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Androvett Blog

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:01:00 am

On May 27, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to reinstate a $641 million lawsuit representatives from Environment Texas and the Sierra Club brought against energy giant ExxonMobil for violating the Clean Air Act at its Baytown, Texas, oil refinery complex. The groups allege Exxon has thousands of air pollution violations, and are fighting for the government to properly enforce the law and protect the public’s health by penalizing the company.

Houston-based attorney Philip H. Hilder, who represents the environmental groups in the lawsuit, says:

“The opinion is significant because it ratifies enforcement of the Clean Air Act by ordinary citizens when the government refuses to do its job. This type of action is the great equalizer, holding corporations accountable where the government has failed.”

Luke Metzger, Director of Environmental Texas, echoes Hilder:

“After six years of litigation against one of the state’s biggest polluters, justice has finally been served. The appeals court confirms that even the world’s most powerful corporations must be held accountable when they violate our environmental and public health laws.”

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:31:00 am

The Obama administration recently issued an order requiring that public schools permit transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. The administration threatened to withhold federal funds from schools that don’t comply with this directive. Yesterday, Texas and 10 other states filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the administration’s order. Chad Ruback, a Dallas appellate lawyer, explains:

There is simply not much precedent—one way or the other—as to the rights of transgender individuals. Consequently, it is quite difficult to predict how the states will fare in this lawsuit.  However, by filing their lawsuit in a West Texas federal court, the states have chosen one of the most conservative venues in the country. Wichita Falls, Texas, is not known for its sympathy to transgender individuals or to the Obama administration. However, it is quite possible that this case won’t turn on whether transgender individuals should have certain rights, but instead on whether the administration overstepped its authority by creating such rights by executive decree.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:55:00 am

Texas-based NextSeed is setting its sights on revolutionizing the way small business financing and investing are done nationwide. NextSeed is the first SEC-registered crowdfunding portal under Title III of the JOBS Act.

In October 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission passed Title III of the JOBS Act, which is intended to facilitate investments by non-accredited investors in private placement deals. Until now, investors who did not meet specific income or net worth qualifications had difficulty investing in private businesses due to strict disclosure requirements. Under the new crowdfunding rules, U.S. private businesses are now able to raise up to $1 million a year by offering securities to investors, including non-accredited investors, through broker-dealers or online platforms operated by funding portals such as NextSeed.

NextSeed was represented in its efforts to secure SEC approval by venture capital and emerging business attorneys from Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. Led by Gardere partners Adam Hull and Rick Jordan, the firm developed a model that will help the shape the future of online crowdfunding and the way securities and broker-dealer laws, lending regulations, internal structuring and tax-related concerns are addressed. Gardere represents investors and issuers in venture capital and later-stage transactions and has a portfolio of emerging business clients throughout the country.

To celebrate the launch of this new national platform, NextSeed will present an evening of festivities spotlighting small business and investors at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 26, at the former downtown Central Post Office in Houston. The newly remodeled small business marketplace is at 401 Franklin Street. The evening will include live music and complimentary food and drink from some of the most exciting new businesses in Houston. RSVPs are required and can be made here

“NextSeed is at the forefront of online funding innovation, and Gardere is honored to represent an organization that is truly the first of its kind in the country,” says Mr. Hull. “NextSeed’s early success is directly attributable to the quality and commitment of its seasoned, sophisticated leadership team. “Co-founder and CEO Youngro Lee and his dedicated team are ideally suited to make NextSeed a breakout success.”

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:15:00 pm

This weekend the Houston Chronicle reported that Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush had paid former state employees who were fired nearly $1 million not to sue his office or him personally and to keep quiet about the arrangement.

The news follows earlier revelations that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton continued to pay three employees from his office after they stopped working for the state. Since severance pay for state workers is not allowed, the payments by both officials are drawing scrutiny. 

Veteran Dallas employment lawyer Rogge Dunn says he believes the agreements likely are improper. 

“The practice of paying government employees after they've been terminated is highly questionable and likely violates the ban on paying state workers severance,” Mr. Dunn says. “This practice should concern taxpayers and regulators alike because it’s so vague and lacks transparency.” 

Mr. Dunn says the payment structure Mr. Bush relied on for former General Land Office employees is particularly confusing since any lawsuits that could have been filed or may still be filed would be handled just like any other claim against the state, which means a settlement or a trial. 

“Without any checks and balances, taxpayers are at risk for abuse of the standard, above-board process by which the state settles claims and lawsuits,” he says. 

 

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 1:25:00 pm

Rusty Hardin, Houston-based litigator and founder of Rusty Hardin & Associates, was recently featured in Law360’s Trial Pros series, which you can read here. The nationally known lawyer began his career as a prosecutor in Houston before starting a private practice where he works on both civil and criminal cases and often helps high-profile clients from the sports, political and business worlds.  

Mr. Hardin says pitcher Roger Clemens’ perjury case over allegedly lying to Congress about using performance enhancing drugs was the most interesting he’s worked on:

“I so deeply felt that he was the victim of a congressional witch hunt that observed no rules. The only reason Roger Clemens ever testified before Congress, was because he was unwilling to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. He was unwilling to refuse because he believed so strongly that he had done nothing wrong. The first trial ended in a mistrial because of government mistakes… but when we got the not guilty at the end of the second perjury trial, it was an incredibly satisfying moment.”

His biggest advice to new trial lawyers:

“To listen and not be so bound up in your trial preparation that you fail to constantly be listening to witnesses in a way that is unencumbered by your expectations. [You] may miss incredible nuggets that both the jury and the facts scream out to be further examined. I’ve never seen a trial where we were not able to elicit favorable information that we never expected and didn’t see coming. Total preparation can free you up… thereby allowing you to be able to pounce on the unexpected.”

The most unexpected or amusing thing he’s experienced while working on a trial: 

“During litigation over the hundreds of millions of dollars in the estate of the late J. Howard Marshall II, the questioning of the one-time Playboy centerfold Anna Nicole Smith took a life of its own. It was interesting to watch a witness say and do whatever outrageous things come to their mind in a totally unstructured way that made cross-examination a wonderfully extemporaneous experience. I asked Anna Nicole how she spent $100,000 a week, she responded with ‘Rusty, it’s very expensive being me.’”

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 8:43:00 am

The Ohio Court of Appeals is reviewing a judge’s $11,000 fine of  a lawyer for telling a reporter about an upcoming civil trial. Media organizations already have submitted briefs in support of attorney Peter Pattakos, arguing that the fine levied against him amounts to an unconstitutional infringement on a free press.

“In some extraordinary cases, for good cause, judges have restricted lawyers’ ability to discuss the facts of a case with the media – but this clearly is not one of those instances,” says Dallas appellate attorney Chad Ruback.

“The Ohio judge’s order would effectively prohibit all communication between lawyers and media members in all cases, even communicating such innocuous details as when a trial is scheduled to begin. The Ohio court’s order violates both the lawyer’s right to free speech and the media’s right to free press. If the courts in Ohio do not clarify that such an order is highly inappropriate, then this is the type of ruling that would draw the U.S. Supreme Court’s interest.

Ever since the days of Ben Franklin’s printing press, the public has relied upon the media to stay informed about court proceedings. The media historically have provided a means for average citizens to keep watch over the courts. Our founding fathers were well-aware that, without reasonable media access to information about court cases, the public’s trust in the legal system would quickly erode.”

