized possessions in an appropriate amount to cover repair or replacement in the event of a catastrophe,” says Fanning, a director in the Dallas office of Fanning Harper Martinson Brandt & Kutchin, P.C.
A little less than a year ago, Big Tex’s predecessor was engulfed in a fiery inferno caused by a mechanical failure. Fair organizers were reportedly reimbursed approximately $155,000 through insurance coverage toward the estimated replacement cost of $500,000 estimated replacement cost of the new Big Tex. Donations gladly poured in to make up the difference. “The campaign to generate donations to build the new Big Tex – who will make his debut this weekend – was brilliant, but fair leaders can't continue to rely on the kindness of strangers.”
September 5, 2013 by Robert Tharp at 11:00:00 am
In the East Texas town of Kountze, a district court judge ruled that it is not unlawful to post Biblical references on spirit banners inside the taxpayer-funded school’s walls, although the legal basis for ruling was not clear. Meanwhile in Georgia, posters highlighting a particularly provocative line from Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible,” are drawing nationwide attention and complaints that the line “God is Dead” is religiously offensive.
The two cases underscore how the mixing of religious messages inside public schools remains far from resolved legally. And until judicial clarity arrives, school administrators should be prepared for unpopular decisions that may upset all sides.
"Although the law regarding student speech continues to be unclear, the safest course of action for the school district is to let the artwork remain," says Dallas attorney Tom Brandt of Fanning Harper Martinson Brandt & Kutchin, P.C., who represents Kountze ISD. "It may not be popular, but given the current status of the law regarding student speech, it is the safest thing to do."
August 6, 2013 by Dave Moore at 12:00:00 am
The successful public offering of Fort Worth-based Athlon Energy Inc. (NYSE: ATHL) demonstrates the importance of attracting savvy investors early on, Dallas attorney Phil Whitcomb recently told the Dallas Business Journal. Upon review of the company’s filings, Whitcomb noted to the publication that Athlon has drawn the backing of noted Apollo Global Management, which has a strong track record of success.
DBJ reporter Nicholas Sakelaris notes:
Whitcomb studied the company’s revenues, assets and business plan and said Athlon is poised to do well through 2013. The so-called conventional wells are cheaper to drill than the unconventional horizontal wells that have become the rage in recent years. Athlon has identified 3,857 potential vertical drilling locations and another 931 locations that could be targeted with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Whitcomb, who specializes in corporate securities and private equity in the Dallas office of Shackelford, Melton & McKinley, told Sakelaris: “They’re going to generate a good amount of cash. They’ve got a great underwriting certificate.”
While predicting how an IPO will do can be difficult (ask anyone at Facebook), Athlon’s successful launch wasn’t just a roll of the dice.
July 22, 2013 by Robert Tharp at 3:00:00 pm
A large swath of the Midwest and East Coast remains in the throes of an epic heat wave, sending residents in search of relief and creating special challenges for employers. The tri-state area in particular is hard hit, with LaGuardia Airport this week reporting all-time high temps of 100 degrees.
Writes MSNBC: In many cases the temperature has become too hot to handle. Employees at a New York City McDonald’s walked out after having worked without air conditioning. In Jersey City, N.J., over 25 firefighters had to be treated for heat exhaustion after battling a blaze in the sweltering weather.
With such dangerously hot temperatures come new considerations for employers, says Audrey Mross, who leads the labor and employment practice at Munck Wilson Mandala in Dallas.
OSHA requirements call on employers to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards, and that includes extreme heat. To make things easier, OSHA now has a "Heat Safety Tool" app with a heat-risk index calculator. Then, there's the other kind of workplace heat. "Plain and simple – some clothing is fine for a night out, but inappropriate at work," says Mross. "It's always a good idea to remind people about any dress code requirements you've established in order to maintain the proper professional appearance in the workplace."
July 19, 2013 by Robert Tharp at 2:30:00 pm
The tragic 2010 death of a University of Mississippi football player is leading to fundamental changes in the way the NCAA and member universities regulate the workouts of student athletes. The changes are part of a settlement related to the death of Bennie "Buster" Abram, a junior defensive backwho collapsed and died on the first day of spring practice in 2010.
