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Androvett Blog

by Dave Moore at 5:21:40 pm

Thomas Friedman’s book “The World is Flat” illustrated the tight-knit nature of the global economy. The recent natural disaster in Japan triggered by an earthquake, a tsunami and then worsened by nuclear power plant problems shows us exactly which industries are most affected by Japan’s woes.

Businesses, however, might not feel the financial sting from the cataclysm facing Japan if they’ve got the proper insurance, says Houston attorney attorney Phillip Sanov, head of The Lanier Law Firm's Bad Faith Insurance Practice Group.

“When those Japanese businesses are shut down, U.S. companies surely will see price increases and delivery delays,” says Sanov, “When Best Buy can't get the hot new gadget because of suppliers in Japan, that will have a direct and significant impact on their bottom line. Experience has shown me that local businesses should review their policies because many companies have coverage and don't realize it.”

While aid and prayers continue to pour toward Japan, companies at home and abroad need to consider what measures they can take to stem their losses as well.

by Rhonda Reddick at 1:22:37 pm

Demand for the H-1B specialty worker visa has become an interesting economic barometer, particularly in terms of the state of the tech industry. Just a few years ago, the entire year’s quota of available H-1B visas was snapped up within days of the opening of the filing period, which falls on April 1 each year.

What a difference a couple years and a global economic collapse can make!

Last year, the cap of 65,000 visas was not reached until February. While this year is shaping up to be equally slow, immigration attorney Irina Plumlee of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP cautions companies from being lulled into a false sense of security.

“While most are predicting another slow year, it is impossible to determine how quickly the quota will be filled when the new application period opens on April 1,” she cautions. “Although the current economic conditions are not dramatically different from last year, if hiring starts to pick up as the year goes on, available H-1B visa spots may disappear in the blink of an eye. If a company anticipates a need, they should plan ahead and submit their petitions as early as possible.”

by Dave Moore at 8:29:19 am

A recent order from a Los Angeles court should help shine some light on problems detected in the production of a fentanyl pain patch manufactured by prescription drug maker Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc.

In a March 11 ruling, Judge Richard E. Rico ordered Watson to produce company documents and emails requested by Dallas attorney Michael Heygood of the Dallas firm Heygood, Orr & Pearson as part of a lawsuit filed by the parents of California woman who died within hours of applying a Watson fentanyl patch. The judge also has ordered Watson to make employees and corporate representatives available for depositions between April 11 and June 11. Watson and the company’s lawyers had denied requests for the documents and testimony for more than a year.

Heygood represents the family of Nicole Bristol, 37, who died in 2008 after applying a fentanyl patch that allowed a lethal amount of the drug to leak onto her skin, according to the lawsuit.

Although the package insert in Ms. Bristol’s prescription said she should have received 1.7 ng/ml of fentanyl, autopsy results showed that she died with 15 ng/ml in her system. Fentanyl has been found to be lethal at a blood level of 3 ng/ml, with an average lethal concentration of 8 ng/ml. The drug, which is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is often prescribed for chronic pain.

Heygood brings a unique track record to the Bristol case, having won a $5.5 million verdict in the nation’s first federal trial involving a fentanyl death, and a $16.5 million verdict for the family of an Illinois mother of three who died after using a fentanyl patch.

by Dave Moore at 10:38:08 am

When Dwaine Caraway took the job as Dallas’ mayor in February, he said he would try to keep a low profile.

Caraway’s statement came shortly after he gave the key to the city to Michael Vick, a professional football player who spent time in prison for his criminal mistreatment of dogs.

Now comes Mayor Caraway’s effort to prevent public access to the recording of a 9-1-1 call he made that followed a domestic incident between himself and his wife, State Rep. Barbara Caraway.

In a legal filing to halt the release of the tape, Mayor Caraway argues that the recording contains no content that would be of interest to the public.

Unfortunately, according to Thompson & Knight attorney Jim Harris, the public positions that both the mayor and state representative hold create interest in the recording.

“Both Mr. Caraway and his wife are public figures, both have been elected, and I think that puts him in a different category than Joe the Plumber,” Harris told Fox4 News' Shaun Rabb.

Even if he’s successful in blocking public access to the 9-1-1 recording, Mayor Caraway might find that it’s hard to keep a low profile while the title “mayor” precedes his name until someone else inherits that honorific.

by Robert Tharp at 3:06:14 pm

A healthy sense of humor may not be a prerequisite for a successful tax and corporate transactions lawyer, but it sure comes in handy sometimes.

