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Androvett Blog

by Robert Tharp at 4:43:11 pm

With Mexico on high alert regarding the spread of swine flu, U.S. law firms with offices in Mexico have been acting quickly this week to implement contingency plans

that allowed lawyers and staff to work from home.

At Thompson & Knight's Mexico City office, firm partners made the decision to have the office's lawyers, paralegals and staff to work from home while being connected via laptops and smartphones. The office switchboard remained in operation and the office remains open for meetings and other special needs.

Likewise at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, the firm initially made sure that there were plenty of facemasks, hand sanitizer, individual water bottles and paper towels for its Mexico City office, which operates as a partnership under the name Gardere, Arena y Asociados, S.C. But as concern multiplied, the firm made the decision to keep lawyers and staff at home at least until Monday, May 4(Friday is a national holiday in Mexico).  A sign of things to come here in the U.S.? Let's hope not.

 

 

by Robert Tharp at 1:26:05 pm

With the EPA formally declaring Carbon Dioxide a dangerous pollutant last week, the stage is now set for the creation of a cap-and-trade market for greenhouse gases. 
What's the big deal about CO2(the bubbles in beer) and five other heat-trapping gasses being considered pollutants? Plenty, says Richard O. Faulk, chair of the Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP Litigation Department. For one thing, the ruling provides another indication that the Obama administration is serious about climate-change policy. As a result, Faulk says now is the time for businesses to look forward and find opportunities in the new regulatory landscape. "The administration has even gone so far as to offer a ‘warning' to American investors about investing in ‘high-carbon' assets such as coal-fired power plants and gas-guzzling cars," Faulk says. "Businesses need to be aware of the administration's position and use it to their advantage. ‘Wait and see' is not the answer; you have to be ready to capitalize when compliance and trading opportunities arise. Now more than ever, knowledge is economic power." To interview Mr. Faulk about climate-change issues, contact Rhonda Reddick at 800-559-4534 or rhonda@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 3:53:21 pm

The psychiatric care provided to children and teens sent to residential treatment facilities operated by Austin-based Youth and Family Centered Services was far from touchy feely. According to litigation filed by attorneys at Fish & Richardson, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, the experience for many troubled young clients at these facilities was marked by woefully inadequate staffing and dangerous physical restraints. To top it off, YFCS billed the Medicaid system for reimbursement for treatment that has since been described as inadequate or worthless.

On Thursday, YFCS and its subsidiary Southwood Psychiatric Hospital settled the lawsuit, agreeing to pay $150,000 to reimburse Medicaid and implement comprehensive new treatment standards and adhere to increased governmental oversight of its programs. Among other things, the for-profit company, which operates 13 residential psychiatric facilities across the nation for children aged 6 to 18, will hire two full-time compliance officers to ensure its programs are operating lawfully.

This settlement marks the first resolution by the Justice Department of a failure of care case against residential psychiatric treatment facilities in Pennsylvania.

Fish & Richardson represented Dr. Stefan P. Kruszewski, a board-certified psychiatrist who had discovered and exposed the fraud and abuse, but was then fired from his position as a medical consultant for the Bureau of Program Integrity in Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare. Because the Medicaid payments were administered through a joint federal/state Medicaid program, the U.S. government intervened in the case and became a party to the lawsuit and settlement agreement. The federal government has reserved the right to bring criminal charges and to exclude YFCS from Medicaid reimbursement programs in the future.

"This was a case of the exploitation of children for profit," said Thomas Melsheimer, a principal of Fish & Richardson in the firm's Dallas office, who, along with Thomas Halkowski, a principal in Fish's Wilmington, Del. office, represented Dr. Kruszewski in the case. "Dr. Kruszewski should be commended for having the courage to come forward to protect this vulnerable group from further mistreatment. Because of his actions, we now have an agreement that provides a new standard of care to help safeguard the well-being of the thousands of children who are housed in YFCS's facilities."