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 4:00:00 pm

Despite an outpouring of negative commentary from the business community and a congressional attempt to block enactment (more on that below), the Department of Labor’s new overtime rule has arrived. The rule is a whopping 508 pages long, but here are the basics gleaned from the summaries by Audrey Mross, who leads the Labor and Employment Section at Dallas’ Munck Wilson Mandala:

  • The effective date is Dec. 1, 2016, so you’ve got some time to get your house in order.
  • The minimum salary to preserve most exemptions (in addition to meeting the proper duties test) will jump from $23,660 to $47,476 per year (lower than expected, based on the proposed regulations).
  • The minimum salary to preserve the exemption for highly compensated workers will rise from $100,000 to $134,004 per year, higher than expected.
  • The minimum salary will reset every three years, starting Jan. 1, 2020. Each new minimum will be announced 150 days in advance (Aug. 1, 2019 for the January 2020 increase).
  • Those minimum salary levels are tied to a percentage of the earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-paid Census region, the South. The non-Highly Compensated Minimum salary is pegged at the 40 percent mark when looking at the weekly earnings of all full-time, salaried workers in the South. The Highly Compensated Employee rate is pegged at 90 percent.
  • Up to 10 percent of the salary minimum for non-HCE workers can be met via payment of non-discretionary bonuses, commissions or incentive pay so long as the payments are made quarterly or more frequently.
  • No changes were made to any of the duties tests.

The administration purposefully pushed the new regulation out now to try to avoid nullification via the Congressional Review Act after the upcoming elections. The Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act, which attempts to block the rule and requires further economic impact study, has only 36 sponsors in the Senate and 155 in the House, so not a lot of traction there yet. Today’s announcement means it’s time for businesses to review those job classifications and compensation levels and make some decisions. For example, do you increase the minimum salary, where needed, to preserve the exemption? Or do you concede nonexempt status and manage the overtime liability by clamping down on hours worked? Policies and procedures will need updating, and plan on educating newly nonexempt workers and their managers on unfamiliar topics such as proper record-keeping, compensability of travel time and more.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:45:00 pm

All efforts by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to block Syrian refugees from coming to Texas have failed. Yesterday he announced that Texas state officials could impose additional security checks on refugees settling in the state. Gordon Quan, a nationally recognized, 30-year immigration lawyer who has a weekly radio show about immigration law, responds to Paxton’s statement:

“I feel exasperated with a Texas  administration that continues to look for boogeymen whether in restrooms, voting booths or with women and children fleeing terrorism. What a waste of time! The only way the state leaders can retain power is to spread fear about the other – gays, minorities and refugees. We are better than this.”  - Gordon Quan, founding partner of Houston law firm Quan Law Group, PLLC.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 3:00:00 pm

Last weekend’s baseball series between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays continues to dominate headlines based on the late-game brawl that started with a punch delivered by the Rangers infielder Rougned Odor. Major League Baseball has announced an 8-game suspension for the Rangers star, who reportedly says he will appeal.

Dallas criminal defense attorney Barry Sorrels recently told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the violent punch that landed on the jaw of Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista may have earned Mr. Odor a suspension, but criminal charges will not be coming given the circumstances. “In sports, if you’re out there, you know this is going to happen and everybody sort of recognizes that this is going to happen,” Mr. Sorrels says. “Just by being out there, you’re kind of consenting to be involved in this.”

Even if Mr. Odor were to face criminal charges based on the fight, which the Arlington Police Department has told media it has no interest in pursuing, he still would likely prevail in court, Mr. Sorrels says. How? He says Mr. Odor’s response to the hard slide directed at his legs would be very easily defended at trial.

“He absolutely had a right to defend himself,” says the Dallas attorney who’s represented a variety of professional athletes during his storied legal career.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:03:00 pm

The head of a group of women lawyers in Dallas is getting behind an effort to create emojis showing women in professional situations – as doctors, lawyers, etc. – in addition to the traditional ones girls see.

“I’d love to see a female judge,” says Dallas Women Lawyers Association President Angela Zambrano. “Think about it. Kids always have their phones and they’re always texting.  This is one of those small things that can make a huge difference in how girls and young women see themselves and what they see as possibilities when they grow up.”

Google has proposed the new professional women emojis to the Unicode Consortium, the organization that creates them. Young girls and teenagers, who use their phones daily to text a smiley face, a heart, maybe a bride to their friends, may soon see a woman as an executive, a farm or factory worker.

Michelle Obama and the feminine products company Always are advocates for better portrayal of women in emojis (Always published a video of girls saying emojis don’t represent them).

Zambrano believes the Google proposal elevates the standing of women in all professions and sends a strong message to young girls and teenagers about women’s roles in today’s society.

“When girls see us in professional roles, they learn at an early age that women deserve equal representation in the workforce,” said Zambrano.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 1:30:00 pm

Attorneys with the Dallas litigation boutique Aldous \ Walker have secured a confidential settlement in a lawsuit against Texas Health Resources and LHP Hospital Group based on fraud allegations stemming from the companies’ 2010 acquisition of Wilson N. Jones Memorial Hospital in Sherman, Texas. “I am happy that we were able to hold the defendants accountable and send a message that you cannot hurt communities like THR did and abandon them without consequences,” says attorney Charla Aldous of Aldous \ Walker, lead counsel for the foundation. “And I am especially proud that the proceeds from this agreement will go to the Wilson N. Jones Community Foundation to help provide health care to the indigent in Grayson County.”

The civil lawsuit filed in January 2015 on behalf of the hospital’s foundation claimed that Arlington, Texas-based THR and Plano, Texas-based LHP induced the WNJ board of trustees to sell the hospital to them six years ago even though there were higher offers from other potential buyers. The sale was predicated on THR and LHP committing $25 million for capital improvements within five years, in addition to the companies’ promising not to sell the hospital to any outside group for 10 years. However, Ms. Aldous says the capital improvements never reached the $25 million mark. THR and LHP also notified the foundation board that they intended to sell the hospital in September 2014 instead of honoring the previously agreed 10-year ownership pledge. The WNJ Foundation owned the hospital since 1914 until its sale to THR.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:00:00 am

In January, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion that Texas courts most likely would view paid daily fantasy sports as illegal gambling. FanDuel, a popular fantasy sports website, prohibited participation by all Texans earlier this month as a result. However, leading fantasy sports website DraftKings decided to take a different route by filing a lawsuit against the AG, claiming he caused the company to lose customers and jeopardized its relationship with the Dallas Cowboys.

Dallas appellate lawyer Chad Ruback recently discussed the DraftKings lawsuit in a Bloomberg BNA story that you can read here.

“While [filing a lawsuit] is a risk, it’s not an irrational decision,” Mr. Ruback said. “If ultimately the court rules against DraftKings, at least they have certainty, but right now, there is no certainty. Do they keep pouring money into a business model that very well might be determined illegal in Texas sometime in the future?”

“This is not something that would come up often,” Mr. Ruback said. “You know armed robbery is a crime, murder is a crime, but DraftKings wants the court to rule on its business model. The attorney general gave his opinion, but that’s just one man’s opinion.”

 

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:48:00 am

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – the federally sanctioned consumer watchdog – has unveiled a proposal that would restore customers’ rights to bring class-action lawsuits against financial firms. Dallas attorney Warren Burns of Burns Charest says the proposal will protect “the most important tool in the consumer’s toolbox.” The new rule is expected to give Americans major new protections and deliver a serious blow to Wall Street by removing requirements to take any dispute to arbitration. “For decades, Americans have been duped by a highly coordinated campaign to malign class actions and the lawyers who routinely protect consumer rights,” says Mr. Burns. “The American economic system has always been built on a compromise designed to permit businesses to conduct their activities without excessive regulation, but at the same time to permit consumers to protect their rights through litigation.” The proposed rule, which would apply to bank accounts, credit cards and other types of consumer loans, seems almost certain to take effect since it does not require congressional approval.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 8:00:00 am

The late music icon Prince certainly isn’t the most famous person to have died without a will and has an estate greater than their debts. Howard Hughes, Jimi Hendrix and Pablo Picasso are among those that also died with substantial estates but no wills. Prince’s lack of a formalized, up-to-date estate plan indicates that the entertainer was much more like the rest of us than we might have ever expected.