According to the lawsuit, the university failed to follow workout guidelines for Abram, who had sickle cell trait, which can deform red blood cells after strenuous exercise. As a result of the settlement, the sports medicine staff at NCAA schools now have “unchallengeable authority” to cancel or modify athletics workouts based on safety concerns.
Writes the Associated Press:
The NCAA made sickle cell trait testing mandatory for all Division I athletes in 2010, though carrying the trait does not prevent an athlete from playing sports. The NCAA has a set of guidelines for institutions to follow regarding the training of athletes with sickle cell trait, including a "slow and gradual" preseason conditioning regimen and for athletes to "stop immediately upon struggling."
The lawsuit alleged that the first day of workouts was "carelessly and recklessly excessive," especially for athletes with sickle cell trait. It also claims there was no evidence Abram was informed of his condition, and that he didn't receive proper medical attention when he began struggling during the workouts, and was instead pushed to continue.
Sickle cell trait is found in approximately 8 percent of African-Americans in the United States, according to the NCAA.
Believed to be the leading killer of Division I football players, the condition has been linked to at least nine deaths among college athletes since 2000.
"This settlement is another step in raising awareness of the dangers of sickle cell trait among athletes, and helping prevent tragic deaths such as Buster's," says The Lanier Law Firm's Gene Egdorf, who represents the Abram family along with Merrida "Buddy" Coxwell and Charles R. "Chuck" Mullins of Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, in Jackson, Miss. "We are pleased that Ole Miss and the NCAA stepped up and settled this matter in a way that honors Buster's memory and will help save lives in the future."
July 17, 2013 by Susan Wheat at 12:00:00 am
When thinking of animal rights groups, the obvious example that comes to mind is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). However, PETA has recently come under fire after investigations into their shelter, based in Norfolk, Va., revealed astoundingly high euthanasia rates. According to an article published in The New York Times , PETA euthanized 2,000 dogs and cats last year, while facilitating only 19 adoptions.
The current trend in animal welfare programs across the country has shifted to a “no kill” standard, in which shelters avoid euthanizing animals barring extenuating circumstances. In order to achieve “no kill” status, cities must save 90 percent of shelter animals. One of the leading cities in the “no kill” movement is Austin, which is the largest city in the country to reach this standing.
"If a handful of people in Austin can change everything for their community's homeless pets, anyone dedicated to change can do the same," says Ryan Clinton, an Austin-based appellate attorney at Hankinson LLP, who is largely responsible for Austin's No Kill initiative. To help other communities achieve no kill success, Clinton led four presentations during the national No Kill Conference last weekend in Washington, D.C.
While most shelters have embraced this system, PETA has remained one of the stragglers, maintaining that its shelter is one of “last resort” and that some of the animals there are better off dead due to overcrowding and depletion of lifestyle.
"You don't have to reinvent the wheel," Clinton says. "But you do have to reject the excuses of public officials, established shelter leadership, and groups such as PETA, who cling to the status quo of killing despite readily available alternatives."
July 9, 2013 by Erin Dooley at 12:00:00 am
Eminent trial attorneys Clayton Bailey and Alexander Brauer recently launched Bailey Brauer PLLC, a new Dallas law firm that focuses on complex commercial litigation, agribusiness, appeals, and class and collective actions.
Prior to opening their own firm, Bailey and Brauer worked together at Baker & McKenzie, where they won a precedent-setting en banc opinion from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that cemented the law protecting the agribusiness industry from frivolous claims filed under the Packers and Stockyards Act.
They also convinced the Mississippi Supreme Court to reverse and remand a jury verdict of nearly $1.65 million to a contractor who was injured on the job, obtained a summary judgment against RICO claims seeking millions of dollars in damages, and defeated multiple, significant claims leveled against one of the country’s largest poultry companies.
The duo believes their work at Baker & McKenzie left them well prepared to lead their own firm.
“Together, we proved our mettle at one of the world’s largest law firms,” Bailey said. “And we will continue to deliver that kind of sophisticated, aggressive, and creative work at Bailey Brauer.”
Brauer says they’re also committed to providing cost-effective, quality legal counsel.