by Robert Tharp at 4:23:17 pm

There's a particular double whammy occurring in commercial real estate circles these days: the so-called credit crunch is making it more difficult for those with debt to
refinance while lenders are under pressure to reduce debt exposure. The result is that debtors are starting to really feel the squeeze. That phenomenon is unfolding across the country, but the impact in Texas could be particularly acute because of the way the state's foreclosure laws provide lenders with "a big stick," says real estate attorney Andrew Ingrum of Dallas' Thompson & Knight 

"Texas has among the nation's most streamlined foreclosure statutes, which allows lenders to wield a very big stick," says Ingram, who adds that calls from out-of-state lenders seeking guidance on potentially large-scale foreclosures and workouts have increased dramatically. "The risk and shortcomings of some developments that were overlooked in the good times are now magnified in the bad times. A large percentage of the commercial real estate loans made just three or four years ago can't happen today without significant equity support." To interview Mr. Ingrum about commercial real estate issues, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 4:09:36 pm

Employment attorney Mark Shank: economic crisis is fueling increase in complaints
Age discrimination complaints are skyrocketing, up nearly 30 percent in 2008, according to the EEOC and an interesting story in today's NY Times. While the workforce over age 45 enjoys a better rate of employment than the population as a whole, the wave of layoffs means more older workers are receiving pink slips and entering a dismal job market. Once unemployed, workers over age 45 face a longer job search and steeper drops in earnings.

"Considering the down economy and rise in layoffs, it's perhaps not surprising that discrimination claims are on the rise," says Mark Shank, a labor and employment attorney with Dallas' Gruber Hurst Johansen & Hail.. "We may see an even greater number of these cases filed in 2009." Shank says more senior workers may take legal action to recover lost jobs or wages because it's often difficult for them to find new employment. "Recent judicial rulings have also made it easier for employees to allege age bias, so companies should be very mindful of their exposure when considering workforce reductions." To interview Mr. Shank about employment matters, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

by Robert Tharp at 3:29:18 pm

The IRS is trying to show its softer side when it comes to all the U.S. taxpayers out there who were swindled in investment schemes in 2008. The government is making it
easier for victims of shady financial advisors to get some tax relief from their losses, says John Eliason, a member of the Financial Crisis Recovery Team at Gardere Wynne Sewell. Under the IRS's safe harbor, losses from Ponzi schemes are considered theft losses, even if the culprit has not been convicted. Provided certain requirements are met, the IRS allows defrauded investors to deduct up to 95 percent of a loss, minus any recovered funds. "The IRS has always made it clear that these are considered ‘theft' losses," Eliason says.
"However, the new guidance provides an optional safe harbor allowing certain investors to report the loss without having to determine the full amount or the prospects of recovering these losses." To interview Mr. Eliason, contact Rhonda Reddick at 800-559-4534 or rhonda@androvett.com.  

by Robert Tharp at 11:52:44 am

This just in: a dynamic, high quality Web site has a direct impact on your business success.

Most people intuitively understand by now the importance of any business having a competent and high-quality Internet presence.  But, wow, look at the results of

this recent survey describing how general counsels make decisions to hire outside law firms. To sum the findings of the Wicker Park Group/Hubbard One survey:

1) 100 percent of GCs in the survey indicated that they always look at a firm's Web site before deciding to purchase legal services. That's 100 percent, as in every single one of them look at a law firm's Web presence before they hire.
2) Nine out of 10 GCs say that professional bios are the most important section of a Web page.
3) Nine out of 10 GCs say the quality of a Web site makes a lasting impression.

Consider these assorted comments from GCs:

"I look at every firm's site we consider. The smart firms push a lot of content through their site. It helps in the search results. If a firm has a bad Web site, it makes a bad impression without even meeting the firm's attorneys."

"If a firm has not spent time and effort representing itself, what can I expect in terms of attention to detail and quality? Some Web sites are hard to navigate; others are simply very light on content."

by Robert Tharp at 11:08:07 am

Reports of the demise of asbestos litigation have apparently been greatly exaggerated. At The Lanier Law Firm, at least, asbestos, mesothelioma and mass toxic torts are a growing practice area. The Houston-based firm is dramatically expanding its Asbestos Litigation Group, hiring six attorneys and adding 14,000 square feet of office space.