By some estimates, more than 60 percent of Americans may not have a recognized will. However, Dallas estate planning attorney Sam Long of Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP says those estimates are misleading since everyone arguably already has a will. The question, Mr. Long says, is “whether someone has their own or the state drafts it for them,” as seems to be the case with Prince.

“If you choose the latter route by default, then the resulting beneficiaries and fiduciaries under state laws are not always as one would intend or assume,” says Mr. Long, who also serves as an adjunct professor of wills, trusts and estates at the UNT-Dallas College of Law.

“Having no will also can cause additional expense and complexity, and sometimes a greater tax burden on heirs that could have been prevented with some planning. For many people, private wealth now is passed along by beneficiary designations on IRAs, life insurance policies, multiple-party bank accounts, living trusts and/or other forms of ‘nontestamentary transfers.’ But wills still play a vital role in the succession of property at death.”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:45:00 am

Experienced maritime lawyer Charles Herd of The Lanier Law Firm in Houston says he expects as many 85,000 individual lawsuits will be filed against BP by the middle of this month over damages caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Mr. Herd says many people wrongly believe that a 2012 class-action settlement resolved all the Deepwater Horizon claims against BP, but those who did not participate in the settlement can file lawsuits by May 16 under a court-ordered deadline.

Mr. Herd recently discussed the claims of the more than 200 clients he’s representing against BP in a story by The National Law Journal that you can read here. He told the publication that the federal judge overseeing the claims against BP is working to make sure the local residents and small businesses who did not participate in the class-action settlement will get their day in court.

“[The judge has] now turned his attention to what most people thought the case was going to be about from the beginning—all the individuals, mom and pop stores, who were economically and otherwise harmed by the spill itself,” Mr. Herd told The National Law Journal.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:30:00 am

Faced with an apparently unsuccessful deal to reorganize electricity transmission unit Oncor, Energy Future Holdings Corp. may now be staring at a lengthy and expensive bankruptcy fight, according to Sam Stricklin of Dallas’ Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank

“If this transaction is really dead, the bankruptcy case could drag on for a year or more and accumulate gigantic amounts of professional fees,” Mr. Stricklin told the national legal news service Law360. According to the article, professional fees in the EFH case already have reached $300 million, not counting the month-long trial that resulted in EFH's Chapter 11 plan confirmation. Late last week EFH told the Delaware bankruptcy court that the deal at the heart of its Chapter 11 plan could not be concluded due to conditions imposed by Texas regulators. The state’s Public Utility Commission balked at the tax savings from the deal structure not being shared with ratepayers. But Mr. Stricklin says those costs may ultimately wind up being passed onto consumers. “I applaud the commission’s desire to share some of those tax savings, but they may be cutting off their nose to spite their face,” he says.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:48:00 pm

Cyberattackers have targeted all types of businesses, from oil companies to hospitals. This week, a small West Texas law firm reportedly discovered its email system had been hacked and used to dupe people around the world when they received an email from the firm regarding a “lawsuit subpoena.”

The emails were from a valid address at the law firm of James T. Shelton in Clarendon, Texas, east of Amarillo. But no one from the firm had sent the messages. In a classic “phishing” attempt, the email reportedly contained a virus in a Word document loaded with malware that can be used to steal banking and other personal information when downloaded. As reported on the legal news website Texas Lawbook, the law firm shut down the email account and placed a warning message on its website saying not to click on links from the email.

“Certainly, there has been a lot of interest in the last couple of years among companies and regulators about the potential vulnerability of law firms and how they might be the weak link enabling hackers to get access to corporate documents and information,” says Mark Thibodeaux, cybersecurity lawyer in the Houston office of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP. Mr. Thibodeaux is also a former IT executive and has an in-depth understanding of the techniques used by data hackers.

“All organizations must train computer-using employees to recognize ‘phishing’ emails. When unsuspecting victims open attachments or click on links in these emails, that is how the attackers get their foothold on the organizations' networks,” he said.

“There have been allegations that big law firms have been targeted by (primarily Russian) criminal gangs to get access to pre-release corporate information to use for insider trading of stocks and other securities. And, of course, there has most recently been the supposed hacking of Mossack Fonseca in Panama, leaking information about the widespread use of offshore companies to hide money,” said Mr. Thibodeaux. "Both federal and state regulators have increased their scrutiny of how financial institutions are managing cybersecurity when they have entrusted information to third parties, like law firms, accountants, and IT contractors. They want to see due diligence on cybersecurity before information is handed over, strong contractual confidentiality protections, periodic audits of security, and notification and cooperation with investigations when incidents occur.”

Mr. Thibodeaux notes that a group in the oil and gas industry, including many Houston-based companies, recently founded an Information Sharing and Analysis Organization (ISAO) focused on sharing ideas regarding protecting information shared with outside counsel and information about threats and defenses.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:33:00 pm

The credits on Beyonce’s new album Lemonade give a nod to the band the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs for a lyric she uses in the chorus of her second song. Steve Mitby, a partner in the Houston-based law firm Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing, or AZA, says this was a smart move by the Houston-born pop star.

“This was well played by Beyonce. It is a huge risk for someone in a creative business to borrow anything without giving proper credit. We’ve seen this harm reputations again and again in academia, book and speech writing and in the music industry,” Mitby said.

“I tell clients to acknowledge any work they use substantially, or just in passing. What Beyonce did here is good business. The line between accepted sampling and copyright theft may be fuzzy, but giving credit where credit is due is an easy rule to follow,” Mitby said.

Artists from 2 Live Crew to Pharrell, and writers from Doris Kearns Goodwin to Mike Barnicle, have come under fire for uncredited references to others. Even Vice President Joe Biden was accused of plagiarism. It appears Beyonce will avoid those perils.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:15:00 pm

Dallas attorney Rogge Dunn has represented a variety of professional sports figures over the years, and he has been closely watching the “Deflate-gate” saga involving New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Mr. Dunn says today's decision from the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a four-game suspension levied against Brady by the National Football League shows how much power has been placed in the hands of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“Under the collective bargaining agreement signed by the players union and the NFL, the commissioner has broad discretion, which the ruling notes," Mr. Dunn said. "The 2nd Circuit also noted that it was required to give the commissioner ‘substantial deference’ when considering an appeal of one of his rulings. That means that unless the commissioner goes outside his authority and ignores the plain language of the collective bargaining agreement, or unless he is demonstrably unfair, then his rulings will not be overturned by an appellate court. This court decision will have implications in the future when players and team owners reexamine their collective bargaining agreement, which gives the commissioner these broad powers. This isn’t the first time that a commissioner of a major sports league has taken decisive action and made a statement. Back in the early 1920s, Major League Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned White Sox players for life for throwing a game in the World Series even though they had been found innocent by a jury.”

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 1:25:00 pm

Aaron Dobbs, a shareholder in the Texas-based law firm Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey PC who handles tough probate cases including many for sizable and complex estates, said if Prince did not leave a will, state law usually dictates that the estate passes to the person’s family. The deceased’s family, referred to as “heirs,” will be determined through a judicial proceeding where the court will formally declare the names of each person inheriting and each person’s share of the estate. If the court declares that the person’s property passes to siblings, half-blood siblings inherit half as much as that inherited by each whole-blood sibling. This result may be contrary to the deceased’s wishes, which is why developing an estate plan is important.  Estate planning can be an empowering process because you -- not the state – dictate who will inherit your estate and who will handle your estate business in the interim. 

What happens with Prince’s assets will likely depend on if a will is ever found and on the particular laws in Minnesota. In many states, including Texas, a person’s estate will pass according to the terms of the deceased’s will. Of course, the validity of a will can be challenged due to allegations that the deceased lacked capacity or was unduly influenced. Also, the will may not contain all of the elements required by law to be a valid will.  This is why it is important to have a professional prepare estate planning documents. 