“Our clients are getting big-firm expertise without big-firm overhead,” said Brauer. “We also have more flexibility to enter into alternative billing arrangements,” he adds.
Clients aren’t the only ones that appreciate the pair’s skills. Bailey has twice been selected for inclusion in Texas Super Lawyers and was highlighted as the “Appellate Lawyer of the Week” by Texas Lawyer. A cum laude graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Brauer is a four-time honoree on Texas Super Lawyers’ list of “Rising Stars.”
More information can be found at www.baileybrauer.com.
June 19, 2013 by Susan Wheat at 12:00:00 am
Summer is here, and for kids that means one thing: school is out! However, for parents this means a whole new schedule. While the change in children’s activities (or more likely, lack there-of) is a difficult adjustment for any parent to make, it can be especially difficult for newly divorced parents dealing with joint custody arrangements.
Joint custody agreements follow a specific set of rules when school is in session, but once that final bell rings in June, some of those rules become a little more difficult to follow. Who gets the kids on the 4th of July? What about when you want to take them on vacation for a week or two? These questions become much more common when free time becomes more available and schedules are more loosely defined.
“It's always a good idea to notify the other parent of your vacation plans or if those plans change,” says Huffington Post blogger Liz Mandarano. “If for some reason or another you have decided not to tell the other parent of your plans, be prepared for the other parent to possibly bring legal action against you.”
Newly divorced parents need to be especially careful when making assumptions about leeway during the summer. "Generally, the non-primary parent should get 30 days of uninterrupted visitation, but that parent should still get the first, third and fifth weekend of the other months," " says San Antonio divorce lawyer Amber Liddell Alwais, a partner in the Family Law firm McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing L.L.P. "The typical Thursday night visitation, however, probably doesn't apply.”
She says divorced parents need to look over their possession orders carefully and make any specific decisions in advance. "You're not stuck with the standard possession order," Alwais says. "If there are days that are important to you, tell your lawyer and get them negotiated into your possession order."
So if July 4th is your favorite holiday, or if you want to ensure that annual summer visit to Grandma’s, it is possible, as long as you walk the fine line of summer custody with care.
June 18, 2013 by Erin Dooley at 2:19:00 pm
Consumers download over four million mobile health apps daily, Mobi Health News reports. Most people view these apps as convenient and effective healthcare alternatives. However, they may not be as foolproof as they seem. In fact, many haven’t received proper FDA approval.
While some apps simply track health habits, others purportedly perform diagnostic assessments. For as little as 99 cents (plus the price of attachments), patients can purchase apps that monitor blood pressure, test blood sugar, and even perform EKGs.
Some sources estimate that by 2017, these mobile health aids will significantly reduce hospital visits, saving consumers more than $400 billion.
Trouble is, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can’t seem to keep pace with the medical app onslaught. Despite the potential for misuse, it’s only after the problematic apps are released via Apple’s App Store that they’re identified as system violations.
“It raises an interesting problem when Apple can approve an app before the FDA is certain it meets its guidelines,” Wired blogger Michael Copland writes. “The future has arrived…. The FDA needs to catch up.”
The FDA has just begun to identify and examine offending apps. Its first target was uChek, a free app that supposedly analyses urinalysis test strips to estimate patients’ glucose, protein, leukocyte and nitrite levels.
The FDA doesn’t claim the app is defective or misleading. Rather, it says that the creators should have submitted the device to a more rigorous approval and post-market surveillance program. The app, the FDA says, should have been registered as a Class II medical device, which poses minimal – but actual –risk to patients if misused. The creators claim it’s a Class I device, which implies that improper use presents virtually no patient risk.
In a letter to uChek, FDA administrators explained, “though the types of urinalysis dipsticks you reference for use with your application are cleared, they are only cleared when interpreted by direct visual reading. Since your app allows a mobile phone to analyze the dipsticks, the phone… requires new clearance as part of the test system.”
Though the FDA strives to promote mobile health innovation, it recognizes the need to “narrowly” and “judiciously” regulate an industry that some believe may soon spin out of control.
"The FDA is smart to step into this relationship now, while casual in the U.S., to provide necessary guidance to help keep the public safe," says Houston attorney Maura Kolb from The Lanier Law Firm. “But as these types of smart apps are developed, they will likely attract the attention of Big Pharma and medical device manufacturers, who have shown time and time again that hiding information from the FDA is something they are capable of and willing to do."