Firm founder  Mark Lanier says the decision to expand the asbestos practice is based on a practical examination of market conditions and the current legal climate. "The terrible legacy of asbestos exposure continues to impact thousands of families every year, and we want people to know that they have a strong advocate at The Lanier Law Firm in every type of asbestos claim."

The firm has hired asbestos litigators M. Clay Fostel, formerly of Houston's Heard Robins Cloud Black & Lubel, and William H. Barfield, previously with Houston's Smith & Hassler, are joining the firm along with C. Jason Lindamood, formerly an assistant district attorney for Wharton County; Benjamin Pyle, formerly with Houston's RAS Inc.; and recent South Texas College of Law graduates Matthew McFarlane and Lauren Ware. With these new additions, the firm now has 20 lawyers working in its Asbestos Litigation Group.

With offices in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Houston and New York, The Lanier Law Firm is committed to addressing client concerns with effective and innovative solutions in courtrooms across the country. The firm is composed of outstanding trial attorneys with decades of experience handling cases involving pharmaceutical liability, asbestos exposure, intellectual property, business litigation, product liability, toxic exposure and maritime law. For more information, please contact Bruce Vincent at 214-559-4630 or bruce@androvett.com.

 

by Robert Tharp at 2:17:13 pm

Digital forensics expert Erin Nealy Cox of Stroz Friedberg LLC says proposed legislation reflects policy makers' growing data-security concerns.
Whether it's computer viruses like the conficker worm threatening to turn your PC into a foot soldier in a vast drone computer army or the skyrocketing number of data breaches, the electronic age is constantly presenting new perils, and businesses, consumers and policy makers are still struggling to respond. Three separate bills under consideration by Texas lawmakers could strengthen statutes aimed at growing data security threats to businesses and individuals.

Senate Bill 28 would outlaw the creation and use of botnets in Texas. Under the proposal, those victimized by botnets, such as ISPs and businesses, or the Texas Attorney General could bring a cause of action and potentially recover up to $100,000 per violation, legal costs and treble damages. Senate Bill 327/House Bill 345 would require businesses to adopt e-commerce security standards already in use by the payment card industry. Senate Bill 962 would require businesses to use encryption software when dealing with sensitive personal information.

Erin Nealy Cox, a deputy general counsel at Stroz Friedberg LLC, an international digital forensics, cybercrime response and electronic discovery firm, says the legislation reflects the growing number of data security risks. "Lawmakers across the country are feeling pressure to respond to these dangers," she says. "For businesses operating in multiple states, the result can be a confusing patchwork of statutes from one state to another." To interview Ms. Nealy Cox, contact Robert Tharp at 800-559-4534 or robert@androvett.com.  

by Robert Tharp at 11:30:41 am

Revelations of the f'ight club' atmosphere within the Corpus Christi State School have certainly been one of the most disturbing letdowns of public trust in some time. According to police reports and news accounts, supervisors at the school for the mentally disabled routinely organized fights among disabled residents and filmed the violence for their own entertainment.

The mother of one of the victims, Inez Hernandez, has filed a negligence claim on behalf of her 21-year-old mentally disabled son, Armando Hernandez Jr., who was among those forced to battle. The lawsuit filed by Corpus Christi-based Hilliard Muńoz Guerra against the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services charges that Mr. Hernandez suffered physical injuries and continues to suffer emotional trauma including severe humiliation, degradation and mental anguish as a result of the experience.

"These special-needs residents are some of the most vulnerable and fragile members of our community," says attorney Robert Hilliard. "To think that the protectors of their welfare were turning them into tools for their own sick entertainment makes my blood boil. I put this at the feet of the agency itself, an agency that, time and time again, throughout this state has allowed systematic abuse of every kind to go mostly unchecked."

For more information, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 (office), 214-293-0860 (mobile) or barry@androvett.com.