When it comes to Prince’s music, that will likely be handled by a personal representative, often referred to as an executor (when there is a will) or as an administrator (generally, when there is not a will), will need to be appointed by a court in order to administer the estate. Administering the estate includes maintaining and securing all assets of the estate, including intangible personal property like music and other copyrighted material.  This might include the personal representative bringing legal action, on behalf of the estate, against those that may be using copyrighted materials without permission.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:08:00 pm

While the official announcement is not until tomorrow, it is being reported that former Cleveland Browns and Texas A&M University quarterback Johnny Manziel will be indicted on domestic violence charges. Philip Hilder, founder of Hilder & Associates in Houston and former federal prosecutor, focuses his practice on white collar criminal defense. He explains:

“It is unusual but not unprecedented that a grand jury was utilized to consider whether to charge Mr. Manziel.  Though a grand jury was not needed in charging a misdemeanor, it can be  used, as here,  to shield a DA from criticism.  In this case, no matter the course of DA action, or inaction, there would be criticism in this high profile matter. It is easier for the DA to punt in this situation and let a body of citizens decide.”  

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:00:00 am

What’s the best thing about your job?

The people. I work with talented, smart, fun people here at Androvett. And I enjoy the people I work for – the lawyers and law firms.

From a marketing standpoint what are law firms not focused on that they should be?

We are all tempted by the bright and shiny tactic. The best marketers start by focusing on the objective: What does the firm want to achieve? What is success? How can the firm grow its practice? Answering those questions will make the decisions about individual tactics much more apparent.

In contrast, what are some of the positive things that law firms are doing in the area of marketing?

More and more, firms are recognizing the importance of their Brand, and understanding that even with legal services, hiring decisions are driven by how the firm and its attorneys are perceived. And that’s what a Brand is – a bundle of perceptions.

What’s on the horizon in terms of trends and tools that could assist firms in building their brands?

Lawyers, by training, are often risk averse. So it’s less about trends and being on the vanguard of marketing, and more about adopting current best practices. LinkedIn is a good example. So is content marketing, taking the thought leadership that attorneys create – white papers, speeches, articles, etc. – and disseminating those across multiple platforms, such as LinkedIn, the firm website, blogs, email marketing and even Twitter.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I have a small fragment of limestone embedded in my cheekbone, the result of a childhood fall. So I sorta have rocks in my head. It explains a lot.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:00:00 pm

This morning it was announced that Uber reached a settlement with 385,000 drivers in California and Massachusetts over the classification of its drivers. Drivers were pushing to be classified as employees, where Uber took the position that they are independent contractors. In the settlements, Uber is paying $100 million in exchange for the drivers to be classified as independent contractors. Attorney Randy Gordon, Chair of Antitrust and Trade Regulation at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, explains:

“The most important aspect of the settlement is that it preserves Uber’s position that its drivers are independent contractors, not employees.  And although this settlement doesn’t have the force of general law, it will, if approved, bind hundreds of thousands of drivers and avoid a trial of the issue in what has proven to be an unfavorable venue for Uber.  The drivers also secured some monetary relief (up to $8,000 for experienced drivers) and other concessions, including a right not to be ‘deactivated’ without reason or recourse and to organize (but on a non-union level).”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:43:00 pm

Dallas appellate lawyer Chad Ruback says despite today’s “victory” for the City of Dallas, the case against porn convention Exxxotica is far from over:

“This morning, a federal judge denied Exxxotica’s request for a preliminary injunction.  While the judge’s ruling is certainly a win for the City, it is not nearly as big a win as one might think.  This ruling merely signifies that the judge will not be changing the status quo until the case has been more fully developed.  Exxxotica was facing an extremely high legal hurdle to get the judge to change the status quo and force the City to rescind its decision about barring Exxxotica from the convention center.  Exxxotica’s burden will be much lower at trial.

In a separate ruling also issued today, the judge denied the City’s motion to dismiss Exxxotica’s case.  If the judge had granted the City’s motion, that truly would have been a monumental win for the City.  Read together, the judge’s two rulings indicate that this case will likely be pending for a long time.  If it proceeds to trial and then to appeal, the City’s total legal bill will easily be in the millions.  So, the biggest loser today may have been the City’s taxpayers, who are footing the bill for the private attorneys who’ve been hired by the City.”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 1:28:00 pm

U.S. regulators announced this morning that they are proposing new rules that would regulate Wall Street executives’ bonus pay including making them wait four years to collect most of their bonus pay, and forcing them to return money if companies lose money. Mark Shank, Managing Partner of Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank, who specializes in executive compensation and regulatory issues says:

“The proposal calls for creating a standardized policy of governmental oversight that supersedes both existing industry standards and the independent, internal policies of individual businesses. I’m not sure imposing these regulations create any benefit to these companies, their customers or the overall economy.”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:36:00 am

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral argument today in a case that pits the president against 26 states over the issue of immigration.  Who wins?

“With the passing of Justice Scalia, you effectively have a stalemate,” says Dallas appellate attorney Chad Ruback.  “You end up with four conservative justices and four liberal ones.  And if they go the way one might think they would go, the trial court’s ruling – against the president – stands.  And that means Texas wins and the president loses.”

Some background. Frustrated by Congress’s unwillingness to enact his immigration reform legislation, President Obama signed an executive order which would grant temporary legal status and work permits to all undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally prior to 2010 and have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. This would include over four million of the approximately eleven million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.

The State of Texas assembled a coalition of 26 states to mount a legal challenge to the president’s executive order, contending that the order exceeded the president’s authority. Last year, a federal trial court judge ruled against President Obama in this case and issued an injunction prohibiting the president’s order from being implemented.  A federal court of appeals affirmed the trial court judge’s decision.

The Obama administration has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has historically given presidents broad discretion over who should be deported. The Supreme Court is conducting a hearing on the case today.

At today’s hearing, the State of Texas is arguing that, while a president may have broad discretion with regard to deciding who should be deported, President Obama’s order exceeds the bounds of that discretion.  While other presidents—including George H.W. Bush—have ordered that certain individuals not be deported, this is the first time that a president has ordered that everyone meeting certain criteria be spared from deportation.

The State of Texas is also arguing that, by providing work permits (in addition to freedom from deportation), President Obama’s order should not be judged by the same liberal standard as simply an order deciding who should be deported. The provision of work permits is significant because, under existing U.S. law, a person who works with a valid work permit is automatically eligible for social security and Medicare benefits.

The Supreme Court is now split evenly between four Republican-appointed justices and four Democrat-appointed justices. If all eight justices vote along party lines, President Obama’s order will not be implemented.  However, there is certainly the possibility that one of the more moderate Republican-appointed justices will vote with the Supreme Court’s liberal faction.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am

April 12 is Equal Pay Day – the day that women’s 2015 earnings equal that of what men were paid last year. Lawyers are no exception to the pay gap.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, median pay for full-time female lawyers was 77.4 percent of the pay earned by their male counterparts, the ABA Journal reported.

“Women lawyers are subject to the same pay gap that women in other professions face,” says Dallas Women Lawyers Association President Angela Zambrano. “Given the fact that law school is no less expensive for women than it is for men, that pay gap must end.”

“It can’t just be incumbent on women lawyers to ‘be better negotiators’ or demand higher pay,” she says. “Employers hold the purse strings, so they need to make special efforts to ensure that their male and female lawyers are being judged – and compensated – by the same yardstick.  I do not believe that any individual working for an employer wants his or her daughter or wife earning less than her male colleagues for doing the same work.  But having these issues top of mind in the compensation process can prevent creating unintentional wage disparities.  We can fix this issue in one generation with right-thinking employers.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am

A former federal immigration investigator says the announcement of a crackdown on visa fraud – and the use of a fake university to make it happen – sounds like a creative idea.  But AJ Irwin wonders if the feds might have done even more with what they learned, and the people they identified.

News coverage this week detailed the University of Northern New Jersey, which came complete with a website, a Latin-laden seal and a list of business degrees.  But it was all fake, a mirage created by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to snare those who act as recruiters and commit visa fraud involving students.