June 18, 2013 by Erin Dooley at 12:00:00 am
After nearly 30 years as an attorney, Dennis R. Burrows' vision – and his passion for the legal profession – were both waning. But when his son, Dustin Burrows, joined his father at the McCleskey, Harriger, Brazill & Graf law firm in 2002, it rekindled Dennis’ commitment to the law.
“I was pretty much burned out,” Dennis told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “It’s been fun and exciting since…he came along.”
An article on the front page of the Avalanche-Journal’s Father’s Day edition describes how Dennis helped Dustin navigate the courtroom and advised him on the complexities of commercial and personal injury litigation. Former amateur fishermen, the father-son duo began to bond over their cases instead of their catches.
“My best memories over the past 10 years are sitting in a hotel room with my father, plotting and planning about what we are going to do during the next day of trial,” Dustin recalls.
As Dennis’ sight deteriorated further, Dustin took over some of his father’s responsibilities. According to the June 16th Avalanche-Journal article, Dustin now handles jury selection, reviews long documents and drives his father to and from work each day. He even downloaded a screen reader so that his dad could listen to memos via computer.
Dennis believes his declining vision – and his son’s singular ability to anticipate his needs in court – may have hastened Dustin’s legal success. Indeed, Dustin was recently named to Thompson Reuter’s list of “Rising Stars” in the legal profession.
But more rewarding than that, Dustin says, is partnering with his dad.
And with his son by his side, Dennis swears, he won’t stop lawyering anytime soon.
June 13, 2013 by Erin Dooley at 12:00:00 am
The 5th Circuit has spoken: lactation is related to pregnancy and childbirth.
But one judge wasn’t so sure.
In a 2012 ruling, District Judge Lynn Hughes dismissed a workplace discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a working mother who was fired after requesting to pump breast milk during business hours. Because lactation is “not a condition related to pregnancy and childbirth,” Hughes reasoned, a Houston collections company’s dismissal of the mother, Donnicia Venters, did not constitute sex discrimination.
“My 4-year-old understands basic biology better than some judges,” remarked ACLU blogger Galen Sherwin, who claimed the company blatantly tried to force Venters to choose between her career and her baby’s wellbeing.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that lactation bias shouldn’t be tolerated. In an opinion filed in May 2013, the appellate court reversed Judge Hughes’ dismissal, citing several medical dictionaries and asserting that because “lactation is initiated by pregnancy,” firing a woman based on her pumping habits violates the Civil Rights Act’s Title VII, which protects employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Venters’ case may now proceed to trial.
"The District Court's decision seemed to strain credibility, as this certainly fits the standard needed to bring a sexual discrimination case,” she said. “However, given the conservative nature of the 5th Circuit, it still came as somewhat of a surprise to some that the appeals court sided with the employee. This decision is a strong indication of the general opinion on this issue, and certainly bolsters the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's view that addressing pregnancy-related discrimination should be a national priority."
June 5, 2013 by Robert Tharp at 4:30:00 pm
For the fifth year straight, federal FLSA lawsuits involving wage-and-hour disputes are on the rise. In fact, filings are up 10 percent, according to published reports. Brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the claims typically involve salaried employees who believe they’re owed overtime pay or hourly workers who content hey weren’t paid for all of the hours worked. Communication trends and mobile technology are also playing a role in the trend, says employment attorney Mark Shank of Dallas' Gruber Hurst Johansen Hail Shank LLP.
These are cases alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and typically fall under three categories: salaried employees claiming they are owed overtime pay, hourly workers who claim they weren’t paid for all of their hours, and restaurant workers who claim they weren’t given additional pay to make up for when tips didn’t bring their overall pay to the minimum wage.
Violations of wage and hour laws have become widespread in today’s economy. Sixty-eight percent of low-wage workers interviewed for a report in 2009 said they had experienced a pay violation in the previous work week, including 26 percent who were paid under the minimum wage and 76 percent who didn’t receive overtime pay. Suits have similarly risen, jumping 400 percent in the last decade. And they’ve seen a surge during the recession in particular as employers cut corners looking to cut costs.
