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Androvett Blog

by Robert Tharp at 11:06:16 am

Entire cottage industries are devoted to helping dissect the common traits of successful attorneys and judges. Here's one not-so-secret trait shared by most who have risen in the legal ranks: a genuine respect for the roles played and the work done by paralegals. Talk about underappreciated - try to think of a great attorney or law firm that doesn't also have a great paralegal or an entire team of them.

Justice Linda Thomas, who retires from the bench October 31 after nearly 15 years as chief justice of the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, has long appreciated the paralegal's role in the legal industry. In fact, she began her career as one(then called a "legal assistant"). Linda went on to earn her law degree and have a long and illustrious career on the bench. She shepherded the development of the paralegal profession as Chair of the State Bar of Texas Standing Committee on Paralegals. She also wrote the first Texas appellate opinion on the recovery of fees for work performed by paralegals.

Today marks the Seventh Annual Paralegal Day, and the State Bar's Paralegal Division, the Dallas Area Paralegal Association and the North Texas Paralegal Association honors Linda's commitment to the industry today with an award for her service.

 

by Robert Tharp at 2:39:57 pm

The rock-bottom price of natural gas has caused many oil & gas production companies to look elsewhere for better returns. Many of these companies are taking the drilling and extraction innovations developed in the U.S. in hotspots like the Barnett Shale in Tarrant County and northern Louisiana's Haynesville Shale to developing natural gas markets where production is less costly and natural gas brings higher prices.

"We're seeing significant interest from U.S. producers in developing unconventional gas resources in Europe and Asia," says Scott Schwind of the Houston office of Thompson & Knight. "Exploration and production is cranking up in China, India, Poland and France, in many cases using the imaging and extraction technologies developed in Texas and Pennsylvania. Until demand and prices increase, pursuing new domestic reserves may not be a sound fiscal decision. However, overseas investments may be a different story."

Writes the WSJ: The development of the Barnett Shale almost single-handedly reversed the decline in U.S. natural-gas production. Last year, the Barnett produced four billion cubic feet of gas a day, making it the largest field in the U.S. Other companies such as Newfield Exploration Co., Southwestern Energy Co. and Range Resources Corp. found shale fields across the U.S.

by Robert Tharp at 4:44:48 pm

When Thompson & Knight helped guide Baseline Oil & Gas through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in 25 days, it marked one of the top 10 fastest bankruptcies to be completed in the U.S. Such is the value of increasingly popular prepackaged bankruptcies, which allow companies to streamline bankruptcies by negotiating with creditors before formally filing for reorganization. "Through the use of a pre-packaged Chapter 11 plan and a concentrated effort, we were able to receive confirmation of this reorganization plan in less than a month, with the confirmation hearing lasting only 60 minutes, which is truly extraordinary for this type of transaction," says Rhett Campbell of Thompson & Knight, who led Baseline's legal team. A publicly traded company that controls energy-producing properties in Texas and Indiana, Baseline's bankruptcy confirmation hearing was held and the order of confirmation was signed on the same day.

by Robert Tharp at 4:45:09 pm

Youngsters are proving particularly susceptible to the H1N1 swine flu this year, and that's creating a noticeable increase in the pitter patter of little feet around the workplace. There have been more than 9,000 confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu strain reported in the United States so far this year, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control, while the World Health Organization puts the number of 2009 cases worldwide at nearly 350,000, with at least 4,100 deaths resulting from the virus.

Yet, even as H1N1 spreads globally, many companies are woefully unprepared for the employee absenteeism that could result. Considering the seasonal flu hasn't even struck yet in most parts of the country, labor & employment attorney Audrey Mross, a partner at Munck Carter PC in Dallas, tells the HR Compliance Law Bulletin that it's never too soon for employers to review their policies regarding kids in the workplace. Writes the HR Compliance Law Bulletin:

In the spring, swine flu fears sparked sudden closures at more than 100 schools in at least eight states, sending parents scrambling for last-minute child care. Some parents stayed home, some found alternative care, and some brought their children with them to work.
Not everyone agreed with the latter choice. "This morning, one of our workers stated she had to work from home since her son's school was closed due to the swine flu, or she could just bring her son up to the office and work. Ummmm-please stay home," wrote one person on a national parenting Internet forum.
Mross tells the HR Compliance Law Bulletin that the key to a workable policy is consistency and communication, rather than an outright ban:
"If the environment, including coworkers, are amenable to the occasional child at work, have a policy that explains the limitations which the parent will be responsible for enforcing, such as no roaming, noise, food/drink, off limits areas, and so on," she says. "The important thing is to have and communicate a policy so that everyone in the workplace has the same expectation. A policy puts everyone on fair notice."


Read the full article here.

by Robert Tharp at 10:17:00 am

These days, more and more business deals and disputes cross geographic borders. In order to help clients facing those worldwide challenges, The Lanier Law Firm is continuing to expand its international reach. The firm recently launched an International Arbitration and Dispute Practice, and firm founder Mark Lanier also unveiled plans to open up shop in London in 2010.

Led by Mr. Lanier and Dana Taschner, Managing Attorney of the firm's Los Angeles office, the new International Arbitration and Dispute Practice will partner with Dallas attorney and noted forensic psychologist Lisa Blue to handle arbitration matters for corporations around the world. The new practice group also works to help other law firms trying to prevent possible conflicts with their corporate clients.

"Large law firms often want to avoid a particular arbitration matter so they can steer clear of a potential conflict, but they also want to protect their role in a corporate client's other legal matters," says Mr. Lanier. "Under these circumstances, our team is able to step in and handle arbitration proceedings in order to eliminate the conflict risk for law firms and their clients."

The Lanier Law Firm attorneys have represented clients in business and financial disputes around the globe, and serve as arbitrators on some of the world's leading international panels. Mr. Taschner currently serves on the Panel of Arbitrators at the World Intellectual Property Organization, and also belongs to the Association for International Arbitration and the London Court of International Arbitration.

The new practice group already has garnered its share of media attention, including an article posted on the popular legal Web site Law.com, as well as articles on the Web sites for the Houston Business Journal and Global Arbitration Review (subscription required).

 

by Robert Tharp at 11:38:12 am

On January 1, a new Environmental Protection Agency regulation quietly goes in effect that will require businesses of all types to monitor greenhouse emissions. According to the Chicago Tribune's The Swamp blog: The proposed regulation would apply to large-scale industrial sources of the heat-trapping gases which scientists blame for climate change but not to smaller sources, such as new schools, as some critics of EPA action had feared. It will force new - or substantially modified - industrial emitters to "demonstrate the use of best available control technologies and energy efficiency measures" to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA.

The greenhouse gas regulatory system has a number of implications, particularly for publicly traded companies, says climate-change attorney Scott Deatherage, leader of  Thompson & Knight's Climate Change and Renewable Energy Practice Group. "The costs, financial disclosures and public relations aspects of this and other pending climate change legislation should be a strategic issue for corporate directors and managers." Although some industries had sought to delay the new requirements, facilities now have less than four months to prepare. "It may be a challenge for some businesses to make the significant investments in monitoring equipment and processes to meet that deadline."

 

by Robert Tharp at 10:55:31 am

While health care reform remains firmly in the sausage-making political process, one component of the plan is rapidly gaining momentum. The movement toward digitizing medical records is well underway as physicians and hospitals make substantial investments to revolutionize the way patient records are maintained. According to a recent Daily Finance report: experts call the lack of communication and coordination among doctors, specialists, and hospital systems one of the biggest problems in our health system.

Between 2004 and 2006, as many as 238,337 deaths in the U.S. were potentially preventable, according to healthcare rating company HealthGrades. Some could have been avoided with electronic health records, which could more easily flag patients with other underlying conditions or who could experience dangerous drug interactions. There have been similar incentive programs to move physicians into the paperless age. In June 2008, Medicare announced a $150 million grant to help 1,200 small physician practices in 12 cities switch to electronic records.

In addition to tapping governmental assistance, many independent physicians are seeking financial help from hospitals to make the costly transition. Healthcare industry attorney Mary Jean Geroulo of Stewart Stimmel LLP in Dallas warns that hospitals must be careful in navigating the federal rules governing the delicate relationships between hospitals and non-employee doctors. "There isn't a one-size-fits-all model for making the transition," she says. "The regulations significantly limit what a hospital can provide as an incentive to a non-employee physician, and the consequences of not complying can be substantial."

by Robert Tharp at 11:33:10 am

It's hard to underestimate the potential business ramifications of the recent Second Circuit ruling in Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co. Over at Gardere's Environmental Practice Group, Richard O. Faulk calls the ruling "overly broad" and says it could have an extraordinary impact on any business that emits greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide far beyond the group of utilites named as defendants in the case.