Irwin, who worked for ICE’s predecessor – the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) – says the number of those recruiters arrested in the sting, 21, seems rather low for an operation that began in 2012.  What’s more, since the scheme reportedly involved 1,000 students, he wonders what information the agents may have gathered if they had grabbed some of the students as well.

“There’s no telling what sort of information the ‘students’ may have had, “ Irwin says.  “My preference – I’d arrest them and interview them.  You can learn an awful lot from them and maybe even identify some additional defendants, material witnesses – maybe even threats to our Homeland.  Doing it this way is kind of a notice that tells them they should run – right now.”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:00:00 pm

President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to the U.S. Supreme Court comes at a time of unprecedented turmoil within the Republican party and polarizing political debate. Dallas appellate lawyer Chad Ruback notes that the nomination of a respected jurist like Garland creates special challenges for GOP senators. Writes Ruback:

In nominating Merrick Garland for the open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Obama has put Republican senators in a no-win situation. As a federal court of appeals judge, Garland has been regarded by Republicans and Democrats alike as being intelligent, hard-working, and fair. Since taking his current bench in 1997, he has left a track record of politically-moderate appellate decisions. Garland’s opinions are no more liberal than those of current Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was appointed by President Reagan.

If Republican senators vote against Garland’s confirmation or refuse to conduct a vote at all, they will be perceived by swing voters as being obstructionist and uncompromising. This could jeopardize reelection bids for senators from all but the most conservative states and could also alienate voters who are undecided between voting Republican or Democrat in this fall’s presidential election. On the other hand, if Republican senators vote to confirm Garland, they will be perceived by the right wing of their party as being too willing to support Obama’s agenda. This could draw strong challenges to them in their next Republican primary. Thus, Republican senators will hurt themselves no matter what they do. No doubt, this was a deciding factor in President Obama’s decision to nominate Garland.

This is a high-stakes game of poker. If the Senate does not confirm Garland, and Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is elected president in November, neither of them will have any incentive to nominate a political moderate to fill this Supreme Court seat. While the Senate could block nominees for the handful of months remaining in Obama’s presidency, the Senate would simply be unable to block all nominees throughout a four-year presidency. So, by scuttling Garland’s nomination, Republican senators could be paving the way for a much more liberal Supreme Court justice taking the bench next year. That’s hardly the legacy that a conservative senator would want to leave.

If Republican senators are holding out for a nominee who is essentially a clone of Justice Scalia, those senators are setting themselves up for a monumental disappointment. Even if Ted Cruz became president in January, he would be unlikely to find a nominee who could match Scalia’s unique ability to meld an extremely conservative philosophy with a rapport engendering political moderate justices to sign-off on his opinions.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am

Dallas Appellate Attorney Chad Ruback gives insight on Hulk Hogan’s $100M invasion of privacy lawsuit against media website Gawker, where the key argument is First Amendment protection.  

Generally, First Amendment issues are decided by a judge on summary judgment without a case ever going to trial. This case is unusual in that the trial court’s judgment will turn in large part on the jury’s resolution of the facts of the case.

Courts have almost always been very liberal in applying the First Amendment. As long as a communication does not put someone in immediate physical danger (such as shouting “fire” in a crowded theater), courts have treated the First Amendment as a nearly iron-clad defense. In this case, Hogan is arguing for a rarely-applied limitation to the First Amendment’s protections. Specifically, Hogan is arguing that the communication at issue constitutes such a conscious-shocking invasion of privacy that his privacy rights should trump Gawker’s First Amendment rights. While Hogan might be able to persuade the jury – and even the trial court judge  – to limit Gawker’s First Amendment rights on this basis, it is highly unlikely that an appellate court would uphold a judgment in favor of Hogan.

That being said, a judgment in Hogan’s favor could have chilling effects on media coverage of embarrassing aspects of celebrities’ lives. Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker has already been in litigation for several years, and a Hogan win at trial would likely mean several more years of litigation in the appellate courts. Even if Gawker wins on appeal, the legal fees for Gawker’s ultimate vindication will have been astronomical. All but the largest media outlets would have difficultly footing lawyers’ bills of this magnitude.  That, of course, would limit future coverage of celebrities’ personal lives by gossipy media such as Gawker.

On the other hand, a trial court judgment in Gawker’s favor would likely embolden gossip-focused media outlets to go to even more extreme lengths to acquire and distribute highly-sensitive videos and photos of celebrities.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 12:00:00 pm

Dallas Criminal Defense Attorney John Teakell, a former federal prosecutor, discusses how the potential discovery of important forensic evidence could affect the still-open murder investigation of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman:

Forensic science and DNA enhancement technology have advanced to the point where it’s possible to retrieve minute traces of DNA evidence from blood or saliva from an object like a knife, even one that’s been exposed to the elements for months or years.

It’s ironic that we’re still talking about DNA evidence because OJ’s murder trial was such a turning point for forensic science. The public really learned about DNA evidence from the trial testimony, and shows like CSI can trace their origins straight back to the OJ trial.

If forensic evidence linking OJ Simpson to the murder is discovered, it would create a procedural challenge for prosecutors, but it would not be insurmountable. Since Simpson was found not guilty, double-jeopardy statutes would prevent Simpson from being charged with the same offense. However, prosecutors might be able to charge him with a different offense related to elements of the same crime.

A bigger problem for authorities is the years that passed between when the weapon was discovered and when the officer turned it over to detectives for analysis. That could set the stage for a repeat of the original trial defense tactics, questioning the professionalism and motives of the LAPD and the quality of the chain of evidence presented to jurors. Since the officer recently retired, he’s not likely to face any professional or legal fallout from failing to alert investigators about this potentially important piece of evidence.

Here we go again with more drama.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am

The expected sentencing today of Nicholas Rotundo on one count of cyberstalking raises the question of what kind of recourse his victims have against him.

 

Internet lawyer Kenton Hutcherson, of Dallas’ Hutcherson Law, who has previously handled so-called revenge porn litigation, says if Rotundo in fact threatened to publish intimate photos of women on revenge porn websites in order to pressure them into sending him more intimate photos or videos, his victims would probably have a solid invasion of privacy claim against him.  In addition, if he ever posted the photos or videos online, his victims would be able to seek damages and attorney’s fees under Texas’ recently enacted revenge porn statute.

 

“To the extent his victims sent their photos voluntarily, they probably don’t have a cause of action for invasion of privacy because they voluntarily consented to disclosing their pictures to him, albeit under false pretenses,” Hutcherson says. “However, once he threatened to publish the photos if they did not send more pictures or videos, then if they sent further pictures or videos to him, then their consent would have been coerced, and they definitely have a claim for invasion of privacy. Once he goes the extortion route, you have a pretty good claim.”

 

So far, it does not appear that Rotundo posted the images he received anywhere online. But if he did, his victims would be able to file a request with major search engines to remove those images from their search results.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am

The Dallas City Council’s decision not to allow Exxxotica to rent space in the city-owned convention center will undoubtedly be found unconstitutional by a federal judge.  If the City is going to own a convention center and lease it to private parties, the First Amendment to the Constitution precludes the City from discrimination based on the message that those private parties are wanting to express at the convention center.  And, like it or not, it is well-established under federal law that erotic displays are protected under the First Amendment.

The City’s Council’s decision is short-sighted.  The decision might be popular with voters who despise erotic displays.  But, when a federal judge orders the City to pay a large damage award to Exxxotica, the voters might not be happy with any city council member whose vote opened the door for tax dollars to be paid to Exxxotica.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am

mark annickPrior to joining Androvett, Mark Annick spent more than 20 years in print, radio and television journalism, working as a reporter and anchor for television stations in Dallas as well as Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. As Androvett’s Vice President of News and Public Relations, he regularly works with reporters, editors and producers who call on us for help in finding the right legal experts for their stories.