"A fundamental problem for employers is that the FLSA, which was adopted in the 1930s, doesn't fit today's world of cellphones, PDAs, email and telecommuting," says Mr. Shank. "This virtual workplace makes it much more difficult for employers and employees to comply with the strict letter of the law, so it's not surprising that the number of claims continues to rise."
May 29, 2013 by Erin Dooley at 9:40:00 am
Bombarded with voicemails, emails, faxes, texts and tweets, many businesspeople are hoping to cut down on digital clutter.
A recent New York Times blog post suggests that professionals simply eliminate social niceties. Gestures like saying “hello” in an email, sending a thank-you note, or leaving a voicemail have become passé – disrespectful, even – according to the blog.
“Of course, some people might think me the rude one for not appreciating life’s little courtesies,” author Nick Bilton admits. “But many social norms just don’t make sense to people drowning in digital communication.”
Though commenters have lamented Bilton’s lack of civility and even called him a “digital jerk,” he makes a valid point: though (or perhaps because) we’re constantly plugged into technology, we can’t keep up with it. And in a sea of digital messages, we need to find a way to stay afloat.
We’ve all been the author of important emails that remained unopened in a recipient’s inbox or voicemails that went unanswered.
Bilton suggests that rather than leave repeated voicemail messages urging colleagues to respond to an old email, people should respect colleagues’ time by communicating via text or tweet – or not at all.
Cut the fluff, he opines. Eliminate the niceties and stick to essential information only.
But while some may appreciate Bilton’s efforts at brevity, others may be offended by impersonal texts or 140-character tweets. Worse still, they may be put off by what some call techno-elitism, the assumption that everyone wants to use (or can pay for) advanced technology.
The solution may be simple. Ask your coworkers which method of communication they’d prefer. Then, mimic their communication style. If they include email salutations and send snail mail, it’s likely they value traditional decorum. If their emails are succinct, chances are, they’d prefer yours be brief too.
May 24, 2013 by Robert Tharp at 10:40:00 am
A bill that would give property owners a streamlined way to finance conservation and clean energy improvements is headed for Texas Governor Rick Perry’s desk.
Known as PACE(Property Assessed Clean Energy), the legislation is designed to provide an innovative and market-based solution to overcome one of the most vexing hurdles for achieving widespread investment in energy efficiency projects for existing structures – obtaining low-cost and long-term financing for conservation projects. Under the bills sponsored by Rep. Jim Keffer in the House and Sen. John Carona in the Senate, owners of commercial and industrial buildings could finance the cost of conservation upgrades for up to 20 years in cities or counties that create the special financing program.
The loan is then attached to the property, rather than the owner, and can be transferred if the property is sold. PACE loans can be issued by city or county financing districts or financial institutions, such as banks.The bill cleared both the Texas House and Senate earlier this month with unanimous votes.
Writes the Austin American-Statesman: The loans are repaid through special property tax assessments. If the property is sold before the loan is repaid, the repayment obligation automatically transfers to the next owner because the lien securing the tax assessment follows title to the property.
The program is expected to allow for the upgrade and enhancement of existing structures, provide substantial water and energy cost savings, and create thousands of jobs statewide. A non-profit association organized by attorneys at Thompson & Knight assisted in the legislative effort. "A PACE assessment will have the same legal status as a lien for ad valorem taxes," says Stephen Block, a partner in the Houston office of Thompson & Knight. "Because the lien will attach to the land, property owners will be obligated to pay only the portion of the cost that accrues during its period of ownership."
May 17, 2013 by Dave Moore at 2:45:00 pm
The Internal Revenue Service’s apparent targeting of tax-exempt conservative groups has set both Republicans and Democrats on a mission to get to the bottom of what’s happening at the agency.
If political biases were in play at the IRS, or even in the Oval Office, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.
Political consultant Chris Gober says the reports of the IRS’ apparent selective treatment of conservative political groups are symptoms of a larger problem within the federal government’s tax-collection office.