When the Houston Chronicle sought out Thompson & Knight tax lawyer Roger Aksamit to provide some expert IRS insight for an oddball tax story, he was ready with a one-liner that is helping send this story quickly around the blogosphere. The story involves the plight of Houston Astros’ fan Bob Choate, who won a year’s supply of doughnuts and coffee as part of a Fan Appreciation Day contest.

Writes the Chronicle: Last month, much like the Grim Reaper, the punch line to his prize landed in Choate's mailbox: an Internal Revenue Service Form 1099, informing him that he owed taxes on $927.61 in "free" coffee and doughnuts.

“If you get paid in doughnuts, you've got to pay in dough," Aksamit quipped to explain how the IRS sends a tax bill for goods won in contests valued over $600.

The article has generated some lively comments from online readers and has been picked up by outlets from the ABA Journal to snarky sports insider news site Deadspin to the TaxProf Blog.

by Dave Moore at 8:51:41 am

Natural gas prices have stalled and sputtered. Companies that sink natural gas wells are filing for bankruptcy protection.What does Thompson & Knight bankruptcy attorney Rhett Campbell advise?

Buy, of course.

“There are attractive investment opportunities for companies that are prepared to ride out this downturn,” says Campbell, who has taken part in his fair share of energy-company reorganizations.

Campbell notes that natural-gas service companies and businesses concentrated along the Gulf of Mexico seem to be especially hard hit by sluggish natural gas prices, which have lingered near $4 per million British Thermal Units since a year ago, having dropped nearly 20 percent since early January.

The stagnation in natural gas prices has made energy companies hesitant to sink more wells in the Gulf, despite the fact that a moratorium on new wells has been lifted. Energy companies that were wobbly to start with are beginning to teeter.

In his decades as an energy lawyer who specializes in bankruptcy law, Campbell has seen many dramatic turnarounds.

It’s likely, given the tumultuous situation surrounding the Gulf and the continued wild variations in our climate, that we will see things turn around again.

by Robert Tharp at 1:20:05 pm

Distressed properties create the ultimate buyer’s market with obvious benefits for those in the M&A market. Thompson & Knight’s Millie Aponte Sall has an interesting piece in the Feb. 14 edition of Texas Lawyer’s “In-House Texas” exploring one of the less-apparent benefits for in-house counsel exploring mergers and acquisitions of distressed properties. Sall, a lawyer in Thompson & Knight’s creditors’ rights group, explains that the HSR Act provides for a waiting period that is considerably shorter than for non-bankruptcy transactions – in some cases the deal can be sealed in half the standard time.

Writes Sall: A company filing for bankruptcy is ripe for the picking, with assets or stock other scan acquire at discounted values. An in-house counsel’s company can obtain assets at lightning speed, free and clear of liens, claims and encumbrances.

Sall notes that of the 716 transactions reported under the HSR Act in 2009, 574 requested early termination(396 – or 69 percent – of those requests were granted). The entire article can be found here..

by Robert Tharp at 3:55:18 pm

The U.S. Department of Transportation is seeking a high-tech solution for the vexing problem of keeping long-haul truckers honest when it comes to abiding by safety restrictions designed to prevent driver fatigue. The DOT proposal would require long-haul trucks and interstate buses to be equipped with an electronic monitor that records drivers’ time on the road and ensure that they don't exceed federally mandated limits. The monitors would replace traditional hard-copy logs that have proven, sadly, to be too easy to falsify.

A 2004 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety survey of long-haul drivers found that one in eight had dozed off behind the wheel in the previous month. 

“Driver fatigue is one of leading causes of catastrophic traffic fatalities, particularly when a commercial truck is involved,” says Dallas trial attorney Frank L. Branson of The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson. “Electronic monitors like these will go a long way toward keeping trucking firms honest and relieve truckers of pressure to fulfill unrealistic driving schedules. This proposal will save lives.”

Appoximately 50,000 vehicles would be affected by the rule.

"We cannot protect our roadways when commercial truck and bus companies exceed hours-of-service rules," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a press release. "This proposal would make our roads safer by ensuring that carriers traveling across state lines are using EOBRs to track the hours their drivers spend behind the wheel."

by Rhonda Reddick at 2:29:48 pm

There’s no doubt the media will compare the grandiosity of the ceremony that surrounded the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Di with whatever pomp and circumstance await Princess-to-be Kate Middleton and Prince William. After all, William even gave Kate his late mother’s engagement ring.

Dallas Family Law attorney Keith Nelson of McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing says that if the young couple want to forge a bond that lasts beyond ceremonial obligations, besides the obvious need of a prenuptial agreement, they should run – not walk – to the nearest plain-spoken marriage counselor. They should then engage in some serious heart-to-hearts, he says.