While U.S. lawmakers are still trying to decide whether to regulate greenhouse emissions, the Second Circuit ruling allows a public nuisance lawsuit to move forward against a group of utilities with power plants in 20 states. Faulk says it's not a stretch to conclude that any business that produces greenhouse gasses could face similar legal exposure. "The decision entails major risks for all industries," he says. "Any industry that generates greenhouse gas emissions is implicated, and that category includes virtually all businesses." 

Faulk says the ruling presents businesses with a "Hobson's choice" scenario in which it may become more advantageous to accept comprehensive federal regulations and statues addressing greenhouse gas emissions rather than risk exposure to such private legal actions. "If, however, the regulations and legislation are not sufficiently comprehensive, industries may still face lawsuits to the extent that claims are not completely preempted." 

As the folks at the Environmental Law Prof Blog note: The case may go to the US Supreme Court and there is a chance that it could be reversed there.  Or it may not.  Also, the US Congress could (and almost certainly will) eliminate all such public nuisance lawsuits when it passes a comprehensive climate change law.  The industry will now be lobbying heavily, saying something like this to the Congress:  “Please regulate us (weakly, of course) so that the courts will stop doing so.” 

This is a classic situation where environmentalists win a big  environmental case based on an old, old legal concept and this gives them bargaining power in the legislative process.  This happened with cases against factories polluting the water without permits in the 1960s, a case against the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline in the early 1970s; a case against clearcutting in the National Forests in the mid 1970s.  In each of those three cases, the law that was involved was a statute that was around 100 years old.  The public nuisance cases cited by the Second Circuit are more than 100 years old today.  Now the bargaining will begin. 

The ruling's impact will be among the issues discussed at the Oct. 28 U.S. Chamber of Commerce Legal Reform Summit in Washington, D.C., where Faulk will serve as a "Climate Change: The New Mass Tort For the 21st Century?" panelist.

by Robert Tharp at 4:31:02 pm

Small east Texas based internet technology innovator Eolas Technologies Inc. turned a lot of heads yesterday after filing patent infringement litigation against nearly two dozen of the biggest and best known companies that do business on the Internet.

Household names like Adobe, Amazon, eBay, Sun Microsystems and YouTube no doubt get sued all the time, but the Eolas litigation carries extra heft because the legal argument has already resulted in a $565 million federal judgment against Microsoft in 2004. That whopper has already withstood two separate reexaminations at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

As Dow Jones reports: The latest lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions to keep defendants, which cut across industries to include Citigroup Inc. (C), Blockbuster Inc. (BBI) and J.C. Penny Co. Inc. (JCP), from using technology covered by two Eolas patents. The lawsuit also seeks undisclosed damages. The patent that was the subject of the litigation against Microsoft enables Web browsers to act as platforms for fully interactive embedded applications. Eolas said in a statement that the patent was granted in November 1998 and twice reaffirmed by the patent office, most recently in February. The technology at issue was developed by Eolas Chairman Michael Doyle, while he was at the University of California at San Francisco in the 1990s. The University still owns the patent, but Eolas said it is the exclusive licensee. Eolas said a second patent, issued this month, allows Web sites to add fully interactive embedded applications to their online offerings through the use of plug-in and AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) Web development techniques.

Reports PCMag: Eolas sued Microsoft in 1999, and won a $521 million settlement in August 2003. Microsoft appealed the following year, but the case was remanded. In 2005, the Supreme Court refused to hear Microsoft's appeal, so Microsoft tried to go through the Patent & Trademark Office. When that also failed, Microsoft and Eolas announced in 2007 that they had agreed upon a settlement, the terms of which were not released.
The companies sued Tuesday are in violation of Eolas patents, the companies said, because they have "web pages and content [that is] interactively presented in browsers" and they use, offer, or sell "software that allows content to be interactively presented in and/or served to browsers."
In Adobe's case, Eolas cited its adobe.com and tv.adobe.com Web sites, as well as Flash and Shockwave. When it comes to Apple, its Apple.com, QuickTime, and Safari products are in violation, Eolas claims, while Google is violating the patents with its Chrome browser.
"We developed these technologies over 15 years ago and demonstrated them widely, years before the marketplace had heard of interactive applications embedded in Web pages tapping into powerful remote resources. Profiting from someone else's innovation without payment is fundamentally unfair. All we want is what's fair," Dr. Michael D. Doyle, chairman of Eolas, said in a statement.

Mike McKool, head of the national law firm McKool Smith and lead counsel for Eolas, says he hopes the lawsuit will put an end to the widespread unauthorized use of the company's technology patents. "What distinguishes this case from most patent suits is that so many established companies named as defendants are infringing a patent that has been ruled valid by the Patent Office on three occasions," says Mr. McKool.

by Robert Tharp at 11:48:19 am

It's enlightening to look at Adidas aggressive efforts to protect its trademarked three-stripes logo from 70-year-old Brand Bobosky's standpoint. Adidas has been understandably aggressive in protecting its trademarked three-stripes logo. Just last year, the athletic apparel and sporting good manufacturer won an epic $305 million verdict against Payless Shoestores for selling shoes that looked a little too much like Adidas. The verdict included $137 million in punitive damages against Payless.

And that's what makes the company's multimillion dollas "We Not Me" advertising campaign such a head-scratcher, says Dallas attorney Stephen Drinnon of The Drinnon Law Firm. According to a lawsuit the firm filed on Bobosky's behalf, Bobosky had secured federal trademark and copyright protection over "We Not Me," years before Adidas roled out the commercials in 2007 featuring NBA MVP Kevin Garnett. He also incorporated We Not Me, Ltd., through the state of Illinois and created the Web site, http://wenotme.us , in 2004.

The Adidas advertising campaign included exposure during the World Series and the NBA playoffs. Drinnon says that Bobosky's complaints to Adidas had the opposite effect, and the media campaign expanded after Mr. Bobosky notified Adidas of his property rights to "We Not Me." Even today, NBA-sanctioned clothing featuring Mr. Bobosky's protected words can still be purchased. Adidas is an official clothing provider of the NBA.

"Companies like Adidas go to great lengths to protect their own ingenuity and intellectual property, yet they've chosen to trample on Mr. Bobosky's protected property rights," Drinnon says. "Adidas is a powerful second-comer that has taken everything he tried to build. Mr. Bobosky's words are now wrongly perceived as something that Adidas owns."

As Bobosky explained to the Chicago Daily Herald: "Basically it's Christ's message reduced in the simplest terms, do unto others," he said. "I think it's just a good reminder to people about how to conduct their lives and it works."

"They've basically destroyed any chance I have of marketing it and licensing it to a company or to a church or someone that believes in that message and would like to promote it and take it to another level," he said.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, also names as defendants Adidas America, NBA Properties Inc., NBA Services Inc., the Boston Celtics, and Kevin Garnett.

by Robert Tharp at 11:38:37 am

Seems like ancient history now but way back in March 2008, the Wall Street Journal described bankruptcy as the "hottest growth sector" for law firms. That remains true today. Said the WSJ at the time: A survey of more than 300 attorneys from the country's largest law firms found that a plurality -- one out of every four -- expects bankruptcy law to be the fastest area of growth in the next 12 months. That number exceeds the tally of attorneys who think litigation or corporate governance will be hot growth areas.

When the dust settles on the worldwide economic crisis, national litigation firm McKool Smith will have almost certainly emerged as one of the firms that seized opportunities during difficult times and managed to strengthen its position and grow in stature along the way. In addition to a regular stream of head-turning jury verdicts and the opening of now-bustling offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City, the firm has now added a national bankruptcy practice and hired some of the country's most respected bankruptcy veterans.

Noted bankruptcy attorney Hugh M. Ray leads McKool Smith's bankruptcy practice and will devide his time between the firm's New York and Houston offices. Joining him are bankruptcy veterans Peter S. Goodman and Paul D. Moak, who will work out of the New York and Houston offices, respectively. All three attorneys previously practiced with Andrews Kurth, where Mr. Ray led the firm's national bankruptcy practice. Also joining the group as a principal is Hugh M. Ray, III, a bankruptcy attorney previously with Weycer, Kaplan, Pulaski & Zuber in Houston. The firm expects to add several more bankruptcy attorneys by the end of 2009.