"The IRS is aware that it also has a problem with its employees illegally disclosing pending applications and donors, having reached out to those who were victims of the improper disclosure,” says Gober of Gober Hilgers PLLC. “But they have not taken steps to quell the fears of further disclosures. Nor have they been completely upfront when saying no targeted applications were denied, as they have not released the number actually approved."
While Steven Miller, the agency’s acting commissioner was forced to resign in the wake of the scandal, it’s possible more heads will roll before all the dust settles.
May 15, 2013 by Robert Tharp at 10:30:00 am
Like voting, the call of jury duty is one of those widely underappreciated privileges of citizenship. In courthouses across the country, judges often have a difficult time getting enough qualified jurors to show up for any given trial.
If anything, a bill making its way through the California legislature is prompting a reexamination of our cavalier attitude about jury service. The proposed bill would expand the jury service privilege to allow permanent legal residents – those living in the U.S. legally but who are not citizens. While this may appear to be a practical solution to the problem of dwindling jury pool numbers, it represents a dilution of the responsibilities of citizenship, says Brian Hail of Dallas' Gruber Hurst Johansen Hail Shank.
"As someone who regularly tries cases before juries, it concerns me to see what could be an erosion of the rights and importance of citizenship," he says. "To serve on a jury is to serve as a representative of your country. To be judged by those without true ownership – citizenship – seems fundamentally contrary to our nation's founding principles."
The proposal is prompting a necessary debate about jury service. Writes the LA Times: Jury service is not burdensome drudge work imposed by an overbearing government on an unwilling citizenry. Nor is it a favor that citizens do for their courts. To the contrary, it is a citizen's chief means of oversight on the judicial branch, allowing him or her not merely to help rule on the facts of a particular case but to keep tabs on the judge, the prosecutors, the public defenders and the court system itself. It's the place where citizens observe firsthand the effect of court budget cuts.
Just as citizens, and only citizens, have the power to elect their executive branch leaders and their delegates to the legislative branch, citizen jurors have the final check on at least some judicial branch decisions.
May 3, 2013 by Robert Tharp at 2:30:00 pm
Severe thunderstorms in the Houston area last month brought large hail, strong wind gusts and lightening that caused extensive property damage, broken tree limbs and downed power lines. Home and business owners reported roof damage, broken windows and pock-mocked cars.
The hailstorm and flash floods provide a stark reminder that the severe storm season is upon us, and home and business owners should be prepared. After all, a recent study ranks Texas tops for wind and hail damage claims, noting that such storm damage is among the most common and severe causes of property damage.
Houston attorney Phillip Sanov, head of The Lanier Law Firm's Bad Faith Insurance Practice Group, says now’s the time for property owners to make sure polices are up to date and to document the pre-storm condition of homes, offices and belongings. "Too often, we see insurance companies that deny, delay or vastly underpay legitimate claims, often citing 'pre-existing' conditions," he says.
Among other things, Sanov recommends taking photos and videos of structures and personal property as proof of ownership and existing conditions. "But those pictures do no good if they too are lost in a storm, so be sure to store them online or at a friend's or relative's house," warns Sanov, who represents home and business owners following storms and other disasters.
May 1, 2013 by Robert Tharp at 4:20:00 pm
There’s a well-documented problem with one of the world’s most popular hunting rifles – a defect in the trigger mechanism makes it susceptible to firing when the trigger is not pulled. Accidental discharges are blamed for two dozen deaths and more than 100 injuries.
Houston attorney Mark Lanier says Remington has known for decades that the design flaw in the trigger mechanism has made the rifle unreasonably dangerous. "Gun owners and their loved ones are literally taking a bullet because Remington Arms decided to put profits over safety," says Lanier. In 2012, The Lanier Law Firm successfully represented a Texas man who was severely injured when his Remington Model 700 rifle fired unexpectedly, striking the man in the foot.
Writes USA Today: The 700 series of rifles dates back to the 1940s, when Remington—which had been purchased a decade earlier by the giant chemical company DuPont—was transitioning from a major supplier of the war effort to a more consumer-oriented company. DuPont, which sold Remington in 1993, declined to be interviewed, referring inquiries to Remington.