“Anyone should expect a bumpy first year, but for arguably the highest profile couple in the world, it will be especially challenging,” Nelson says. “Not only will they experience their first year of marriage in the proverbial fish bowl, but they will also be under the microscope, with every magazine and paparazzi waiting for their first stumble.”

So, can some tough talk from a disinterested third party help the British Monarchy? Well, look how it helped Prince George.

“Good counseling – with a direct, blunt counselor rather than with a well-meaning, but namby-pamby type – will help you anticipate the challenges and winding roads that are sure to come,” says Nelson.

by Rhonda Reddick at 2:48:48 pm

Just last month, the gears of the U.S. federal government started churning out regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s the goal of two Gardere Wynne Sewell attorneys to make sure it is the executive and legislative branches of government that continue to set regulations for the energy industry, and not individual courtrooms, as they lack “the technical and scientific expertise necessary to create standards and rules to resolve the controversy justly,” and “should defer to the political branches of government.”

On Feb. 28, experts in climate change litigation from academia, government and advocacy groups will listen as Gardere’s Richard O. Faulk and John S. Gray address the legal ramifications of trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by regulating power producers through litigation. Together Faulk and Gray filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on the merits of the highly controversial case of American Electric Power Company Inc. v. Connecticut, which is currently before the Court. In the case, utilities argue – and Faulk and Gray concur – that the executive and legislative branches of government should set the regulations for power generators.

Faulk and Gray will speak at the climate change symposium at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. “A Public Nuisance: Tort Law's Response to Global Warming” will examine the recent trend of private and public nuisance cases against large-scale greenhouse gas emitters, focusing on the case merits and potential role in curbing greenhouse gasses.

If the two attorneys are successful in their arguments at the Supreme Court, the U.S. government can help take the lead in combatting industry’s contributions toward global warming. Otherwise, individual courts across the land might find themselves confronted with the job of becoming experts and the ultimate arbiters in stemming the causes of climate change.

by Rhonda Reddick at 2:25:04 pm

Taking a 24/7, A to Z, top to bottom, head to … well, SOX, approach to addressing the ever-changing compliance issues facing businesses, Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP has created a new Securities Law Blog, From the SOX Up.

The blog relies on the expertise of all 12 members of Gardere’s Public Securities and Corporate Governance Team to help corporate leaders navigate the constantly shifting securities landscape.

The blog can be found at and provides commentary on a wide-range of matters, including compliance with federal and state securities laws and securities regulations, including last year’s Dodd-Frank financial reform act, the FCPA, and 2002’s Sarbanes-Oxley regulations, among many other corporate governance matters.

by Robert Tharp at 3:17:51 pm

Now that it’s sunny and 70 degrees outside, it’s hard to imagine that just last week much of the country was seazed up in the great ice and snow storm of 2011. As schools, homeowners and businesses enjoy the warm-up, Houston attorney Phillip Sanov, head of The Lanier Law Firm's Bad Faith Insurance Practice Group, cautions that another storm may be on the way in terms of insurance claims for storm damages.

Insurance claims are sure to mount as people discover property damage, leaky roofs and flooding from broken water pipes. "We expect insurance companies to stand behind us when disaster strikes, but far too often we see insurance carriers deny, delay and underpay legitimate claims,” says Sanov. “Try to preserve as much evidence as possible, such as photos or video showing the previous condition, as information and proof are key in fighting wrongfully denied claims.”

by Robert Tharp at 10:46:00 am

In case you haven’t noticed, merger and acquisition activity experienced a sure-nuff rebound in late 2010, and by many accounts 2011 is shaping up to be a year in which lending institutions and the private equity market are increasingly willing to fund new deals.

Reports Business Week: Corporate boardrooms are once again abuzz with discussions regarding the next deal. After several years in which worldwide M&A activity dropped steeply, 2010 was a recovery year both worldwide and in the U.S.—but it looks like corporate dealmaking could really roar back into the headlines in 2011.

 “If the first 45 days of 2011 are any indication, it’s going to be a great year for transactions across a broad range of industries,” says Wes Williams in the Dallas office of Thompson & Knight. “I don’t think this is a short-term phenomenon, but it is a very positive signal that the economic recovery is continuing, although we still have a long way to go.”

Williams notes that many corporate assets and stocks remain undervalued, further spurring bargain shopping by investors. U.S. companies reportedly have $1 trillion in cash on their balance sheets, with the expectation from shareholders to put that cash to use.

by Robert Tharp at 3:31:21 pm

Valentine’s Day may be for lovers, but it also can open the door for high-stakes mess ups, says Dallas divorce lawyer Elizabeth Branch, a partner in the family law firm of McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing, L.L.P.  Consider: Lawyer-rating service AVVO has reported Valentine’s Day spikes in both referral requests for divorce lawyers and questions about family law.