In a career spanning four decades, Mr. Ray has played key roles in some of the coutnry's most recognizable bankruptcy proceedings, including matters involving Lyondell Petrochemical, First Republic Bank Corp., Continental Airlines, Semcrude, L.P., First City Bancorporation, Power Company of America L.L.C., L. Tersigni Consulting, and many others. In addition to making several appearances before Congress to testify on proposed amendments to the Federal Bankruptcy Code, Mr. Ray also has served in leadership positions with many notable bankruptcy and business groups, including serving as Chairman of the Business Bankruptcy Committee for the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Business Law Section, Chairman of the ABA Energy Business Committee, and member of the ABA Standing Committee on Judicial Selection, Tenure and Compensation. Prior to his work in private practice, Mr. Ray worked as an Assistant United States Attorney in Houston.

"Hugh Ray is one of the top bankruptcy lawyers in the nation, and we are proud to have him lead our firm into this growing area of the law," says Mike McKool, co-founder of McKool Smith. "Hugh and the rest of his team are known nationwide for their work in some of the country's most significant bankruptcy matters. When we realized we had the opportunity to bring in Hugh and his group, this was an easy decision."

Mr. Ray says the move to McKool Smith is based on several factors. "It's no secret that McKool Smith has some of the finest courtroom lawyers anywhere, which is one of the main reasons we decided to join the firm," says Mr. Ray. "I'm also very excited about helping the firm build a world-class bankruptcy practice."

Mr. Goodman has represented clients in complex bankruptcies for more than 20 years, including Adelphia Communications Corp., KCS Energy Inc., Bank of New England Corp., Semcrude, L.P., First City Bancorporation, Power Company of America L.L.C., L. Tersigni Consulting and PSINet Consulting Solutions Holdings, Inc., and many others. He has been recognized as one of the state's top bankruptcy lawyers in New York Super Lawyers magazine. 

Mr. Moak has been involved in a wide range of complex Chapter 11 cases. In his practice, he has represented debtors, secured lenders, creditor committees and equity committees in bankruptcy reorganization proceedings, as well as bankruptcy-related litigation matters. He possesses particular expertise in the energy, health care, chemicals, and aviation industries. 

Mr. Ray III represents publicly traded companies who successfully reorganize in bankruptcy and major creditors in their collection from complex bankruptcies. He often acts as a trial attorney in adversary proceedings before the bankruptcy court.

by Robert Tharp at 3:29:58 pm

There's no doubt that Hurricane Ike made a terrible mess of things along the Texas Gulf Coast more than a year ago, but the National Law Journal revisits the scene and notes that bad-faith insurors and a new rule issued by the Texas Department of Insurance have created a world of problems for property owners trying to rebuild. Since Ike, the Texas Department of Insurance requires property owners along the coast to prove they have flood insurance before they can buy or renew state-backed windstorm policies. 

That's proving to be salt in the wounds for thousands of storm victims still wrestling over claims with insurers operating in bad faith. The rule change means that storm victims will have to pay more for insurance going forward, and they won't be able to obtain wind policies without first securing flood coverage. Attorneys like Phillip Sanov, who heads the bad-faith insurance practice group at Houston's Lanier Law Firm, report that many insurance companies continue to lowball property owners on claims. "We're hopeful that just like in most places, once a lawyer gets involved, the carrier will start doing closer to the right thing by their policy holder," Sanov says.

Meanwhile, bad faith insurance attorney  Kurt Arnold, a partner in Houston's Arnold & Itkin, tells the NLJ that hundreds of lawsuits remain pending against insurance carriers that have denied or underpaid claims for Hurricane Ike victims. Arnold has more than 150 such lawsuits himself - another colleague has more than 1,000.
"They're sending adjusters out who just don't know what they're doing. I have some claims that had $150,000 in damages, and [the adjuster] wrote up $2,000," he says, adding that the adjusters are often way off. "Some of the houses that are nearly totaled might get written up for $2,000."

by Robert Tharp at 4:37:57 pm

Since it's not news until The New York Times weighs in, we bring you this story about the growth of climate change practices.
Law Firms Prep Clients for Climate Policy Implications

Stalled congressional action on greenhouse gas legislation has not stopped prominent law firms from taking the lead in helping companies navigate the legal, public policy and business implications related to climate change.
"Climate change and renewable energy developments are the next big thing in environmental and energy law," said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia Law School's new Center for Climate Change Law and senior counsel to Arnold & Porter. "Every law firm that has a practice in either of those areas is trying to position itself so that when the major work arrives, they will be able to grab a good chunk of it."
Businesses face state and regional and -- in some cases -- international emissions restrictions. They seek legal advice on everything from verifying energy credits to addressing Securities and Exchange Commission disclosure requirements, according to Robert McKinstry, the partner in charge of the Climate Change and Sustainability Initiative at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll.
READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE
"We have a cross-sectional group that works on climate change and carbon changing -- it's a clean-tech group," said  Scott Deatherage, a partner and leader of the Climate Change and Renewable Energy Practice Group at Thompson & Knight.
"There are security issues with respect to disclosure," Deatherage said. "When it comes to incentives, there are a lot of tax issues also. I do work for renewable energy companies and companies developing carbon credit projects both domestically and internationally."
The fast-growing practice area has drawn upon attorneys from existing corporate, energy, tax and, of course, environmental groups.
For example, the Climate Change and Sustainability Initiative at Ballard integrates the environmental, energy and project finance, real estate and litigation practices.
Deatherage said his firm has also tried to steer clients toward the incentives to be gained from a corporate climate change strategy.
"I do work for renewable energy companies and companies developing carbon credit projects both domestically and internationally," he said. "I was contacted to have a client participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project. The company was facing shareholder petitions, and that was the resolution they reached with shareholders -- voluntary greenhouse gas reporting."
Deatherage runs a blog called "The New Carbon Cycle," which offers news and analysis about "the rapidly evolving law and policy surrounding climate change, carbon trading and markets."

by Robert Tharp at 2:14:20 pm

As U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shifts to cracking down on employers rather than individual illegal immigrants, U.S. businesses are increasingly in need of expert guidance for navigating the complicated legal and policy landscape. Dallas-based Yarbrough Strategic Advisors has broadened its growing investigations group with the addition of longtime federal immigration investigator A.J. Irwin.

In his capacity as the firm's Director of Investigations, Irwin advises client companies on best practices for complying with federal immigration laws and policies, as well strategies for avoiding audits and fines related to employment matters.

Before stepping down as a federal investigator, Irwin managed the Joint Terrorism Task Force and anti-smuggling operations for an 18-state region from Canada to Mexico. He also led an investigation that resulted in the largest human-smuggling case ever prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney General. Another investigation led to the largest criminal fine imposed for immigration law violations against an employer.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Irwin played a key role in implementing policy changes and department reorganizations. At Yarbrough Strategic Advisors, the consulting arm of the Yarbrough Law Group, Irwin supervises investigations involving intellectual property, financial fraud and corporate compliance, among other things.

These can be troubling times indeed for employers trying to keep up with rapidly changing laws and policies. Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security began enforcing an E-verify program that requires federal contractors to electronically verify the immigration status of workers. The program is designed to identify workers who are in the U.S. illegally and using fake identities in order to work. "A.J.'s unmatched base of knowledge of investigations and practices within the Department of Justice provides a huge benefit to our clients," says attorney Matt Yarbrough, founder of Yarbrough Strategic Advisors. "With A.J. and others on our team, we are able to offer invaluable expertise to employers who want to stay on top of the important changes in immigration law."

by Robert Tharp at 11:57:18 am

Consider this factoid about the legal relationship that Americans increasingly have with product manufacturers, service providers, credit card companies and employers: if you use credit cards or cell phones, have purchased a house from a builder or placed a loved one in a nursing home, chances are you've signed away your constitutional right to a jury trial if there's a problem.

From routine credit card contracts to multi-million-dollar home purchases, the increasingly popular and controversial use of mandatory predispute arbitration clauses puts consumers at a distinct legal disadvantage when problems arise, says Dallas attorney Mark McQuality of Shackelford Melton & McKinley. It's a lopsided system in which consumers lose 94 percent of the time, according to a recent California study. Decisions by arbitrators -- lawyers or professionals who oversee and rule on cases -- are final and cannot be appealed.