The rifle series—which debuted with the Remington 721—featured a unique trigger system patented by a young Remington engineer named Merle "Mike" Walker. Walker has called his design "a perfect trigger," with a smooth pull favored by expert shooters. According to Walker's patent, the secret was a tiny piece of metal called a "trigger connector," which is mounted loosely inside the firing mechanism. But critics, including ballistics experts who have been hired to testify against the company, say small amounts of rust, debris, or even a small jolt can cause the trigger connector to become misaligned, forcing the trigger itself to lose contact with the rest of the firing mechanism. Then, the gun can be fired when other parts are operated, such as the safety or the bolt.
But internal documents obtained by CNBC show that in 1948—before the gun went on the market—Mike Walker himself proposed a design change to prevent the trigger's internal parts from falling out of alignment. Other documents show the added cost for Walker's "trigger block" came to pennies per gun, but with the rifle already over budget, officials decided against making a change.
April 26, 2013 by Dave Moore at 12:00:00 am
As traditional media outlets have migrated toward Twitter, Facebook and other social media, it would seem inevitable that they would be susceptible to hacking, just as other users have.
The Associated Press learned this lesson in dramatic fashion on April 23, when a hacker erroneously tweeted on the AP’s Twitter account that explosions were reported in the White House, and that the president was injured. Almost immediately, the U.S. stock market tumbled. The S&P 500 index momentarily dropped in value by more than $100 billion before the report was proven false.
In a recent interview on KLIF-AM, Dallas cyber security attorney Matthew Yarbrough said that the hacking of the Associated Press’ Twitter account typifies the vulnerability of Corporate America’s data.
“As you can see, tweets are becoming incredibly popular,” Mr. Yarbrough said. “Look at what happened up in Boston, when the police announced the capture of one of the Boston Marathon bombers via tweet. We must believe it's true, because it came from a tweet, right? I think these sorts of hoaxes are something hackers like to do, to point out vulnerabilities in systems and networks. And it does show we're putting more confidence into a very short electronic message. I can't believe people are trading upon that, but it does happen. And there will be people at some point in time, who will be prosecuted for things like this.”
Mr. Yarbrough added that many corporations are extremely vulnerable to password hacking. “I often find that typically, when I audit major companies for their cyber security, people in the CEO position have the worst passwords. There's a lot that people can do to really make sure that they're using more complex passwords that aren't so susceptible to something called a “password cracker” that's easily downloaded and someone could point at your account and gain access.”
While the Associated Press reports that it has resolved its vulnerabilities to Twitter hacking, it’s likely only a matter of time before the next major news outlet falls victim to hackers.
April 25, 2013 by Robert Tharp at 4:20:00 pm
Travelers at major airports in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Dallas have started experiencing delays and interruptions as mandatory furloughs for air traffic controllers kick in as part of the 2013 budget sequester.
Writes the LA Times: After the first week of furloughs because of light traffic and good weather, the nation's air travel system operated without serious problems. The FAA warned Monday that more delays are on the horizon when air traffic is heavier and severe weather puts pressure on understaffed air traffic control facilities.
Furloughs of air traffic controllers have prompted an outcry from Washington lawmakers and litigation by pilots and airlines who say they could have been avoided. Airline workers have even started to urge frustrated passengers to pressure the FAA to reconsider the budget cuts. To help cut more than $600 million called for by budget sequestration, the FAA ordered air traffic controllers starting Sunday to take one furlough day in every two-week pay period. That would cut the total of the nation's nearly 15,000 air traffic controllers about 10% on any given day.
Also on the list of cuts is a plan to close smaller air traffic control towers nationwide, including 14 in mostly smaller communities in Texas. The proposal is indicative of the significant struggle the federal agency is encountering in trying to balance mandates to cut costs as part of the 2013 budget sequestration against its primary purpose of preserving safety in the national airspace system, says Dallas aviation attorney and pilot David Norton.
"There are procedures in place that certainly make it possible to safely operate an airport without a control tower," says Norton, a partner at Shackelford, Melton & McKinley. "However, the larger and more active the airport is, the more important it is to have an active control tower in order to ensure the safety of pilots, passengers and everyone on the ground."
April 17, 2013 by Dave Moore at 11:23:00 am
It’s been nearly 45 years since seat belts became mandatory in all U.S. passenger cars. The anniversary would seem almost quaint, save the fact that bus manufacturers and operators still don’t have to install seat belts in buses and motor coaches.