How have attorneys’ perceptions of reporters changed over the years; or have they?

Those perceptions haven’t changed all that much, honestly. What was true 20 years ago is still true today for the most part. If an attorney takes the time to develop a relationship with a reporter, then he or she will gain a better understanding and appreciation of what it takes to assemble a story and be part of the coverage. Conversely, if an attorney never interacts with reporters, then he or she likely will not understand how stories get written or why and how those stories take on a particular perspective.

What changes have you seen in the way the news media cover legal stories?

In the old days – way back when people still used the telephone as the primary means of communication – reporters discovered newsworthy court cases by going to the courthouse and looking through the paper record. That meant they had to have relationships with the various courts and court coordinators, which meant spending a lot of time at the courthouse in order to build those relationships so someone would give them a heads up when a story was happening.

Some reporters still do that, but we now have electronic tools – either through the courthouses themselves or other electronic reporting services – that allow reporters to monitor case filings and developments without ever stepping inside the courthouse.

It’s also worth noting that today’s reporters are pulled in many different directions simultaneously. Not only are they covering a story for print or broadcast, they’re also posting on Twitter, writing blog summaries and maybe even taking pictures (even if they’re working in radio) for posts on Facebook and other social sites. If you’re pitching a story to a reporter amid those kinds of distractions, then you need to know what you want to say and present it in the most focused fashion possible. That means asking yourself all of the reporter’s likely questions before you ever do the interview and making certain you like the answers you develop.

But in the face of those shifts, are there still fundamental things that show how reporters work or what they need?

No matter the technology, reporters still want and need good stories they can share with their audience. And they still want to get these stories before their competition.

Reporters are always in need of someone who can answer the first-level questions such as, “What is this about?” or “What does it mean?” The media will beat a path to your door if you’re the one who can take an obscure legal concept and turn it into something that they and their audience can truly understand and – and this is a big and – who can be responsive and sensitive to deadlines (regularly answer calls, texts, emails, etc.).

How is technology changing the way media cover the news in general, and how should lawyers and firms adapt?

Once upon a time, when a reporter called looking for a lawyer to comment for a story, we had what we called the “Golden Hour,” which represented the 60-minute window for getting back to the reporter or risk being left out of the coverage. Today, the “Golden Hour” sometimes is only 5 minutes long. So speed, which always was of the essence, is even more important today.

But the biggest change is that technology – especially live coverage, streaming and social media forums – has created a dynamic where everything is now happening in real time, all the time. That means there’s precious little time to prepare in the moment. The best approach is to identify issues in advance, and do your thinking and planning well ahead of time. Planning and preparation were always good ideas; they’re even more important, and more beneficial, in the modern environment.

by Robert Tharp at 12:00:00 am

From the state’s first same-sex marriage to the international fallout over a student-built homemade clock mistaken as a bomb, the past 12 months have marked another eventful year for Texas legal news. Here are the Top 10 Texas Legal News Stories of 2015 as determined by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing, which specializes in public relations and marketing for law firms and legal clients from offices in Dallas and Houston.

10. US Supreme Court to Hear Texas Abortion Lawsuit 
Since 1973’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which was based on a Dallas case, Texas has been intrinsically linked to the abortion rights debate. That includes the 2013 passage of Texas HB 2, which established stringent regulations on abortion procedures, providers and facilities. Under the bill, nearly all of the state’s 44 abortion clinics would be forced to close, leaving some women more than 300 miles away from the nearest qualified doctor. One Texas lawsuit challenging the law worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which announced in November that it will hear the case, Whole Woman’s Health, et al. v. Cole, Comm’r, Texas DHS, et al. The ruling is expected to have repercussions for similar state laws across the country.


9. Rocky First Year for Dallas DA
Susan Hawk’s inaugural year as the first woman to be elected district attorney in Dallas County got off to a rocky start when she fired several key staff members; later, news broke that she had sought help for prescription drug use. Additional staff firings preceded a highly publicized leave of absence that lasted nearly two months while Hawk dealt with depression. Hawk returned to work in October and, despite litigation aimed at removing her from office, began fulfilling campaign promises, including personally trying and winning a murder case and holding regular public meetings. She also announced plans to create an assistance program for mentally ill offenders and to develop one of the largest pre-trial diversion programs in the nation for young offenders.

8. Jail Protocols Scrutinized after Sandra Bland Death
What started out as a simple traffic stop in the college town of Prairie View quickly spiraled out of control in a videotaped confrontation between Sandra Bland, a black woman, and state Trooper Brian Encinia, who is Hispanic. The officer had stopped her for failure to signal a lane change. An argument over Bland’s unwillingness to put out her cigarette ended with Encinia pulling her from her car as he threatened to “light (her) up” with a Taser. Booked into the local jail for resisting arrest and reportedly unable to find family or friends to post her bail, Bland was found dead in her cell three days later following an apparent suicide. Under a national media spotlight, her death raised obvious questions about law enforcement treatment of African-Americans. And it also led to an assessment of jail operators’ methods of spotting defendants at risk of suicide, as well as bail bond requirements. Bland’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit; a criminal investigation continues.

7. Same-Sex Marriage Legalized
Diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, Sarah Goodfriend needed to provide her longtime partner Suzanne Bryant with the protections that only a marriage license can deliver. On the morning of Feb. 19 following a state judge’s order, they became the first legally married same-sex couple in Texas. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s fight to void the union was mostly rendered moot in June with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry. After Paxton issued a written opinion that county clerks with religious objections could opt out of issuing same-sex marriage licenses, a few initially heeded his advice while others resigned in protest as the vast majority of Texas counties quickly began issuing licenses to same-sex couples.

6. Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance Derailed
Although designed to protect 15 different classes of people in matters of employment, housing and public accommodations, the opposition to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) assured its defeat in the November elections by focusing on just one small aspect of the ordinance – the rights of transgendered citizens to use public bathrooms. Opponents of the law ignored the protections that would be granted to other citizens based on race, age, military status, national origin and disability under HERO, instead claiming that male sexual predators could misuse the ordinance to enter women’s restrooms. Enlisting civic and religious leaders, sports heroes and citizens to campaign against passage, the opponents defeated HERO with 61 percent of the vote, leaving Houston as the largest city in the country without guaranteed nondiscrimination protections for all citizens.

5. Blue Bell Contamination
There may be no more iconic Texas-made food than Blue Bell ice cream. But love for the “little creamery in Brenham” was put to the test when listeria contamination was discovered in March following the deaths of three people in Kansas. Eight million gallons of ice cream were recalled as manufacturing plants in Oklahoma, Alabama and Texas were shut down. Even as reports of unsanitary practices and a long history of violations came to light, many supporters eagerly counted down the days until Blue Bell’s return to grocery shelves in August. But not everyone was so eager to forgive and forget. Blue Bell currently faces several lawsuits filed by those who claim to have contracted listeria, and the company also must answer a federal class-action claim regarding how customer refunds were handled.

4. Open Carry Set to Take Effect
Another Texas culinary institution, Whataburger, made headlines in July when it announced that customers would not be allowed to openly carry guns in its restaurants when the state’s open carry law takes effect on Jan. 1. Championed by defenders of the Second Amendment, the new law expands the scope of a concealed handgun license to allow licensees to carry handguns in a belt or shoulder holster while in public places. Prior to the law’s passage, Texas was one of only five states with an outright ban on open carry, but the rollback of the 140-year-old ban has helped Texas bolster its reputation as a pro-gun state. Only a bare minimum of restrictions have been placed on open carry. Locations that can ban guns include bars, large sporting events, school grounds and courthouses, with private businesses such as Whataburger being allowed to determine for themselves how to respond to the new law.