U.S. lawmakers are now debating the Arbitration Fairness Act, which would ban such predispute arbitration clauses in consumer, franchise and employment matters. McQuality, who represents homeowners in construction-related complaints and other business torts, says it's about time. "These hidden clauses cause consumers to sign away their constitutional right to a jury trial," he says. "There's a place for arbitration, but it should be a voluntary option once a dispute has surfaced, as opposed to something that's buried in paperwork."

by Robert Tharp at 3:38:26 pm

As insolvent businesses struggle to restructure their finances, an alternative to traditional Chapter 11 reorganization plans is growing in popularity. Prepackaged bankruptcies, or "prepacks," offer companies a way to negotiate and gain approval of key constituencies before formally filing for reorganization. Such prepacs typically offer a new capital structure involving an exchange of debt for equity that is hammered out between the company and its main creditors before it is signed off by the court."It's likely there will be a significant increase in the number of prepacks in 2009 compared to last year," says Ira Herman of Thompson & Knight's New York office. "The financial crisis coupled with changes in the Bankruptcy Code make prepacks a cost-effective way to resolve balance sheet issues. However, if there is an unwillingness among a secured class of bondholders to negotiate a resolution, or if a large class of unsecured creditors cannot be dealt with consensually, then a prepack is unlikely to work."

by Robert Tharp at 3:21:21 pm

I can't help imagining the jailhouse conversation:....I robbed a bank, what are you in for? ... I sold defective shoes at a garage sale.

That great American staple of the free enterprise system - the garage sale - has gotten a lot more complicated. Used to be, holding a garage sale was as simple as posting a few well-placed signs, dragging your junk out on the driveway and watching the cash come in. But a federal law now makes it a crime to sell items that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled. While CPSC officials have educated the larger thrift stores about the new law, individuals are also on the hook if they sell a defective car seat, children's shoes or even a garlic press/slicer. "If you're selling a crib or a car seat, the responsibility is yours to make sure the CPSC has not recalled it and that it doesn't present a danger," says Dallas attorney Angel Reyes, managing partner of Managing Partner of Reyes Bartolomei Browne. "And remember, it's not just baby items. The government recalls products adults use too."

This is all particularly relevant because individual reselling has increased during the economic downturn. Reports the Wall Street Journal: Amid the recession, more sellers are trying to wring some cash out of their old possessions. Listings on Craigslist for garage sales have increased 60% in the past year, and another resale site, Tagsellit.com, has seen a rising trend, with 3,000 listings for tag sales in the month of June. Large-scale yard sales have actually declined as fewer people have moved in the weak housing market. But those who monitor the resale industry say that more sellers are trying to get cash for smaller-ticket items.

The sheer variety of products being recalled in a given year can make it hard to guess what products might be unsafe. The ten biggest recalls of 2008 included toys, cribs, electric blowers, cosmetic accessory bags and window blinds. But buyers and sellers who want to check for recalls can search on cpsc.gov, which offers searches by product type, company name, or hazard, among other categories, or on recalls.gov, a site that lists recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and five other federal agencies. They can also sign up with the safety commission to receive recall alerts by email.

by Robert Tharp at 11:16:41 am

Plenty has been said about the role that nationwide tort reform could or should play in health care reform debate. The discussion has prompted many to take a look at the Texas experience, where wide-ranging tort reform was implemented in 2003. Among other things, state law in Texas limits noneconomic damages like pain and suffering to $250,000.

Proponents of the reforms point to the influx of medical doctors who have relocated to Texas since 2003 and a decline in medical liability insurance rates and liability lawsuit filings. Critics note that health care costs continue to escalate and that tort reform has made it difficult if not impossible for many legitimate lawsuits to proceed, while the noneconomic caps are onerous to the poor, the young and the elderly because they have little to show for lost earning ability necessary to calculate economic damages. With health care reform front-and-center, we asked some of the state's top attorneys about the Texas tort reform model and how it might affect health care reform if emulated nationwide. Not surprisingly, we got three distinct and different perspectives.

Big Verdicts Still Possible Under Tort Reform, MedMal Caps
Even in a state such as Texas with caps on punitive damages in medical malpractice cases, large verdicts can still occur. "Once tort reform passed, we saw an immediate drop in lawsuits, but the number of filings began to rise as both plaintiff and defense attorneys learned the new rules and courts began interpreting the practical limits of the new rules," says Linda Stimmel of Stewart Stimmel LLP, a Dallas-based firm focused on health care law. "It is not a perfect system, but it has been very beneficial in reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits, allowing reasonable settlements because of the defined limits and allowing physicians to practice medicine without going broke trying to pay their insurance premiums." 

Lawsuit Caps No Prescription for Healthcare Troubles
One look at the six years of tort reform in Texas should convince President Obama that the idea of national medical malpractice reform is a bad one, says nationally recognized trial attorney Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm. "Doctors and insurance companies claimed tort reform was the cure for our state's healthcare problems, but six years of rising healthcare costs are all we have to show for it," says Lanier, who also disagrees with the President's hypothetical of keeping medical malpractice cases out of courtrooms by assigning them to special review panels. "Our founding fathers got it right by trusting juries to settle disputes rather than politicians or hired committees," he says.

Healthcare Tort Law Best Left to States
Tort reform in Texas provides some valuable lessons for any federal healthcare reform package. "If there were to be federal legislation in an area, I think some aspects of the Texas medical malpractice laws are good," says defense attorney John Martin of Dallas' Thompson & Knight and incoming president of the Lawyers for Civil Justice. "I think the informed consent and expert reports parts are good, although the expert reports concept could be written much better than the one we have in Texas so that less litigation is required. However, my personal belief is that tort law should be handled at the state level, not the federal level."

 

by Robert Tharp at 2:47:45 pm

The attorneys at Jackson, Miss.-based Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy LLP know all about defending toxic exposre cases in venues traditionally viewed as friendly to plaintiffs. Earlier this year, their defense victory in a jurisdiction described as a "judicial hell holl" drew national media attention. Last week, the firm walked away with another take-nothing defense verdict in a Mississippi asbestos exposure case.

Plaintiff Bob K. Martin, a former oilfield worker, claimed that his health problems were caused by exposure to asbestos between 1965 and 1986 while working in oilfields in the southeastern United States. Following a two week trial, jurors returned a defense victory for Union Carbide Corporation, ConocoPhillips Company and Montello, Inc. Forman Perry is a real pioneer in multidistrict litigation covering silica and asbestos products, and their work has led to the dismissals of tens of thousands of claims.

"We are very pleased about the juror's careful consideration of the facts in this case," says Marcy B. Croft, lead counsel from the Forman Perry defense team representing Union Carbide, who worked in conjunction with National Trial Counsel Kevin M. Jordan of Baker Botts, LLP, and Michael G. Terry of Hartline, Dacus, Barger, Dryer & Kern, LLP. "We maintained from day one that our client acted responsibly, and this verdict is proof."

 

by Robert Tharp at 4:04:31 pm

Just two years after establishing an office in New York City, McKool Smith continues to expand and now counts 21 attorneys in New York with the addition of trial-tested litigator Kyle Lonergan. Mr. Lonergan joins McKool Smith from the firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. His practice focuses on complex commercial litigation and white collar matters, and he has litigated high profile cases in a number of areas, including securities, antitrust, insurance coverage and breach of contract.
Mr. Lonergan has represented clients throughout all phases of litigation, including trial and arbitration, and in connection with investigations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He will continue his work in these areas at McKool Smith, including handling matters with the firm's International White Collar practice led by firm principals Jack Cooney and Tom Engel.
Mr. Lonergan maintains an active pro bono practice in the environmental field. He has represented the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups for the past decade in litigation that has resulted in significant protections for some of the country's most important national parks, including Everglades National Park in Florida and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

by Robert Tharp at 2:20:10 pm

As Brazil eyes what appears to be the largest oil reserve discovered in the Western Hemisphere in the last 30 years, a raft of U.S. energy sector service providers stand to gain considerably. The so-called `pre-salt' region off Brazil's southeastern coast contains an estimated 50 billion barrels of oil, and Brazil will no doubt need assistance from U.S. oil field service industry companies, says  Andrew Derman of Thompson & Knight. "This will require massive financial investments, advanced technologies and a highly skilled workforce over many years, if not decades, to fully assess and recover these reserves," Derman says. The plan calls for Brazilian energy giant Petrobras to be the region's sole operator and hold a 30 percent stake in all development joint ventures, while allowing the government to keep a bigger share of oil profits. To interview Mr. Derman, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 1:52:33 pm

