May 30, 2010
Kathryn Osburne Pope was recently selected to serve on the executive committee for the Young Lawyers Section of the Alabama State Bar. The Young Lawyers Section issues special grants to fund law-related community projects, such as the Minority Prelaw Conference and the Teen Court program in various counties across the state. The section also plans and coordinates the state bar admissions ceremony. Pope graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law, joined Rosen Harwood in 2007, and was admitted to the Alabama bar the same year. Her practice areas include general civil trial and appellate practice, commercial law and litigation, construction law, fidelity and surety, fraud, predatory lending and domestic relations.
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Christian conservatives target seated judges
By JULIE WATSON, Associated Press
May 30, 2010
SAN DIEGO — A group of conservative attorneys say they are on a mission from God to unseat four California judges in a rare challenge that is turning a traditionally snooze-button election into what both sides call a battle for the integrity of U.S. courts.
Vowing to be God's ambassadors on the bench, the four San Diego Superior Court candidates are backed by pastors, gun enthusiasts, and opponents of abortion and same-sex marriages.
"We believe our country is under assault and needs Christian values," said Craig Candelore, a family law attorney who is one of the group's candidates.
"Unfortunately, God has called upon us to do this only with the judiciary."
The challenge is unheard of in California, one of 33 states to directly elect judges.
Critics say the campaign is aimed at packing the courts with judges who adhere to the religious right's moral agenda and threatens both the impartiality of the court system and the separation of church and state.
Opponents fear the June 8 race is a strategy that could transform courtroom benches just like some school boards, which have seen an increasing number of Christian conservatives win seats in cities across the country and push for such issues as prayer in classrooms.
"Any organization that wants judges to subscribe to a certain political party or certain value system or certain way of ruling to me threatens the independence of the judiciary," San Diego County's District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said.
"Judges should be evaluated based on their qualifications and their duty to follow the law."
The campaign by California's social conservatives comes at a time when judges and scholars in many states are debating whether judges should be elected or appointed, citing the danger that campaign contributions could influence their rulings. Other states have lifted restrictions allowing judges to express their opinions publicly so people know what their biases are.
Special interest groups, including those representing gay marriage opponents, have ramped up donations for judicial races in recent years, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's school of law.
In Iowa's June 8 primary, two Republican gubernatorial candidates have announced they favor ousting Supreme Court judges whose unanimous decision last year legalized same-sex marriage.
"An effective way in driving policy is to try to influence who is on the courts in a state, particularly the highest court, the supreme court," said Adam Skaggs, counsel for the Brennan Center. "It's cause for concern because Americans expect courts to be places where people get a fair trial."
Most of those efforts have been aimed at state supreme courts, not courts like San Diego Superior Court that rules on custody battles and crime cases.
Called "Better Courts Now," the movement was the brainchild of Don Hamer, San Diego County's late Zion Christian Fellowship pastor who campaigned locally for California's ban on gay marriage, Proposition 8, and vetted the candidates before he died of a heart attack in March.
His fellow Pastor Brian Hendry and other supporters have carried on his legacy, launching the mostly online campaign to replace the incumbent judges — all Democrats — with Christian conservatives.
Backers include El Cajon Gun Exchange, a store that encourages customers to fight for California's gun owners and visit the "Better Courts Now" website before voting. Pastors have vowed to spread the word. Hendry said the group had raised about $2,000 last month.
Some say it would not take much to win the traditionally low turnout race. The election usually draws fellow judges, attorneys, prosecutors and others closely following the legal community.
Lantz Lewis, who has been a judge for 20 years, said his opponent's campaign is taking judicial elections in the wrong direction.
"I have no problem with elections, but I think it really should focus on a judge's qualifications, and it's very difficult to think something good could come out of a partisan judicial election," he said.
"Better Courts Now" says it wants courts to be more accountable to the public.
At a debate the group organized at the Rancho del Rey church in San Marcos, a sprawling city of strip malls and suburban earth-tone homes perched atop green canyons, candidate Harold J. Coleman Jr. told supporters it's fair for voters to know a judge's values.
"That doesn't mean he won't follow the law," Coleman said as his supporters faced a wall with the words, "Live Jesus."
About 25 attendees broke into prayer at the church, which was in an office complex shared by an Irish dance studio and gymnasium.
Organizers invited the incumbents but none came.
Lewis said "Better Courts Now" appears to be seeking allegiance to its views — not accountability.
"That's one of the reasons, we declined the invitation to go to that forum," he said. "I just don't think judges should be in a situation, where they are asked, 'Do you believe in God, abortion, gay marriage?'"
If judges proclaim to be either liberals or conservatives, people will feel the decks are either stacked against them or in their favor. If only one parent goes to church and the other does not in a child custody battle, a judge proclaimed to be a conservative Christian may favor the churchgoer, he said.
The district attorney and nearly every judge on the bench are endorsing incumbents Lewis, Robert Longstreth and Joel Wohlfeil, rated by the San Diego County Bar Association as "well qualified," its highest grade.
The bar rated Candelore and his running mates Bill Trask and Larry "Jake" Kincaid as "lacking some or all of the qualities of professional ability, experience, competence, integrity and temperament indicative of fitness to perform the judicial function in a satisfactory mode."
Trask is a lawyer for a mortgage firm and Kincaid is a family law attorney.