That inconsistency became painfully apparent for passengers traveling aboard a Cardinal Coach charter bus, which crashed April 11 en route to the Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant, Okla., killing two passengers and injuring more than 40 others. According to police reports, the vehicle lost control on northbound State Highway 161 near the Beltline Road exit and crashed into a concrete median barrier, tumbling over onto its side.
In a recent interview on NBC Ch. 5 (KXAS-TV), Branson says that a federal law passed in 2012 requires bus operators and manufactures to install seat belts and other safety measures, but implementation of the measure has been delayed. The law also requires regulations to improve structural standards for buses. “The bus manufacturers need to be held accountable – they’ve known of this danger for a long time,” says Mr. Branson, who was part of a legal team that obtained an $80 million settlement on behalf of families whose relatives died aboard a chartered bus that burst into flames while fleeing Hurricane Rita in September 2005.
The legal team's independent investigation into the September 2005 incident revealed a defect in the bus' hub-and-axle system that was prone to failure. Defendants in the lawsuit included the manufacturer of the bus and the designer and manufacturer of the hub-and-axle component, among others.
In the case of mandatory seat belts for passenger cars, and later, airbags, manufacturers resisted the requirement as too expensive, but history has proved otherwise. In fact, safety features like additional side-impact airbags have become some automakers’ best selling points.
Unfortunately for the passengers traveling aboard the Cardinal Coach charter on April 11, further delays in seat belt installation and other safety measures likely played a role in contributing to injuries during the crash.
April 2, 2013 by Dave Moore at 2:30:00 pm
Dallas corporate marketing and advertising attorney Jane Fergason of the Dallas office of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP has a few words of warning to consumers who innocently give their ZIP code information to merchants during everyday transactions.
“Once you give the merchant your ZIP code, that information can be sold to a data broker, or the merchant can use that to find out your address or phone number, and other types of publicly available, but hard-to-get information,” Ms. Fergason recently told KLIF-AM radio show host Kurt Gilchrist. The result can be unwanted junk mail or, much worse, identity theft. The abuse of ZIP code and other information has become so pervasive that some states have banned stores from collecting it, Fergason says.
“In California and Massachusetts, they’ve passed laws that say you can’t ask for ZIP code information because that is personal identification information, prohibited by the statute.”
Other states, including Texas, are considering similar measures, she says.
What’s a consumer in other states to do?
For starters, consumers shouldn’t give merchants personal information such as ZIP codes, email addresses or phone numbers, Fergason says. Consumers aren’t required to give that information to venders to complete transactions, she says.
Fergason’s one exception: “There are certain times, such as when you’re at a gas station, when you have to type in your ZIP code, and that’s to help protect you from fraudulent purchases. That’s the credit card company asking for that information; that is not the store where you’re getting your gas … using that information.”
March 26, 2013 by Dave Moore at 1:24:00 pm
Corporate espionage and trade secret theft goes back hundreds of years, by some accounts.
The fact that it was documented in North Texas a few years ago should surprise no one. What might alarm perpetrators, however, is the fact that executives who are caught red handed in the act of stealing company trade secrets can serve hard time for their misdeeds.
Such is the case of Michael Musacchio, who faces a June 14 sentencing date for criminal computer hacking charges relating to trade secret theft that occurred against Exel Transportation Services. Mr. Musacchio was found guilty of one felony count of conspiracy to make unauthorized access to a protected computer (hacking) and two substantive felony counts of computer hacking. Each conviction carries a maximum statutory penalty of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Court documents say Mr. Musacchio and others hacked Exel’s computers so they could direct Exel’s clients to Frisco, Texas-based Total Transportation Services LLC, where they had become employed.
"Much of the evidence used to convict Mr. Musacchio was collected more than six years ago, for a civil trade secret theft case I filed against Total Transportation Services. That lawsuit resulted in a $10 million settlement," says Dallas trade secret theft attorney Matthew Yarbrough, founder of the Yarbrough Law Group.
The upcoming criminal sentencing for Mr. Musacchio ratchets up the stakes for those considering hacking into their employers’ or former employers’ trade secrets.
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