The U.S. Small Business Administration is trying to help small businesses score government contracts through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 via a new online training course designed to provide insight into the government contracting process. While helpful, the training course fails to disclose some important risks that small businesses need to know about when working on government contracts, says Marshall Doke Jr., head of the Government Contracts practice at Gardere Wynne Swell LLP. For example, the training course does not detail how these contracts include certain unallowable costs and unique accounting rules, as well as special rules for purchasing, estimating, quality controls and socio-economic policies. These rules essentially provide a mandate for how the business must be run. "Some basic rules of commercial business are not applicable to government contracts," Doke says. "The contracts all favor the government, including criminal and civil laws, dispute resolution, and voluminous contract clauses. It is a good business if you know the rules, but it is dangerous if you do not." To interview Mr. Doke, contact Rhonda Reddick at 800-559-4534 or rhonda@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 2:27:19 pm

Those watching out for the rights of the disabled hailed a new state law that quietly went in effect last week, but few others took notice of House Bill 978. Like the federal Americans With Disabilities Act that was broadened a year ago, employers should view this legislation as a wake-up call to update policies and educate supervisors regarding the definition of "disability" in employment matters, says labor & employment attorney Bryan Neal of the Dallas office of Thompson & Knight. HB 978 makes state law consistent with the ADA's defining criteria and clarifies terminology for medical conditions that may be used as the basis in workplace discrimination claims. As a result, authorities, employers and employees will have a single legal standard that governs this issues, rather than one set of rules for state claims and another for federal complaints.

The law generally provides a broader definition for employees to be considered disabled and consequently able to sue under the statute. For example, it spells out that episodic medical conditions such as epilepsy, now qualify as disabilities. Also, when deciding whether an individual is disabled, courts no longer may consider the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as medication, hearing aids, or prosthetic limbs.

Neal says the law will likely prompt more state workplace discrimination claims. "HB 978 provides that episodic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and epilepsy qualify as a disability, and the beneficial use of medication or devices by individuals to manage these conditions can't be considered by the courts," he says. "Business coalitions and other opponents foresee an increase in disability discrimination lawsuits as this legislation makes state law conform to the broader standards of disability found in federal discrimination claims." To interview Mr. Neal, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 11:43:31 am

Bad Faith Insurance Attorney Kurt Arnold: With New Law, Some May Not Even Have Insurance for the Next Storm

Hurricane Ike damaged or destroyed thousands of structures when it blew across the upper Texas Gulf Coast. A little over a year later, hundreds of lawsuits remain pending against insurance companies that have denied or underpaid claims for storm damage. Obtaining insurance for homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast is never easy. The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is considered the insurer of last resort - the kind of insurance company that property owners can turn to when they can't get coverage anywhere else. Policy holders' post-Ike experience with the TWIA has not been stellar, and the association is named in numerous bad faith insurance lawsuits.

But bad faith insurance attorne  Kurt Arnold of Houston-based Arnold & Itkin LLP says the situation has gotten even more bleak. A new state law that went in effect this week makes it even harder to obtain TWIA coverage to begin with. "As an 'insurer of last resort,' the TWIA should help protect Texans," says Arnold. "Now homeowners who are still struggling to rebuild are wondering if they'll be covered at all the next time a storm blows in." To interview Mr. Arnold, contact Alan Bentrup at 800-559-4534 or alan@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 4:00:15 pm

HRWorld has an interesting article today about how employers are increasingly moving to a paperless payroll system that both saves money and provides a much more convenient and secure payment mechanism for the legion of workers out there who don't have bank accounts.

Writes HRWorld: Paying employees who don't have a bank account is a problem facing a growing number of businesses. Such "unbanked" individuals would like to be spared the trouble and expense of using check-cashing stores, supermarkets and other nonbank sources to receive their salary. Meanwhile, companies that currently pay such employees with currency need to escape the security, payroll and regulatory headaches that accompany cash disbursements.

To address the need for a secure, hassle-free electronic employee-payment system, various financial institutions and third-party vendors have created payroll debit-card - or paycard - services. It's a trend that seems to be catching on. A 2006 study by Boston-based financial-research firm Aite Group LLC estimated that expanding paycard use will lead to nearly 60 percent market growth by 2009.

 

Employment attorney Carrie Hoffman of Gardere Wynne Sewell agrees: "Because it is all electronic, these systems can dramatically lower payroll processing costs and in an industry such as retail that is operating on an increasingly thin profit margin, the savings can help keep a business operating," she says. To interview Ms. Hoffman about the increasing use of paycards, contact Rhonda Reddick at 800-559-4534 or rhonda@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 2:00:25 pm

Just weeks after McKool Smith attorneys secured a $200 million patent-infringement verdict against Microsoft on behalf of software maker i4i, attorneys for the national trial firm McKool Smith have won a $139 million patent-infringement verdict in the Eastern District of Texas. As reported by Bloomberg and others covering the trial of Versata Software Inc. vs. SAP AG, a jury in Marshall, Texas, awarded more than Versata sought at the outset of the trial. Jurors found that SAP infringed two Versata software product patents related to pricing technology - U.S. Patent Nos. 6,553,350 B2, issued in 2003, and 5,878,400, issued in 1999. The jury also rejected SAP's assertion that the patents were invalid.

Bloomberg reports that the Versata verdict is the fourth-largest patent jury verdict in the U.S. this year and represents the 11th-largest jury award overall for 2009. Meanwhile, McKool Smith's $200 million jury verdict on behalf of i4i against Microsoft was the third largest patent verdict and seventh largest overall verdict of 2009, according to Bloomberg. Last year, McKool Smith was responsible for more of the National Law Journal's Top 100 verdicts of of 2008 than any other firm in the country.

 

by Robert Tharp at 10:55:48 am

There's no shortage of horror stories about insurance companies that routinely refuse to pay businesses and individuals for legitimate losses. While some states are increasingly pursuing stiff penalties for insurance companies that operate in bad faith, The Lanier Law Firm is responding with the formation of a new Bad Faith Insurance Practice Group led by firm attorney Phillip Sanov of Houston. The Bad Faith Insurance Practice Group helps individuals and commercial property owners across the country in non-payment disputes with insurance carriers based on claims arising from storms, fires and other natural disasters.
"When you call Houston home, you become intimately familiar with the effects of natural disasters and the insurance mess often left in their wake," says Mark Lanier, founder of The Lanier Law Firm. "Our new practice group will work to help businesses and individuals get back on their feet after a disaster."
The firm has already helped thousands of individuals and businesses recover insurance reimbursements from Hurricane Ike, not to mention claims involving damage from earthquakes, mudslides, forest fires and other disasters.
"After paying premiums for years, you expect an insurance company to stand behind you when disaster strikes," says Mr. Sanov. "The sad truth is that most people and businesses I talk with have been wrongfully denied, unreasonably delayed or vastly underpaid for their insurance claims."
For more information, contact Johnny Cargill at 281.866.6886 or jdc@lanierlawfirm.com.

by Robert Tharp at 4:05:51 pm

Business bankruptcies spiked 60 percent as of for the first six months of 2009, representing 30,333 business filings, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. With that kind of carnage, even companies with strong balance sheets can't feeling the pinch when working with suppliers that may heading down the path toward bankruptcy or that have already sought court protection. "We're seeing this from worldwide industries like the auto manufacturing sector down to smaller, more contained industries," says Rhett Campbell, who leads Thompson & Knight's Corporate Reorganization and Creditors' Rights Practice. "It can be an enormous challenge to maintain business relationships with companies as they're trying to restructure, and that can really impact businesses all along the supply chain." To interview Mr. Campbell about commercial bankruptcy trends, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com

 

by Robert Tharp at 3:50:49 pm

The Justice Department's crackdown on Swiss bank accounts has been called the beginning of the end of super-secret offshore banks favored by the world's elite. Following a contentious eight-month legal battle between the U.S., Switzerland and UBS, the IRS will get access to 4,450 UBS Swiss bank accounts that represent an estimated $18 billion in untaxed savings. While that may be true, the tax crackdown doesn't just threaten the super rich, says  tax litigation attorney Charles Meadows of Meadows, Collier, Reed, Cousins & Blau. "People with $10,000 or more in a foreign account who fail to check the right boxes and don't file the proper disclosures are at risk," he says.