Branch says that the high-expectations that come hand-in-hand with Valentine’s Day create particularly perilous landscape for those in relationships that may already be teetering.

“Particularly if a relationship is already rocky, forgetting Valentine’s Day is a big no-no. Cooking dinner and giving a back rub is free. It doesn’t have to be jewelry and chocolates, although those are nice too,” she says. “If you’re unwise enough to be cheating on your spouse, for goodness sake, check and double-check your flower delivery order. The Houston man whose florist mistakenly sent the bouquet meant for his girlfriend to his wife did not have a good Valentine’s Day.”

by Alan Bentrup at 2:43:06 pm

With no BCS game or Heisman race to follow, attention recently has turned to the growing danger of college football’s offseason. News broke recently that more than a dozen Iowa Hawkeyes were sent to the hospital with injuries after an intense practice. In Texas, Houston’s The Lanier Law Firm announced its investigation into the death of Ole Miss football player Bennie Abram.

Abram, a walk-on defensive back for the University of Mississippi Rebels, died after collapsing during the first day of spring practice last year. The autopsy showed he had sickle cell trait, a condition affecting nearly 10 percent of the African-American population. Sickle cell trait is linked to at least nine deaths of college athletes since 2000.

Gene Egdorf represents the Abram family and has a long history handling these types of cases. He negotiated a landmark 2009 settlement with the NCAA over the death of Rice University football player Dale R. Lloyd II, who also had sickle cell trait. As a condition of that settlement, the NCAA recommended that all student-athletes undergo testing for the condition.

Officials at Ole Miss said the university began testing athletes for sickle cell trait starting in 1989, and that they knew about Abram’s condition. However, Abram’s father told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, “I don’t know if we ever even discussed it … I didn’t really know something this serious could happen because of it.”

by Robert Tharp at 2:06:12 pm, the new law blog by Gardere’s Labor & Employment Practice Group offers a great source of insight into the ever-changing labor & employment landscape.

Since early December, Gardere’s employment lawyers have been weighing in on and illuminating some of big issues of the evolving world of employment law. And there’s plenty of fodder lately, considering the laundry list of HR-related provisions in the federal healthcare overhaul, as well as revisions to the ADA.

The writers have already addressed aspects of FSLA retaliation claims, plans for the Texas Supreme Court to weigh in on the validity of arbitration agreements in employee handbooks, and whistleblower provisions in the new health care law, among other things. The writing responsibilities for the blog will be shared by the members of the Gardere Labor & Employment Practice Group. The blog can be found at

by Robert Tharp at 2:37:53 pm

Young women interested in a career in law, or anybody who wants to learn more about one of the most influential women lawyers in Texas, should tune in tonight at 10 p.m. (Dallas time) to KERA Channel 13 for that network’s rebroadcast of Texas Trailblazer: Louise Raggio. If you miss it tonight, it will be re-re-broadcast on Feb. 13 at 9:30 p.m.

Ms. Raggio passed away on January 23 at the age of 91. Her memorial service was held this past weekend. Upon her passing, several high-profile Dallas lawyers shared their memories about the woman who was their friend, mentor and inspiration: 

Louise was a very special, dear friend of mine. Louise ‘walked the walk’ with wit and wisdom.  She not only supported causes involving women, but she supported women, and cared deeply for women in the legal profession. She took an interest in my career, and always asked me about the ‘state of the environment.’ She expected me to make a difference and I loved her for it.

Fran Phillips
Gardere Wynne Sewell

Louise was a friend, first and foremost. We loved talking and fussing and dreaming about politics – and the ways in which our country can be improved by working through the system. We loved talking about how we hoped more participation by women would improve the process.  And while I know and enjoy the friendship of Louise’s sons, I feel like I know, too, each of her grandchildren of whom she was so very proud.  Since I now have one, too, it was great fun, I think, for Louise to watch me beam about our little Barrett!

I’ll miss my friend for many, many reasons. She was a small, often quiet woman whose voice will be heard forever. And not to be forgotten is the fact that she made one hell of a chocolate chip cookie!

Debbie Branson
The Law Offices of Frank Branson

Louise was a trailblazer in the truest sense of the word. She recognized the need for change, not only for women lawyers but for all Texas women, and then she courageously made those changes happen to all our benefit.

Deborah Hankinson
Hankinson Levinger

The word “pioneer” is not sufficient.  Louise was truly one of a distinct very small group of women that opened doors for women to practice law in Texas and elsewhere. I and my fellow women attorneys owe her an immeasurable debt.

