December 11, 2014 by Dave Moore at 3:00:00 pm
From Texas' multiple Ebola diagnoses to an indicted governor to lawsuits over immigration policy, the Lone Star State once again was at the forefront of the country’s top legal news for 2014. Following are the state’s top legal news stories this year as determined by the staff at Androvett Legal Media & Marketing.
10. Mexico Announces Energy Reform
After three-quarters of a century, Mexico’s federal government moved to end its complete control of the country’s energy production in 2014. A bill signed by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in August set numerous wheels in motion: The government now is establishing ground rules for private investment in energy while sorting out what oil fields should remain with Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex. The move toward privatization has spurred Texas energy companies and law firms alike to prepare for an increased number of transactions and greater activity in exploring Mexico’s energy potential.
9. Adrian Peterson Pleads No Contest
In a case that grabbed international headlines and roused spirited debate over corporal punishment, NFL standout running back Adrian Peterson pleaded no contest to a Texas charge that he injured his 4-year-old son while disciplining him in May 2014. Prosecutors alleged that Peterson struck his son with a thin tree branch, or “switch.” Peterson remains suspended by the NFL while the league decides when he should return, with media outlets predicting that Peterson will not return to the field this season. An East Texas native, Peterson holds numerous NFL records, including the most yards rushed in a single game, and the second-most yards rushed in a single season.
8. Undocumented Immigrant Children Pouring In
Texas made national headlines in July when immigration officials announced a sudden surge in unaccompanied children crossing the Texas-Mexico border. The state’s Office of Refugee Resettlement reported handling more than 42,000 children in the first half of 2014, compared to only 24,668 in all of 2013. Communities across the state offered to set up facilities to accommodate the children, who are fleeing from gang violence, sexual assaults and kidnapping. The influx of immigrant children further intensified political arguments over U.S. border-enforcement policies, with lawsuits coming from Texas and other states.
7. Governor-Elect Abbott Continues to Sue Feds
Prior to the July 2013 launch of his campaign for Texas governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott proudly claimed, “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and then I go home.” Abbot has sued the federal government more than 30 times. In early December, he joined 17 states in suing President Barack Obama for his executive order suspending deportations of immigrants with clean criminal records. Abbott and the co-plaintiffs say they have standing to sue because state taxpayers will be left on the hook for expenses related to health care, education, and police to handle illegal immigrants who now have federal permission to stay in the U.S. without permanent citizenship.
6. Lethal Injections Continue Despite Drug Controversy
As a result of highly publicized shortages of the drugs used for legal injection, Ohio, Arizona and Oklahoma have begun relying on various cocktails of drugs to execute those sentenced to death. However, Texas continued to find a way to obtain pentobarbital for the same purpose even though the manufacturer stopped sales in 2011. While many anesthesiologists say a single, fatal dose of pentobarbital – the same drug used to euthanize animals – likely is painless, critics question whether the drug is actually used by Texas since the state won’t disclose its source. State District Judge Darlene Byrne of Austin ordered the state to identify its lethal drug supplier in December after ruling the information should be public. Related lawsuits continue to work their way through Texas courts. Since 2012, Texas has fatally injected more than 40 inmates, at least three times more than any other state.
5. BP Slapped for Gross Negligence
In September, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans issued gross negligence findings against energy giant BP Plc. in a criminal case stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 people and leaked 208 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The London-based oil company presumably hoped for a negligence finding, but the judge completely rejected BP’s arguments, clearing the way for possible fines of up to $18 billion. The judge found BP largely responsible before assigning lesser blame to rig operator Transocean and Houston-based contractor Halliburton. BP previously pleaded guilty to 14 federal charges for the explosion and for obstructing a related Congressional investigation. Now, BP has until January before it will hear how much the court says the company should pay.
4. Denton Bans Fracking
Denton’s voter-approved citywide ban on fracking unleashed a firestorm of litigation and heated debate over land and property rights in a state whose economy is largely built on oil and gas. In early November, 58 percent of Denton’s voters approved a referendum that drastically restricts drillers’ efforts to employ hydraulic fracturing of oil and natural gas. Within hours of the vote, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Commission filed lawsuits attempting to declare the ordinance illegal based on claims that municipalities do not have the authority to govern drilling. Since then, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other interest groups have aligned with Denton voters to support the ban in the ongoing dispute.