While the IRS has offered an amnesty period of sorts set to end Sept. 23, the voluntary disclosure period allows taxpayers a break from prosecution provided they agree to pay back taxes, interest and penalties. But not everyone's off the hook, particularly those already under investigation. "If they already have your name, you may be ineligible for the amnesty," Meadows says. "In these cases the IRS reserves the right to move forward with criminal prosecution." To interview Mr. Meadows, contact Scott Holcomb at 800-559-4534 or scott@androvett.com

by Robert Tharp at 4:07:17 pm

There's an unprecedented disciplinary hearing unfolding in San Antonio involving the chief ustice of the Texas Court of Appeals, Sharon Keller. You can read the blow-by-

blow coverage over at Texas Lawyer's Ex Parte blog. The New York Times even weighed in with an editorial today. Judge Keller is facing ethics charges from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in connection with the events that occurred just hours before the execution of Michael Richard in Sept. 2007. The judge is accused of closing the courthouse doors promptly at 5 p.m., effectively blocking the filing of a late appeal by Richard's legal team. Needless to say, there's no shortage of strong feelings among observers on both sides regarding what should happen at the close of this hearing. Count Dallas litigator Dan Boyd among them.

Boyd, who is a frequently published and regular speaker on the topic of legal ethics, calls the judge's actions "inexcusable," but also notes "they are only the most notorious of a pattern of biased judicial conduct on her part." To interview Mr. Boyd about legal ethics, contact Rhonda Reddick at 800-559-4534 or Rhonda@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 4:24:19 pm

More than two years after Jenkens & Gilchrist closed its doors as a law firm, attorneys from Sayles Werbner walked out of a Dallas courtroom with a multi-million breach of contract verdict on behalf of the firm. Attorney Mark Werbner successfully argued in trial that the now-closed firm is still entitled to revenue from a former client's patent licensing program. The breach of contract trial hinged on an agreement between Jenkens & Gilchrist and Forgent (now known as Asure Software Inc.) in which Forgent agreed to pay the firm a percentage of fees from a patent licensing program. When Jenkens & Gilchrist ceased operations two years ago, Forgent stopped paying the fees. "When you boil it down, this lawsuit was about Forgent's failure to keep a promise it made to the law firm," says Werbner.
Texas Lawyer's Ex Parte blog notes that the plaintiffs spurned three different settlement offers, the highest of which was $2.45 million, and proceeded to trial. The decision paid off with a jury award that(with prejudgment interest) was more than a million dollars more than the final settlement offer.

by Robert Tharp at 1:30:33 pm

As reported by the Seattle Times and many others today, not only has Microsoft Corp. failed to quash a $200 million patent-infringement verdict, but the award has since grown to $290 million and counting with enhanced damages. U.S. District Judge Leonard Davis also issued a permanent injunction banning Microsoft from selling Microsoft Word products that include the customized XML feature at the center of the dispute with Toronto-based technology provider and document management company i4i Inc.

The i4i verdict is just the latest in a stellar string of courtroom victories for McKool Smith. The i4i verdict is the seventh-largest jury verdict this year, and the third-largest patent verdict, according to Bloomberg data.

During the trial, attorneys from McKool Smith and Tyler, Texas-based Parker, Bunt & Ainsworth successfully argued that Microsoft infringed the i4i patent issued in 1998, U.S. Patent No. 5,787,499, which covers software designed to manipulate "document architecture and content." The software covered by the patent removed the need for individual, manually embedded command codes to control text formatting in electronic documents.

Judge Davis ruled that Microsoft should pay i4i an additional $40 million for its willful infringement of the i4i patent. Microsoft also was ordered to pay slightly more than $37 million in prejudgment interest, including an additional $21,102 per day until a final judgment is reached in the case. The court also ordered Microsoft to pay $144,060 per day until the date of final judgment for post-verdict damages. Today's permanent injunction prohibits Microsoft from selling or importing to the United States any Microsoft Word products that have the capability of opening .XML, .DOCX or DOCM files (XML files) containing custom XML. The court is requiring Microsoft to comply with the injunction within 60 days.

 

by Robert Tharp at 2:52:11 pm

School supplies, check. School uniforms, check. Credits to graduate?

As Texas families gather school supplies and gear for the rapidly approaching 2009-2010 year, the clock is ticking for school districts across the state to make a decision that could significantly affect the graduating class of 2010. At issue is a newly passed state law that allows districts to eliminate the previously mandated graduation requirements for health, computer skills and one of three P.E. semesters.

School districts were surprised to learn that the new requirements are effective for graduating seniors this year, and that potentially creates enormous curriculum and personnel changes with just weeks to go before the opening bell. School districts can opt out of the law and phase the requirements in over time, but such action requires explicit action by school districts in the coming weeks.

A recent Dallas Morning News story notes: The bill did not phase the changes in with incoming freshmen, as is generally the case when changes are made to graduation requirements. Instead, the Texas Education Agency informed districts July 3 that the changes were effective immediately and would apply to all students unless local districts explicitly decided not to implement them. That's putting school boards between parents and students, who want the new choices, and teachers and staffers, who say it's too late to make changes.

"Usually the state specifies a transition period, but in this case the changes can be effective immediately," says Bill Banowsky of Thompson & Knight, who is legal counsel for a number of districts. "We're still recommending that districts keep students on their current plans and phase in these requirements for next year, rather than attempt to hire new staff or make curriculum adjustments on the fly." To interview Mr. Banowsky, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

 

by Robert Tharp at 1:38:15 pm

One place I wouldn't want to be right now is idling in the ever-present traffic jam on a stretch of Interstate 35 under construction just north of Gainesville near the Oklahoma border. Authorities say traffic's been down to one lane for weeks because the contractor working on a bridge project is progressing at a snail's pace. It's become a deadly situation for motorists. Twice in the last month, tractor-trailer drivers have plowed into the queue of cars, resulting in five deaths.

On July 5, 13-year-old Casey Hinkle and his 63-year-old grandfather Gervious Dale Hinkle were killed when their Ford Explorer was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer owned by Tulsa, Okla.-based Refrigerated Delivery Services Inc. On August 3, three people died when an 18-wheeler plowed into stopped traffic along the same stretch of the Interstate.

Noted truck accident attorney Steve Laird of Fort Worth's The Law Offices of Steven C. Laird has filed a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) and other defendants on behalf of the Melissa Hinkle, who was injured in the July 5 wreck that killed her son and father. A Texas state trooper told reporters that Mr. Crume failed to control the truck's speed before crashing into the Hinkle's vehicle and several others.

"Ms. Hinkle is filing this lawsuit with the hope that it will bring change and prevent something like this tragedy from happening to another family," says Mr. Laird. "Every defendant in this case had a hand in these unnecessary deaths, and we intend to make sure they are held accountable. This has to stop before more innocent people are killed."

This latest case was filed in Cooke County's 235th District Court in Gainesville the morning of Aug. 6 as Melissa J. Hinkle, et al. v. Randy Crume, et al., No. 09-00364. Mr. Laird has requested a jury trial to determine the defendants' liability. For more information on the lawsuit, please contact Bruce Vincent at 214-559-4630 or bruce@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 3:25:45 pm

Compared to Bernie Madoff's spectacular collapse, the recent implosion of Dallas-based Provident Royalties, LLC, may not seem that sexy. Try telling that to the more than 7,000 investors who ponied up $485 million for what the SEC now calls a classic Ponzi scheme. There's so much of this stuff going on lately that a new word has been coined: ponzimonium.

According to the SEC, Provident Royalties and its three principals, Paul "Russ" Melbye, Brendan Coughlin and Henry Harrison, misled investors about what they were buying and promised annual returns of up to 18 percent from investments in oil and gas, real estate, leases, and mineral rights. The company raised $485 million between September 2006 and January 2009, but investigators say most of the money was used to pay promised returns to earlier investors.

Victims of the scheme have retained the New York Law firm of Zwerling, Schachter & Zwerling, LLP, to pursue potential claims of securities fraud. The firm will be investigating the actions of Provident Royalties, its principals and related companies, including Provident Asset Management, LLC., Provident Energy, LP, and Shale Royalties, Inc.

"When oil and gas prices were riding high, everyone wanted to get in," says Jeffrey Zwerling, a founding partner of Zwerling, Schachter & Zwerling. "But when prices nosedived, investors disappeared. That meant there was no new money to pay investor returns or return principal to people who wanted to get out. That's when a scheme such as this comes apart."