Katherine Seaborn
Gardere Wynne Sewell

Our world is a better place because of Louise Raggio.  She set the standard not only for the women of our profession, but for the profession as a whole.  She will be greatly missed.

Charla Aldous
The Aldous Law Firm

Though I never knew Louise personally, I benefited from her work tremendously. She blazed the trail that I and other women of my generation have been able to walk down, if not easily, then with much, much less effort than she had to make. I’m beyond grateful for the sacrifices she made. She will be greatly missed.

Kathleen J. Wu
Andrews & Kurth
2006 recipient of Dallas Women Lawyers Association’s
Louise B. Raggio Award


Louise Raggio was a trailblazer not only for women lawyers but for all women.  She was a feisty, courageous, leader who inspired so many of us to reach higher.  I remember meeting her for the first time and marveling at how much punch God packed into that small package.  There are generations of women lawyers who owe Louise our gratitude and humble thanks.

Dawn Estes
Taber Estes Thorne & Carr


Ms. Raggio is known as the “Mother of Family Law in Texas” because of her work to enact the Marital Property Act of 1967, which gave married women the equal legal rights they were previously denied under Texas law.

When she attended the Southern Methodist University School of Law, she was the only woman in her law school class. Later, she was the first female criminal assistant district attorney in Dallas County and was the first woman to be elected as a director of the State Bar of Texas. She was also the first female trustee and chair of the board of the Texas Bar Foundation. 

by Dave Moore at 12:05:15 pm

Few people want to publish the details of their private lives – especially if it’s something as private as a divorce.

But what happens when someone as highly visible as Super Bowl MVP and Fox Sports NFL commentator Troy Aikman separates from his wife, Rhonda?

Keeping the dirty laundry behind closed doors is still an option for the likes of the Aikmans, Dallas divorce attorney Mary Jo McCurley tells WFAA’s Shelly Slater.

“One or both of them can ask the court to seal the file,” said McCurley, a family lawyer at Dallas-based McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing. “And (either party could) ask the court to sign a confidentiality order.”

The couple has two children together, and a third from a previous marriage – a fact that McCurley says makes sealing the divorce case “absolutely imperative.”

McCurley’s advice reminds us all that while breaking up is hard to do, keeping the details private isn’t impossible.

by Robert Tharp at 2:54:41 pm

Considering the coin toss doesn’t even occur until 6:30 p.m. Eastern, Super Bowl Sunday promises to be a long and late night for football fans across the U.S. Workplace studies show that the Big Game and the celebration that goes along with it cause a dramatic spike in workplace absenteeism.

All those no-shows attributed to so-called “Super Bowl Flu” – an estimated 1.5 million truant workers nationwide – translate to billions of dollars in lost productivity and production costs each year.  A 2010 survey of corporations by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 65 percent reported the Super Bowl resulted in office wagering, although just slightly over half that number stated that the office pools had a negative effect.  “Companies shouldn’t just accept that problems are going to occur, but consider this a time to reinforce their workplace policies in a serious and realistic fashion,” says Dallas employment attorney Mark Shank of Gruber Hurst Johansen & Hail. “Employees need to know that they will continue to be measured by their conduct and judged on their performance in a way that’s consistent with the company’s standards and culture. To mangle the sports metaphors, employees shouldn’t necessarily get a mulligan because of a football game.”

by Robert Tharp at 2:38:19 pm

With nine days and counting on the Super Bowl, the NFL has added some muscle to its already tough position on policing counterfeit and unlicensed NFL-themed merchandise. The league took a pre-emptive strike Wednesday against folks selling or planning to sell counterfeit merchandise in areas around the Super Bowl. The lawsuit seeks to block sales in advance.

Reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: NFL Properties, the Green Bay Packers, and Pittsburgh Steelers filed suit Wednesday in State District Court in Fort Worth, seeking to bar "John Doe" defendants from selling counterfeit goods and seize the merchandise.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents say consumers should follow a few simple tips to help ensure they are buying authentic jerseys: Counterfeit goods have poor stitching around names and numbers, which is often particularly noticeable on the inside of the item. Incorrect spelling on sewn labels and counterfeit NFL logos, which should be holographic, are also indications of an illegal knock-off.

Intellectual property attorney Jennifer Sickler agrees: “From a consumer standpoint, there are almost always quality issues with these products,” says Sickler, a partner in Gardere Wynne Sewell’s Houston office. “This is a very lucrative industry, and licensed companies are returning a large amount of proceeds to the city in the form of tax revenues. Counterfeiters are returning little to the city but a flood of inferior products.”

by Robert Tharp at 2:21:09 pm

The dazzling glitz and glamour that accompanies every Super Bowl comes with a not-so-flattering sideshow. Based on analysis of past Super Bowls and other pro sports’ marquee events, the Dallas Police Department has publicly warned that tens of thousands of prostitutes will be converging in North Texas to profit from the celebration. While it’s widely known that prostitution is not a victimless crime on many levels, Dallas hospitality lawyer
Richard Barrett-Cuetara warns that hotels in particular need to take steps to ensure that they’re not found complicit in the illegal activity.