3. Student’s Homemade Clock Creates Firestorm
A clock made by a 14-year-old Irving MacArthur High School student of Sudanese descent set off a firestorm when a teacher reported that she thought it resembled a bomb. After bringing the clock to class, Ahmed Mohamed was sequestered, questioned and taken into police custody before being released with no charges filed against him. The boy and his family say he was the victim of racial profiling, and Ahmed has earned worldwide fame as a result of the incident. In November, the Mohamed family’s attorneys sent letters to the city of Irving and the school district outlining their grievances and demanding $15 million to resolve the dispute. No lawsuit has been filed as yet.

2. Biker Shootout at Twin Peaks in Waco
On a seemingly otherwise unremarkable Sunday in May, a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco became ground zero for a shootout between rival motorcycle gangs that left nine bikers dead. A reported fight over a parking space preceded the gunfire between the warring bikers before police responded with shots of their own. Police arrested 192 bikers, confiscating hundreds of weapons of all types in the process. With each defendant initially facing a $1 million bond, many remained in jail for months and McLennan County was required to request public defender assistance from eight surrounding counties. The last of those arrested was released at the end of October, followed by the announcement of sealed indictments of nine defendants in November. Claims that police and prosecutors have mishandled the case have resulted in numerous allegations of civil rights violations and at least one negligence lawsuit filed against Twin Peaks.

1. Texas Top Politicians Face Legal Troubles
Former Gov. Rick Perry did not find much relief when the calendar flipped to 2015. Initially indicted in 2014, he continued to fight first-degree felony charges for alleged abuse of power while governor, along with an additional third-degree felony claim of coercion. Calling the charges politically motivated, his attorneys appeared before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in November to argue that the charges be dismissed. By then, however, the damage had already been done. With the charges still hanging over him, Perry suspended his presidential campaign to become the first to drop out of the crowded Republican primary field for next year’s election. Another high-ranking Texas politician, Attorney General Ken Paxton faces his own legal battles. The state’s first sitting attorney general to be indicted since Jim Mattox was hit with bribery charges in 1983, Paxton faces a potential of 99 years in prison if convicted of three felony counts of securities fraud and failure to register with state securities board. He is accused of misleading investors while serving in the Texas House of Representatives by convincing them to contribute more than $600,000 toward a technology company without acknowledging that he was earning a commission.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am

robert-tharpAfter more than 15 years at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News – much of that tenure covering breaking news, high-profile trials and criminal cases – Robert Tharp joined Androvett Legal Media in 2007.

How do you apply that background in covering the courthouse to help your clients and reporters today?

Covering civil and criminal courts gave me the opportunity to sit in on literally hundreds of trials and witness some of the very best trial lawyers in Texas at work. This experience left me with an appreciation for how trial lawyers do their jobs and the demands they face, but also how to communicate sometimes very complicated legal matters in a way that everyday people can understand.

Was there anything that surprised you in making that transition?

As a journalist covering the courts, I thought I knew a lot about the practice of law. What I’ve learned since coming here is that what happens in the courtroom is just a small fraction of what lawyers might do in their professional lives. I’ve learned that there are many more stories to tell about lawyers involved in deal-making, transactions, compliance and advisory roles.

Is there a particular practice area that you find to be especially interesting?

I’ve found it interesting to observe how lawyers and law firms are able to adapt to market conditions. I’ve watched lawyers with a keen eye on trends pivot and successfully reinvent themselves. I’ve seen bankruptcy lawyers become dealmakers and personal injury lawyers become business or patent litigators, all based on an astute business outlook.

Are there some suggestions to offer attorneys in preparing to talk about their work or an individual case with a reporter?

As a reporter, I always appreciated it when lawyers responded quickly to my calls, even just to say that they could not comment on a case I was calling about. That’s huge. Beyond that basic advice, I tell lawyers in any situation to use plain language, avoid legal jargon and do everything they can to help reporters craft an accurate and thorough report.

How do you envision the legal profession – and individual attorneys – making a better use of the social media resources that are now available?

It’s become so clear in the last few years that an online presence is now the absolute go-to source for information of any kind. That means every lawyer and law firm should have a smart and functional website. It’s hard to believe, but we still encounter law firms that either don’t have websites or have sites that are embarrassingly outdated. Beyond that, the information revolution that has occurred creates valuable opportunities for lawyers to demonstrate their expertise and be “findable” in new ways. On the Internet and in social media, small and midsize firms have the opportunity to position themselves right alongside the largest and best-known firms, and that’s something that was very hard to do until recently.

What’s one thing that people don’t know about you?

I was part of a small team that created the definitive mobile app guide to the vanishing history related to the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, which is still available for download at the App Store. Want to talk single-bullet theory? Give me a call.

by Kaitlyn Piazza at 12:00:00 pm

The baseball world has been buzzing about the federal investigation into whether St. Louis Cardinals employees illegally gained access to a Houston Astros' database containing proprietary information on players. Last week, the Cardinals fired the team's scouting director, although he denies wrongdoing. CNN has reported that federal investigators are recommending charges against at least one St. Louis employee. "Data security is an FBI priority, so this investigation is not surprising if there is any evidence of illegal access," says Houston's Sheryl A. Falk of Winston & Strawn LLP, who has handled data breach investigations and theft of trade secrets litigation.

  • Writes The New York Times: Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals employees broke into a network of the Astros that housed special databases the team had built, law enforcement officials said. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, said the officials, who were not authorized to discuss a continuing investigation. The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team’s highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence.
  • Writes Fox Sports: ST. LOUIS -- High-level executives of the St. Louis Cardinals were not involved in the hacking of the Houston Astros' player personnel database, an attorney hired by the team said Wednesday, citing an internal review.
  • Writes American Lawyer: On the cleated heels of Deflategate and soccer's global corruption crisis, the scandal-prone pro sports community is in need of legal advice yet again—this time related to alleged Major League foul play involving the St. Louis Cardinals. The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing Cardinals personnel for allegedly hacking into Houston Astros databases that house team strategies, including information on scouting and trades.

"Hacking into the Astros database suggests a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which could mean a fine and/or imprisonment of up to five years. A civil suit also is a possibility." Falk says it is more common for a company to suffer a cyberattack "from a malicious insider, such as a former employee - someone with a grudge or someone leaving to join a competitor. So it's important to have monitoring systems that can spot suspicious computer access right away."

by Kaitlyn Piazza at 10:00:00 am

 Cybercriminals are committing identity theft by targeting Americans' health records, which sell on the black market for 10 to 20 times more than credit card numbers. Houston attorney Mark Thibodeaux advises health care companies on cyberattacks in his role as deputy practice leader of the cybersecurity and privacy team at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP.

Politico Reports: “Over the past year, hacks of insurers Anthem, Premera and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, and the CommunityHealth Systems hospital chain compromised about 95 million patient records. Crooks use medical records for identity theft, medical insurance fraud and plain old financial thievery. It’s believed that Chinese hackers have penetrated health care systems in search of valuable intellectual property concerning drugs and devices.”

Long Island Business News Reports: “As hackers move stealthily from industry to industry, healthcare networks have swiftly jumped to the top of their list of targets. In addition to containing personally identifiable information, such as date of birth and Social Security number, medical records also comprise highly sensitive, protected health information, which may include, for example, psychiatry or HIV records.”

"In addition to the economic drivers, it appears that recent cyberattacks on health insurers and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management are at least partly an effort to gather key information about government workers and possibly those with links to dissident movements in their countries," says Thibodeaux. "These attacks show signs of deep research, targeting those who might have access to important information the hackers want. Unfortunately, health records are often inadequately protected by outdated techniques and software. These recent attacks should encourage health care companies to dramatically improve their defenses."

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 4:00:00 pm

christina-dipinto

Traffic Manager Christina DiPinto keeps the trains at Androvett Legal Media & Marketing running on time. With a birds-eye view of dozens of advertising and marketing projects, she ensures that both deadlines and quality standards are met. We asked this task-managing millennial how she keeps it all straight.

So what does a Traffic Manager do?