Provident has officially gone belly-up, filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy shortly before the SEC's action in early July. For more information, please contact Mark Annick at 800-559-4534, 214-213-1754 or mark@androvett.com, or Shaye Fuchs at 1-800-721-3900 or SFuchs@zsz.com.  

by Robert Tharp at 2:07:45 pm

Facebook's usage numbers are just staggering: more than 250 million registered users are spending more than 5 billion minutes on the social networking site every single day(5 billion minutes works out to 9.5 years of time, according to this time conversion calculator). 

Businesses are learning the hard way that there's a fine line to walk regarding whether to allow workers to log onto their personal Facebook pages(and other social media networks) during the work day, says Anthony Campiti of Thompson & Knight. Many employers have implemented or are considering outright bans out of concern about productivity and concerns about confidential information and legal exposure. 

Campiti says such a response may be justified for some companies, but a measured, consistent approach is perhaps the best strategy for most. "Many employers are deciding against across-the-board bans because of the negative impact on recruiting and retention, and the potential benefits in using the sites to network and build business." Campiti says companies should enforce any existing reasonable-use provisions and develop specific policies for social networking. "As long as employers apply and enforce these policies consistently, they should be OK legally." To interview Mr. Campiti, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 1:22:23 pm

We receive lots of media requests here at Androvett Legal Media, many of which are spot-on relevant to our growing stable of expert legal clients. As former journalists ourselves, perhaps nothing pleases us more than helping a reporter on a deadine find the perfect source to flesh out a story. But you never know what's going to cross the transom on any given day. This one from just a few minutes ago deserves a special award.


[Publication deleted] magazine wishes to find out if it would be possible for a human being to survive inside a whale for a significant amount of time. I'm a freelancer. Contact: [name deleted], at [e-mail address deleted]


So there you go. Wanna talk about criminal defense? Estoppel? ERISA? Probate law? Executive compsensation? Mergers & acquisitions? We'll set you up. Shoot, even maritime law. Wanna know how long you might survive in the body of a whale? We'll work on it. Seems like someone's written about this before, though.

by Robert Tharp at 4:37:26 pm

Fashion sense and modesty can absolutely go out the window as the mercury rises. Workers will wear anything -- or practically nothing at all -- in a futile attempt to beat the heat. But scantily clad workers in a professional setting can create real dilemmas for employers, says labor and employment attorney Audrey Mross of Dallas-based Munck Carter. "A coworker who is revealing a little too much can make colleagues uncomfortable or, intentionally or unintentionally, attract attention that forms the basis of a harassment claim," Mross says. "Supervisors are often loathe to confront the situation since it can come off as an attack on personal taste or style. That's where the value of a consistent, basic dress code comes in." To interview Ms. Mross about workplace matters, contact Robert Tharp at 800-559-4534 or robert@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 4:11:32 pm

When an Uptown construction worker fell 23 stories to his death Thursday, the tragedy put a face on an alarming Texas trend that has already caught OSHA's attention. Following a dramatic spike in worker deaths in Texas, OSHA is bringing more inspectors to Texas and has begun performing unannounced site inspections. Dallas attorney Jeff Rasansky of the Rasansky Law Firm says the action is greatly overdue. "The latest figures show that more than 140 construction workers died in 2007, up nearly a third over the previous few years," says Rasansky, who represents people hurt on the job. OSHA has indicated it will conduct unannounced inspections at Texas construction sites through August. "With the current economic conditions, some companies are tempted to cut corners on safety to save a few pennies. Knowing that the government could show up at any time should help business owners do the right thing in looking out for their employees." To interview Mr. Rasansky about workplace safety issues, contact Bruce Vincent at 800-559-4534 or bruce@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 4:35:29 pm

You might pity the plight of Michael Jackson's personal physician, Conrad Murray. There he was in the weeks after the King of Pop's death, dutifully making himself available to investigators and answering questions. Then all of a sudden, the po-po with whom he thought he was cooperating come barging in with a search warrant.

But noted Houston criminal defense attorney Dan Cogdell says that's not an unusual experience for folks who are at the center of criminal probes. "Often, ‘people of interest' feel that cooperating with investigators will prevent a raid, but that is simply not the case," says Cogdell, who has represented numerous high-profile clients subjected to similar searches. "Law enforcement agencies don't have to tell you in advance what they are going to do, and can basically lie to you about their intentions in many cases. People often find out that while they are operating in good faith, that isn't always reciprocal." To interview Mr. Cogdell about high-profile criminal cases, contact Alan Bentrup at 800-559-4534 or alan@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 2:42:10 pm

More than two years have passed since a Dallas jury ordered a Dallas-based physicians' group to pay local doctor Neal Fisher $6.3 million for defamation and breach of contract. The big jury award was in appellate limbo until June 25, when an appellate court finally affirmed the judgment in Fisher's favor.

Dr. Fisher was a member and "shareholder" in Pinnacle Anesthesia Consultants, P.A., a firm that provided obstetric anesthesiology services to Presbyterian Hospital. Things started to go bad for Dr. Fisher after he questioned the firm's billing practices and raised concerns that while the firm advertised as being "in-network" for all major health care plans, it allegedly had a business model of intentionally being "out-of-network" for its services. Pinnacle responded by accusing Dr. Fisher of abusing alcohol and drugs and made false accusations about the doctor's administrative and medical abilities. Pinnacle then fired him from the practice.

His personal and professional reputation at stake, Dr. Fisher voluntarily submitted to drug and alcohol testing of samples of his blood and hair through Presbyterian Hospital's own Impaired Physician Program. Though Dr. Fisher passed each test, Pinnacle neither apologized nor offered him his job back. The suit alleged that his lost job and damage to his reputation cost him millions in lost income.

"For the appellate court to rule in his favor on every single issue makes a statement about this case and about the jury's verdict," says attorney Mike Richardson of Rose•Walker, who represented Dr. Fisher at trial. With post-judgment interest, the amount of the judgment is now in excess of $10 million.

 

by Robert Tharp at 4:11:10 pm

With a sprawling southern neighbor like Mexico, it's easy to forget about the smaller Central American countries that also have interrelated economies. Consider the sudden political shakeup in Honduras. Dallas attorney Trey Branham says few in the U.S. grasp the degree of bilateral trade that occurs between Honduras and the U.S. - more than $7 billion at last count, or that the lush, relatively small country is a significant U.S. tourist destination with more than 100 cruise ship landings a year. Branham, who has interests in Honduras, says a stable government is vital for Honduras' economy and for a continued healthy economic relationship with the U.S. "It's pretty simple; stability in the government there is good for business here," Branham says. "And it's good for the people of Honduras as well. It's in both our interests to do whatever possible to help resolve this situation quickly." To interview Mr. Branham, contact Mark Annick at 800-559-4534 or mark@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 5:04:25 pm

The Supreme Court's landmark Ricci v. DeStefano ruling appears to have provided some much-needed clarity for hiring and promoting within businesses. The Court ruled in favor of white New Haven, Conn., firefighters who had challenged the city's decision to reject the results of a promotion exam after no African-Americans scored well enough to advance. The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling found that such unbiased tests are valid for making employment decisions. Labor and employment attorney Mark Shank of Gruber Hurst Johansen & Hail predicts the ruling will lead to an increased use of such exams in the business world.

The ruling centers on theTitle VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The marority also ruled that the city had failed to demonstrate its primary argument for invalidating the test — that certifying the results would result in unintentional injury to minority firefighters. "This ruling removes a level of risk for companies and public agencies that use standardized tests in performance evaluations or hiring practices, and will likely reduce litigation for employers that stay within the opinion's boundaries," says Shank.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion: "Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions." Meanwhile, writing in dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the white firefighters "understandably attract this court's sympathy. But they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them." To interview Mr. Shank on employment matters, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 4:32:24 pm

History has proven that industry leaders often emerge during tough economic times. Regarding the legal biz in 2009, one of those appears to be McKool Smith. The growing firm's latest coup: selection as one of 20 firms across the U.S. highlighted in The National Law Journal's first-ever "Midsize Hot List."

In selecting McKool Smith, NLJ editors noted the firm's successful expansion into Washington, D.C., and New York City during the past two years, as well as several high-profile lateral attorneys in core practice areas of commercial litigation, white collar litigation and intellectual property litigation.

Noting that midsize firms "have proven more agile than their bigger competitors," the NLJ staff also highlighted the firm's incredible trial performance last year, earning four of the Top 100 verdicts of 2008, more than any law firm of any size in the nation. The publication also details McKool Smith is on the forefront of meeting client demands by offering cutting-edge alternate billing arrangements and fee structures that do not rely on hourly billing.