Just last December, for example, the city of Oakland filed lawsuits against three hotel owners alleging their hotels were complicit in prostitution. Meanwhile, Chinese authorities closed down the Chongqing Hilton Hotel and stripped it of its five-star rating last June after uncovering a multilayer prostitution ring operating within the hotel staff.

Barrett-Cuetara, a senior shareholder at Dallas-based Cowles & Thompson, advises hotels to develop security risk management strategies and train staff to take appropriate action when they spot suspicious activity, among other things. “Hotel operators have a very high standard of care to protect their guests and invitees, and they can be liable for a variety of claims resulting from an ill-fated encounter,” he says. “Hotels can’t stop willing guests from participating, but they should focus on detecting any prostitution occurring on the premises and alerting law enforcement.”

by Dave Moore at 1:08:35 pm

When a young man unloaded a handgun upon U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other individuals in Phoenix, it was clear to witnesses that the suspect – who was later identified as Jared Loughner – was imbalanced. Supporting evidence has since mounted.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune writes:

The disturbing photograph of Jared Loughner that has been released after his arrest, as well as the writings and statements attributed to him, seem to point to a man with a mental illness.

These facts might save Loughner’s life, according to Dallas criminal defense attorney Barry Sorrels.

Sorrels recently told Fox4 News’ Steve Eagar that while it would be hard to avoid a conviction with an insanity defense, that strategy would probably help Loughner avoid the death penalty in the sentencing phase of the criminal trial.

“There’s no other defense that can be of any value to saving this young man’s life, so that he doesn’t receive the death penalty,” Sorrels said to Eagar.  

Sorrels’ opinion reflects the changing legal landscape around the insanity plea.

According to Public outrage over the jury's verdict in (Ronald Reagan’s attempted assassin John) Hinckley's trial – not guilty by reason of insanity – prompted Congress to make it much more difficult to establish that claim in federal criminal trials.

Arizona also has modified the insanity defense so that a defendant in a state trial no longer can be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Instead, the jury can deliver a verdict of guilty but insane, said Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall.

Sorrells said that the facts will determine whether the prosecution will settle for anything less than Loughner’s execution.

“Right now, both sides are doing as much as they can to find out about the facts of this case and this defendant as possible,” Sorrels told Eagar.

by Robert Tharp at 2:19:42 pm

As SMU’s annual "Game::Business::Law" video game industry/law conference kicks off today, Interactive Age has put together its list of the Top 30 law firms for the diverse and growing video game industry. Implicit in this list is the realization that the video game industry as a focus sector for law firms has come of age.   

"This phenomenon is much like the history and development of Sports Law," says Dr. Peter Raad, founder and executive director of The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University. "Legal issues that were sports-related went from being handled by individual attorneys and small firms to now being part of large firms.  Today, the Sports Law Association has more than a 1,000 members."

This year’s Interactive Age list includes some household names of the legal world, but middle-size and smaller firms have earned hard-won spots based on building solid and long-term relationships in this industry. Take Dallas-based technology focused law firm Munck Carter. This growing firm already has a long history working with video game companies both inside and outside Texas. The firm has a national reputation for its IP expertise and litigation, and gaming companies also turn to Munck Carter for a full range of legal work, including the adoption and protection of trademarks, assistance with copyright registrations, advertising and contest rules and labor & employment issues.

"We've built a firm that combines legal expertise with a deep understanding of how technology companies operate," says Munck Carter Managing Partner William Munck. "As a result, technology companies and video game manufacturers feel comfortable coming to us, whether it's intellectual property issues, a corporate transaction, an employment issue or a high-stakes lawsuit. We speak their language."

by Dave Moore at 10:26:51 am

When a business files Chapter 11, employees often pack their boxes, turn off the lights, nail the doors shut, and go home.

But what happens when a city files for bankruptcy? In the case of Vallejo, Calif., some creditors might end up taking 5 cents on the dollar loaned to the city of 115,000 inhabitants. The city’s filing indicates it’s at least $479 million in debt.

Writes Bloomberg News:

No city or county has used federal bankruptcy laws to force creditors to take less than they are owed, according to Bruce Bennett, the lead lawyer for Orange County, California, when it filed the biggest municipal bankruptcy in the U.S. in 1994.