3. Voter ID Law Approved
In the balancing act between eliminating voter fraud and potentially disenfranchising voters, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 2011 Texas law requiring voters to present a valid photo ID at polling places. The high court’s unsigned opinion did not spell out the reasoning for upholding the law, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg did not hide her opinion in an accompanying dissent. “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections . . . is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote.
2. Ground Zero for Ebola
Infectious disease experts knew the United States eventually would see its first case of Ebola, but the when and where were unknown. The answer came in September, with Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas as ground zero. Thomas Eric Duncan’s well-publicized early dismissal from the hospital’s emergency room and his death in early October dominated international headlines. The nurses who treated him, Nina Pham and Amber Joy Vinson, were diagnosed with Ebola and later recovered. With the media and public focused on the hospital’s alleged lack of protocols and proper equipment for handling the deadly disease, Presbyterian Dallas ultimately apologized to Duncan’s family and reached an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount.
1. Gov. Rick Perry Indicted
Texas political wonks got a crash course in criminal justice in August with the indictment of Gov. Rick Perry on a first-degree felony charge for allegedly abusing his power and a third-degree felony claim of coercion. The charges came after a Travis County grand jury found a potential smoking gun when Perry made good on his threat to cut funding for the state’s Public Integrity Unit. Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg leads the unit, which lost funding after the DA refused Perry’s ultimatum that she resign following her arrest for driving under the influence. A month after the indictment, Perry’s political action committee printed T-shirts with his mug shot. Perry’s well-heeled defense team has vowed to fight the charges until the bitter end.
December 5, 2014 by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:00:00 am
The newest member of the Androvett team in our Dallas office, Bria Burk is helping law firms better manage the challenges of the online environment – how to maintain that presence, keep content fresh, and effectively integrate social media opportunities.
Can you tell us about your personal and professional background?
I grew up in Plano, Texas, and come from a very close family, literally. More than half of my entire family lived in our neighborhood growing up. I attended the University of Missouri for their Journalism school and earned degrees in both Strategic Communications and Graphic Design. While there, I worked for the University to build websites and design collateral for all of the student organizations on campus. After graduating, I moved back to Dallas and worked for another law firm marketing agency, managing digital and design projects for small and solo law firm clients. I’m really excited to make the move to Androvett.
Can you offer an overview of the tasks you’re focusing on for Androvett clients?
I’m working on all things digital -- auditing, planning, developing and maintaining websites, and creating social media campaigns, emails and content schedules for both attorneys and firms to increase their digital presence over time. I’m also implementing Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising strategies to make our clients more accessible.
So what are the things that individual lawyers should be doing to take advantage of social media?
Start small and block off a little social media time each week to focus on one platform. For most lawyers LinkedIn is the best place to start because you can demonstrate your industry knowledge, generate traffic to your firm’s website and build a community of potential and existing clients that will look to you for information. Make sure your profile is 100 percent complete and optimized with descriptive headlines and summaries. Join relevant groups and continue connecting with like-minded professionals. To make a great impression when sending an invitation, avoid sending the default message and personalize it if you can. Grow your industry influence by creating relevant and interesting content to post and share with your network and groups. The key is being patient and sticking with it.
If a law firm could make one change to its website, what would that be?
As more people access information on the go, the expectation is to have a responsive, mobile device-friendly, website that looks just as good on a smartphone or tablet as it does on a desktop computer. If your website was created even just a few years ago it may not function well on the mobile platforms. A responsive website will auto-detect what device someone is using and optimize the content to make it easier to click buttons and find information on a smaller screen. Another key functionality of a great website is search engine optimization. Having your site on the first page of search results for key practice areas and phrases is a very valuable feature. There are many factors that go into optimizing a website for search, but it starts with having great content that is relevant to your clients.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I never set my alarm clock on anything ending in 5 or 0. There must be something about getting those few extra minutes that helps get out of bed in the morning. Also, I swam competitively for 12 years, and my best events were the 200 and 500 freestyle.
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