 

by Robert Tharp at 3:26:49 pm

With credit markets in deep freeze, lots of businesses out there are desperately seeking investors. And when a company's viability is hanging in the balance, it becomes harder and harder to look the gift horse in the mouth and ask the tough questions of a potential white knight. But such due diligence of investors is more important than ever, says attorney Cliff Risman of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. Risman notes that potential investors should be vetted by the State Department, Treasury Department and other governmental agencies, as well as through private investigation agencies. "Due diligence is critical, and this goes far beyond traditional reviews of business and financial fitness," he says. "Regardless of the domicile or nationality of the investor, care must be taken to be sure the funds are not the proceeds of some form of illegal enterprise and that the investor is not on any of the various terrorism or other watch lists." To interview Mr. Risman, contact Rhonda Reddick at 800-559-4534 or rhonda@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 4:17:30 pm

It's now the U.S. Senate's turn to debate proposed climate change legislation, and amid all the talk about smart grids and wind and solar energy, it's easy to forget about the small, but increasing role being played by natural gas-powered vehicles. Many public and private entities are already taking advantage of existing federal incentives that encourage the use of natural gas-powered vehicles, and attorney Scott Deatherage of Dallas' Thompson & Knight says that the proposed legislation will likely contain provisions promoting the relatively clean fuel source. "The final Senate bill will likely echo the House version in extending tax and fuel credits for the use of natural gas into the next decade," he says. "Regardless of what happens legislatively, there is a plentiful domestic supply and a growing market for natural gas as a vehicle fuel, particularly for large fleet operators." Deatherage notes that AT&T recently committed $350 million to buy natural gas vehicles, and more and more entrepreneurs are looking into independent fueling stations to sell liquid or compressed forms of natural gas. To interview Mr. Deatherage, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 11:19:41 am

Probate lawyers Steve Spitzer, Scott Meyer and Glenda Brewer over at  Cowles & Thompson's blog, Texas Probate & Estate Disputes, have plenty to say about the ins and outs of probate and estate law. According to their latest post, Michael Jackson's estate squabble provides some learning opportunities for all of us, namely you never know when it's your turn to perform that big moonwalk in the sky, so it's smart to have a thorough and up-to-date estate plan in place.

They write:

You will need to have a complete and current written will that addresses all of the relevant issues that may arise upon death. The two biggest legal issues so far regarding Mr. Jackson's death are 1) who will be in charge of the estate (who will serve as executor) and 2) who will be in charge of his minor children (who will be the guardian).

Mr. Jackson's will apparently names two people to serve as co executors of his estate(those two are two of Mr. Jackson's attorneys, and neither of them are members of his family). Mr. Jackson's mother, who was not one of the two people named, applied to the court to be named executor. Her request was denied by the court, which is not a surprise. Normally, the executor named in the will by the deceased will be appointed by the court unless the executor is disqualified for some reason (usually conviction of a crime, mental incapacity, or the like). The fact that someone else might be a closer relative to the deceased or that someone else might be a better business manager than the person chosen is not usually relevant. As long as the person chosen meets the basic and minimal qualifications, the courts will usually honor the choice made by the deceased person as expressed in their will.

The guardianship for the children issue is more clouded because Mr. Jackson had three children by two different women. The mother of the two older children has expressed a desire to have guardianship custody of those two children. As the biological mother, she has rights as a parent, just as Mr. Jackson had parental rights while he was alive. For the time being, Mr. Jackson's mother (the grandmother of the children) has been appointed temporary guardian.

In the short run, the courts usually look to try to provide as much stability as possible for the children, as they have obviously been traumatized enough by their father's unexpected death. The grandmother seems more involved in their lives on a regular basis and is in the best position to provide interim stability. In the longer run, the courts may not view the 79 year old grandmother as the best option, and the biological mother of the children could well be given expanded rights, if not full custody.

Mr. Jackson's will made designated his mother as the guardian, with Diana Ross as an alternate in the event that his mother is unable to serve. It will be interesting to see what rights the court may grant to the biological mother as the case proceeds.

It is important that parents of children under the age of 18 include such provisions in their will so that their wishes can be made known and taken into consideration after death.

by Robert Tharp at 10:23:36 am

When Rice University freshman football standout Dale Lloyd collapsed during a workout three years ago, his death was tragic for the many touched by his life and a wakeup call for the NCAA's oversight of young athletes. Mr. Lloyd's family turned to The Lanier Law Firm to find answers. Firm founder Mark Lanier and firm partner Gene Egdorf have negotiated an important settlement to the wrongful death litigation that takes significant steps to prevent such tragedies from happening again in college sports programs.

Medical examiners concluded that sickle cell disease was a factor in Mr. Lloyd's death. Neither Mr. Lloyd nor his family were aware that Mr. Lloyd carried the sickle cell trait, and the NCAA did not require screening for sickle cell disease even though the sickle cell trait had been linked to other student athlete deaths. As a result of the litigation and settlement, the NCAA will recommend that university athletic departments test all athletes for the sickle cell trait. The Lloyd family has sought such a commitment form the NCAA to protect future student athletes. The sickle cell trait appears in approximately 8-9% of the African-American population, and is found less commonly in all races.

"This settlement is the first step in preventing tragic deaths like Dale's from ever happening again," says Mr. Lanier. "The Lloyd family is pleased that the NCAA stepped up and settled this matter in a way that honors their son's memory and also funds research that will save lives."

The NCAA also will insert a "Point of Emphasis" regarding sickle cell testing in its Football Rulebook in conjunction with a press conference scheduled for August. Additionally, the NCAA will instruct coaches, athletic trainers and student athletes about the dangers of the sickle cell trait, and provide a $50,000 donation to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America and a $10,000 donation to the Dale R. Lloyd II Scholarship Fund. Mr. Lanier also will be contributing $20,000 to the scholarship fund in recognition of the Lloyd family. The Houston Press touched on the impact that Lloyd, a Lamar High School grad, had on so many:

It's difficult to overstate how well-liked Lloyd was among his peers. His death hit Lamar especially hard; he'd been a football star who was friendly to everyone, and got the grades necessary to get into Rice. "From the beginning of this case, our goal was to have the NCAA recommend and implement a testing program to prevent further deaths related to the sickle cell trait," said Gene Egdorf, the lead attorney on the case.

by Robert Tharp at 11:53:10 am

Retail electricity and gas provider Stream Gas & Electric has grown like crazy in the last three years with an intoxicating message. With a business model that offers individuals a path to personal wealth by schlepping electrical service to friends and neighbors, it has become the 29th largest private company in Dallas/Fort Worth,

But some are starting to question whether Stream's business plan amounts to a multilevel marketing pyramid scheme, which is an illegal and non-sustainable business model that involves the exchange of money primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, often without any product or service being delivered. Attorney's from Houston's The Clearman Law Firm have filed a federal class action lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations(RICO) Act against the Dallas-based company.

Clearman attorneys allege that Stream and its marketing arm, Ignite, induced the plaintiffs and others to invest in the "Ignite Services Program" at a cost of $329 and purchase an "Ignite Homesite" web page for a charge of $29 per month. The lawsuit claims that a large portion of the $329 is paid to those higher in the pyramid. "Some of the individuals at the top of the Stream and Ignite pyramid earn millions of dollar a year, while most of those that are now joining the scheme will likely never recover their investment," says Scott Clearman of The Clearman Law Firm, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. "Stream promises recruits that they can make vast sums of money, but the fact is that most will lose their money."

A copy of the lawsuit and more information about The Clearman Law Firm is available at http://www.clearmanlaw.com. For more information or to schedule an interview with Mr. Clearman, please contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 4:32:04 pm

Looks like we'll never know exactly what caused Air France 447 to go down into the Atlantic Ocean earlier this month now that key data stored in the plane's "black box" is buried with the wreckage at sea. Attorney and pilot Marty Rose of Dallas' Rose•Walker law firm says the loss of the crucial flight data didn't have to occur. In fact, modern aircraft like the Airbus A330 that was involved in this crash are technologically able to transmit this flight data real-time so there's no need to rely on an investigator's ability to recover the black boxes from a crash.

"So how is it that manufacturers and airlines can collect that data, but not information from the black boxes?" Rose asks. "It's simple. They're not required to do so. Neither the FAA, NTSB, nor their equivalents in other countries require the airlines to install real-time data transmission devices which would make the black boxes unnecessary and antiquated." To interview Mr. Rose, contact Mark Annick at 800-559-4534 or mark@androvett.com.

 



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