Vallejo’s plan assumes the city can’t provide essential services, like police and fire protection, while also paying its debts, he said. Should the city succeed, the case “may become an important precedent,” Bennett said in an interview.

Thompson & Knight attorney Rhett Campbell says Vallejo likely won’t be alone in seeking legal shelter from creditors.

“While we’re seeing reports of cities hiring restructuring specialists and otherwise warning of bankruptcy, this type of action is rare but certainly allowable under the laws of most states,” says Campbell. “These insolvency claims are governed by chapter 9 of the bankruptcy code, which is not a typical reorganization. The bankruptcy court’s powers are more limited than under chapter 11, and the city or county maintains control over most financial affairs and continues to provide services, although how it pays for them may be unclear.”

In other words, cities still need to provide police and fire protection, and drinking water for residents, despite their declining sales tax revenues, continuing pension obligations and crumbling property tax bases.

The notion of a city filing for bankruptcy sounds preposterous. Yet, as the New York Times has reported, the Big Apple was on the precipice of doing just that in the mid ‘70s.

Even now, U.S. legislators are looking at legal mechanisms that would allow entire state governments to declare bankruptcy.

Hopefully, the Great Recession will fade into the economy’s rearview mirror before more cities – or entire states – fall into Vallejo’s predicament.

by Robert Tharp at 2:20:27 pm

The budget situation is dire as the 2011 session of the Texas Legislature gets underway, but that hasn’t stopped Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins from unveiling an ambitious legislative wish list for lawmakers to consider.

Among the list released by Watkins last week is a proposal to collect DNA samples of every arrested person in Texas, implement reforms in the often problematic way eyewitness photo lineups are performed, and require all confessions to be videotaped. Finally, the DA hopes to encourage lawyers to pursue legal work in the relatively underpaid world of public service by offering student loan forgiveness to prosecutors. Details are sketchy regarding what these plans would cost and who would pay for them.

FOX KDFW Ch. 4 reporter Shaun Rabb went to Dallas white-collar and criminal defense lawyers John Teakell and Barry Sorrels for some perspective on these proposals. Teakell, a former federal prosecutor who now focuses on state and federal white-collar and criminal defense cases, says the DNA-collection proposal raises serious issues. “It seems to be an unnecessary step as far as the government tracking you or just being involved in your life when you don’t need to,” he tells Rabb.

Meanwhile, Sorrels, a prominent Dallas defense lawyer and newly elected president of the Dallas Bar Association, calls the proposals fair, intelligent and designed to add integrity to our system.

Little is being said at this point regarding the price tag on these proposals. Watkins, for his part, promises to make several trips to Austin to lobby lawmakers during the session.

by Robert Tharp at 11:52:33 am

The current edition of D CEO includes a fascinating portrait of the diverse and thriving technology/security firms that now call Dallas home. We all know Dallas as a major business center that is home to at least 24 Fortune 500 companies , but a number of smaller security-related firms are quietly building international reputations working on the cutting edge of technology and security. Notes D CEO, “Virtually every area of life is swirling with digitized data ripe for hacking, and a number of companies in North Texas are working to thwart the wrongdoers.”

Among the firms and personalities highlighted “The Protection Game,” Stroz Friedberg’s Erin Nealy Cox describes how the concept of a magic bullet does not apply to data security. Instead, peace of mind comes from a multilayered and comprehensive approach. “There is no one thing that can guarantee that you are safe,” she tells D CEO. “It’s a process.”

In addition to Stroz Friedberg’s data security and investigative offerings, the article highlights Addison-based data encryption software maker Credant Technologies and Authentix, another Addison-based company that uses patented technologies to help manufacturers protect their brands from counterfeiting and piracy.

by Robert Tharp at 3:46:45 pm











As a patent lawyer at Dallas-based Munck Carter, Michael Rodriguez uses his engineering background on a daily basis, analyzing patent strategies and other intellectual property matters for a wide range of high-tech firms and inventors. Those same engineering skills are useful in a much different way in Rodriguez’ life as a reserve lieutenant in the Navy’s SeaBees.

Activated just last week for a six-month assignment to build construction projects in Afghanistan combat zones, Rodriguez packed up his office and will soon be leading a team of soldier/engineers designing and building infrastructure projects and forward-operating bases. SeaBees have a distinguished history providing vital support for troops, often in some of the most perilous combat zones. As such, Rodriguez and others like him receive combat training, carry weapons and where body armor while they’re building these projects.

Check out Munck Carter’s touching sendoff for Michael, reported by FOX Ch. 4’s Shaun Rabb.


by Robert Tharp at 1:55:40 pm

Stale websites. Unrealized social media plans. Firm news that falls on deaf ears. May the law firm with the perfect marketing plan cast the first stone. 