A little bit of everything. The main role of a traffic manager is project management - allocating resources, determining timelines and making sure task owners complete all items assigned to them. I also help out with printed projects, proofreading, a bit of e-announcement development and research.

And in any one week, how many projects might you be handling?

As of right now, I'm the lead project manager on 14 projects, but collectively, as a department, we have roughly 80 projects of various durations and complexities in the works. In some form or fashion, I will work on most of them.

As consumers we’ve become used to services being provided very quickly. What are the type of projects you deal with that just take time, and why?

We've recently had to complete several quick-turnaround projects, and I've been quite impressed with the team's ability to rally and get everything done on deadline. I would say anything involving commercial printing still takes time. Although digital printing has improved the timelines for some print projects, some things simply can’t be expedited; quality and accuracy require time.

As the tech-savvy millennial, what’s the latest technology that really impresses you?

I’m amazed by the tracking and analytical capabilities of various social, email and website platforms. For example, our e-announcement service allows us to see who opens our emails, who clicks which links, and where the emails are opened using what type of device. This feedback allows us to determine, among other things, which email layouts are most effective, which white paper topics garner the most attention, and how to phrase our subject lines. We can track similar statistics on websites and social media, and it’s very effective. If you’ve ever noticed those ads that pop up after you’ve done some online shopping, then you’ve experienced this type of data tracking.

Are there some basics from the marketing and branding perspective you wish that law firms would adopt more fully or consistently?

Yes. If you're marketing to everyone, you're marketing to no one. Find what you're good at, and let us help you get the word out.

What’s the hardest or most underappreciated part of your job?

The hardest part of my job is coming up with an answer to this question. I've had some pretty trying jobs in my life, so a bad day at Androvett is still pretty good.

What’s one thing that people don’t know about you?

I can juggle (literally, as well as metaphorically). I was the only child in a tennis family, and was frequently bored when others were playing, so one day I decided to pick up a can of balls and teach myself how to juggle. And here’s a bonus fact: my first language was German. Auf wiedersehen!

by Kaitlyn Piazza at 4:00:00 pm

Insurance expert Mark Kincaid is advising business owners to brace for battle when they seek payment from their insurance companies for flood losses. "Unfortunately, business owners sometimes assume they have coverage when they don't, or they find that what they've been told by an agent is not, ultimately, what is covered in their policy," he says. Kincaid, the former head of the Texas Office of Public Insurance Counsel, is now a partner in Austin's George Brothers Kincaid & Horton LLP.

  • According to The Dallas Morning News: “Dallas reported about $50 million in storm damage. Carrollton, Garland, Grand Prairie and Irving each reported at least $2 million in losses.”
  • According to ABC 13 Eyewitness News: “Experts say it's not a bad idea to wait for an adjuster, but not to wait too long. Flood insurance policies are written by many insurance agents, but almost all backed by the US Government through FEMA. As with any government program, not following the rules and complying with deadlines can lead to denials.”
  • According to KRMG News in Tulsa: “If you had the foresight to enroll in the National Flood Insurance Program, it's important that you realize you only have a limited amount of time in which to file proof of loss. Consumers only have sixty days in which to file their flood loss claims.”

Kincaid advises business owners to notify their insurance agent and insurance company immediately about damage and losses and to be prepared for insurance company "traps" that cause some owners to give up on legitimate claims or settle for pennies on the dollar.

 

by Kaitlyn Piazza at 2:00:00 pm

The record rainfall and resulting floods that have plagued Texas and surrounding states in recent weeks should prompt business owners and managers to consider their bad weather policies and practices. "Employers may show a bit of a double standard if they focus on the hazards of driving to work in snow or ice, but negate the very real hazards of stormy weather," says employment attorney Mark Shank of Dallas' Gruber Hurst Elrod Johansen Hail Shank. "As we've seen, commuting in heavy rain can present its own set of dangers and delays for employees, and corresponding liability and morale risks for employers."

  • Writes Houston Chronicle: “Generally speaking, companies don't have to pay their hourly wage workers for the time they don't work. But just following the letter of the law may not be the best approach to good employee relations during stressful weather disasters. That can be especially true when city and county leaders are advising residents to stay home to avoid the dangerous high water and residents are receiving frightening text messages about imminent flash flooding.”
  • Writes U.S. News: “Your employer can require you to come to work despite severe weather. That said, a reasonable employer – and even employers that aren’t generally reasonable in other situations – will make allowances for employees who cannot safely make it in.”

Shank advises businesses to have a written, comprehensive plan for all types of weather emergencies that covers telecommuting, responsibilities for communication, and compensation. "In general a business can establish its own payment policies for inclement weather days, especially for non-exempt employees. But the key is having those policies communicated, followed and understood by all managers and staff."

by Kaitlyn Piazza at 2:00:00 pm

The nation’s unemployment rate continues to hover just over 5 percent, but one occupation is facing a growing demand and a shrinking workforce. The trucking industry has a current shortfall of some 35,000 to 40,000, a figure that could grow to as many as 240,000 drivers by 2022. One result of the shortage is increased costs for shippers as carriers step up efforts to recruit and retain drivers.

According to The Wall Street Journal: “Experts say there are many reasons behind the shortage, including more stringent work requirements as safety regulations have expanded and low pay that, despite recent gains, has made the tough working conditions tougher to bear. But trucking is also driving headlong into demographic reality: its workforce is getting older, and younger Americans are showing less interest in a career on the highway.”

“The industry is caught between the need for attracting new drivers and the need for experienced drivers,” says Dallas trucking defense attorney H. Peyton Inge IV of Chamblee, Ryan, Kershaw & Anderson. “Companies are increasing pay, expanding training programs, providing signing bonuses and looking for creative ways to address driver retention and satisfaction.” Inge notes that the shortage coincides with more stringent safety regulations and a rise in trucking-related litigation.”

 

by Kaitlyn Piazza at 12:00:00 pm

More than two weeks after the deadly biker gang-related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, a majority of the 177 arrested remain in jail with bail set at $1 million.Concerns about due process have risen to the point that the presiding administrative judge for Texas’ Third Judicial District, Billy Ray Stubblefield, expects to travel to Waco this week to meet with two district judges and brainstorm about ways to accelerate the bond hearings for more than 130 jailed bikers.

  • Writes Texas Lawyer: “Before his trip, retired District Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, who still presides as administrative judge for the Third Judicial District, expressed disappointment about the weeks it has taken for the Waco courts to conduct bond hearings for the majority of the bikers. ‘Due process delayed is due process denied,’ Stubblefield said. ‘I would have been happier if this had been able to be accomplished more rapidly.’"
  • Writes Dallas Morning News in a lead editorial this morning: “Three weeks have passed since the biker gang shootout in Waco that left nine dead and 18 wounded. Yet surprisingly little information has emerged to justify the incarceration of about 120 people, many of whom appear guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Without question, egregious criminal activity occurred outside the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco. Some bikers, mainly from the rival Bandidos and Cossacks gangs, appear to have arrived at the restaurant armed and ready to do battle.”

Dallas criminal defense attorney John Teakell of The Law Offices of John R. Teakell notes that police, prosecutors and judges are bound by the U.S. Constitution to ensure that there was sufficient probable cause for each individual arrest. The accused also must be promptly notified of the charges against them and bail amounts must not be set excessively high as a form of punishment.

“This was a horrific shooting and a fluid crime scene,” says Teakell, a former state and federal prosecutor. “But after more than two weeks, there is a real concern that innocent individuals remain in jail, awaiting a reasonable bail amount and a chance to know the charges against them so that they can defend themselves.”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:00:00 am

mary-floodAfter 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.

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.”

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.

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.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:00:00 am

bria_burkThe 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.

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.

Chamblee, managing partner of Chamblee, Ryan, Kershaw & Anderson, P.C., writes (paywalled link here):

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.

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.

http://www.androvett.com/clientuploads/arab bank logo.pngWrites 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.

 



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