For all the rest, the new year offers a chance to wipe the slate clean, step back and take a broad look at marketing plans for year ahead. To that end, Androvett Legal Media & Marketing has created “Legal 11 for 2011,” a practical marketing checklist. 

The idea behind “Legal 11 for 2011” is to begin the year right by putting a firm's marketing house in order. There’s a raft of ideas for optimizing a firm’s Internet presence such as refreshing online bios and photos(No. 2) and promoting the firm’s good work online(No. 1). Search Engine Optimization(No. 5) starts with identifying the keywords that potential clients will use to find you on the Internet, and then using those keywords to build an online presence. Coming in at No. 7 is the reminder that social media networks are not going away and there is a variety of ways to engage social media ethically and effectively.

The “Legal 11 for 2011” also includes old-school axioms like taking stock of your competition(No. 10), cleaning up client contact lists(No. 8) and evaluating brochures(No. 9). Perhaps No. 11 is the most valuable takeaway, a reminder that you’ve got to have goals in order to achieve them. Commit the goals to writing. When relevant and necessary, get expert help to achieve your goals and objectives. View the entire list here.

by Rhonda Reddick at 4:24:09 pm

In matrimonial bliss, a Detroit couple openly shared their e-mail passwords. But when the bloom fell from the proverbial rose, the husband’s use of his wife’s e-mail to expose her extramarital affairs resulted in his arrest for illegally hacking into her account.

To put some context to this story and the perilous world of social media we now inhabit, KDFW Fox 4 in Dallas turned to Peter Vogel, an expert in Internet technology and related legal concerns, as they looked at whether this was an isolated incident or if the same type of scenario is destined to play itself out again.

“With privacy laws, there is an expectation that people have certain privacies, but the reality today with social media, Internet email and the way we communicate, I think people do share this type of information,” says Vogel, a partner at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. He adds that psychologists have determined that people routinely “put things in email that they would never put in writing or say face to face, so email itself is an unusual social phenomenon, and social media has only made it a little crazier.”

A few days later when another Internet privacy issue made the news, KDFW again turned to Vogel. With an estimated $19 billion in stimulus money being offered to physicians and medical facilities for the adoption of electronic medical records, concern is rising about the potential for data breaches and identity theft.

However, says Vogel, “the medical community has proven to be quite vigilant about protecting patient information.” Because of the attention to privacy concerns problems are not likely, however “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be vigilant.”

by Rhonda Reddick at 9:18:25 am

January is traditionally a time for personal reflection over past events and of preparation for the future. The same is true for businesses, and Dallas labor and employment attorney Carrie Hoffman of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, says now is the time for employers to take a long look at their human resources practices and priorities for the coming year.

Just like with most individuals, addressing health and social concerns should be high priorities for businesses, says Hoffman. Whether to help prevent time lost to illnesses or rein in insurance costs, companies should investigate whether a wellness program is appropriate. And if they haven’t done so already, now is the perfect time to take a proactive stance on social networking and blogging practices by employees. Experienced managers know that prevention makes far better economic sense than putting off a decision and later being forced to react to a full-blown HR crisis.

Company leaders also need to assess how they are responding to claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA.) Too often, employers get sidetracked by trying to determine if the claimed condition is a covered disability. However, she says, it is rare when a condition is not covered. “That time and effort should be redirected. Instead of trying to validate the claim, spend that energy improving the interactive process and determining what a reasonable accommodation should be.”

Employers who use independent contractors also would be well advised to closely review their use to make sure they are being properly classified and compensated. “This is an issue that remains high on the Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service’s watch lists,” says Hoffman.

by Barry Pound at 4:25:52 pm

In a move designed to raise production in several mature oilfields, Mexico’s state-controlled oil company has approved a new contract model for exploration and production projects. Pemex says the new model will compensate contractors on a performance-based, per-barrel fee basis, a change that Pemex expects to increase investment interest from domestic and foreign oil companies.

“This announcement is the result of reforms in Mexico's energy laws that allow Pemex to grant performance incentives that will hopefully reverse a decline in production during the past several years,” says Gabriel Ruiz of the Monterrey office of Thompson & Knight. “Although there is some skepticism that this move will be enough to attract all of the economic and technological resources to address the Mexican oil industry’s complex challenges, contractors are actively analyzing the agreement and the opportunities it presents."

Reportedly the initial performance-based accords for exploration and production are likely to be awarded sometime in 2011 for three mature field projects in the Santuario, Carrizo and Magallanes areas of southeastern Mexico.  At a later stage, Pemex intends to apply the new model to energy reserves in other regions, as well as deep water exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico.

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