The bar said it did not have enough information to rate Coleman, an arbitrator for business disputes. He faces Judge DeAnn Salcido, who also received the bar's lowest mark of "lacking qualifications."
The Better Courts Now candidates accused the bar of being swayed by politics.
Candelore said a victory would mark only the beginning: "If we can take our judiciary, we can take our legislature and our executive branch."
Number of oil lawsuits climbs, state bar investigates complaints
By Casandra Andrews, Mobile Press-Register
May 22, 2010
MOBILE, Ala. -- Oil gushing from the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico had triggered some 29 federal lawsuits in Mobile by Friday.
At least 117 other federal suits have been filed from Texas to Florida in the month since the drilling rig explosion that killed 11 workers. There are additional suits in state courts.
With some of the Alabama-based claims have come complaints regarding potential unethical behavior and improper client solicitation by attorneys, State Bar officials said this week.
Keith B. Norman, the Alabama State Bar's executive director, said Friday that his group is investigating.
In Bayou La Batre on Friday, more than 100 people attended a heavily promoted meeting, presented by law firms from Alabama, Florida and New York, featuring environmental crusader Erin Brockovich.
Brockovich, who gained fame after her life story was portrayed by actress Julia Roberts, described her role with the firms as that of an independent consultant.
Sharing her e-mail address with the crowd, she told people to send her an e-mail if they had issues with how their claims were being handled by oil well owner BP PLC.
"I hope you'll use your voices, talk to people, look for help," she said. "You'll need protection."
Norman said the State Bar has no reason to be concerned about the meeting, cosponsored by the Cochran Firm and featuring Brockovich "unless she is giving legal advice."
"If it does turn out to be an issue of solicitation," Norman said, "we'll pursue that. I would trust that the Cochran firm would follow all of our professional and ethical standards."
Some of those gathered at the meeting used the forum to bash BP. Others wanted information about the time it takes to resolve class-action lawsuits.
"It could take 20 years," said attorney Robin Greenwald of Weitz & Luxenburg of New York City. "No one ever knows."
In July, a group of federal judges - the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, often called the MDL-will consider whether to combine all of the federal spill lawsuits and assign a single judge to handle all pretrial matters.
Lawyers involved in the cases have said it is likely the MDL panel, composed of seven judges appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts, will approve the consolidation of the suits.
Several attorneys also have said the logical place to try the cases is New Orleans federal court, noting it has the highest number of oil slick lawsuits and the most experience handling such litigation.
Norman wants the public to be cautious of contact with lawyers from other states, noting that a lawyer from another state not licensed in Alabama may appear in an Alabama court only with special permission of the court. The Alabama Bar has issued an alert called "How to Protect Your Rights When Disaster Strikes," which can be found at www.alabar.org.
He said, anyone wanting to report a case of attorney solicitation can call the Office of the General Counsel at 334-269-1515.
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People in Business
May 23, 2010
Several attorneys have been named to the Alabama Law Foundation as fellows.
J. Greg Allen, W. Percy Badham, Lee H. Copeland, Laura L. Crum, Robert G. Esdale Sr. and H. Lewis Gillis were accepted for membership. Fellows provide financial and personal support for the foundation, which is the charitable arm of the Alabama State Bar.
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Things to keep in mind with lawyers, spill
By KEITH B. NORMAN
May 16, 2010
Special to the Press-Register
Lawyers can play a significant role in helping victims recover from a disaster. But the Alabama State Bar has received reports that some attorneys — from Alabama as well as other states — have been soliciting clients in Mobile and Baldwin counties who may have potential claims related to the recent oil spill.
The Bar wants to set the record straight on what you, the consumer, should and should not expect from the legal profession, particularly during this time of tragedy on the Gulf Coast:
- You do not have to speak to anyone, including a lawyer.
- You do not have to make any decisions on the spot.
- Lawyers are not supposed to contact you unless you have asked them to do so.
- Be mindful of anyone who tries to talk to you about any type of offer or asks you to sign a waiver.
- Do not sign anything that affects your legal rights without first consulting a lawyer.
- Be particularly wary of contact with lawyers from other states.
- A lawyer from another state who is not licensed in Alabama may appear in an Alabama court only with special permission of that court.
Before you decide whether to employ a lawyer from another state, you must understand how that lawyer is going to represent you.
Lawyers admitted to practice in Alabama are required to adhere to the Rules of Professional Conduct as adopted by the Alabama Supreme Court. Those rules prohibit Alabama lawyers from soliciting business from prospective clients unless they already have a familial or professional relationship with the person or business.
This limitation includes solicitations by non-lawyers acting on behalf of lawyers and by any means — including in-person, telephone, letter or e-mail.
There is an exception for mail solicitations, but those are subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Above all, and especially during this time of stress, you should make informed decisions about legal matters only after careful deliberation and reflection. One of those decisions may be whether to hire a lawyer to pursue a lawsuit against those who may be responsible for the disaster.
The selection of an attorney should be made on the basis of the client's trust and confidence in the person selected.
If you believe you are in need of legal counsel but do not know how to locate an attorney, you can call the Mobile Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 251-433-1032 or the Alabama State Bar Lawyer Referral Service at 800-392-5660.
The Alabama State Bar is the sole regulatory agency with the authority to administer professional discipline against lawyers in this state. I urge people to contact the Office of General Counsel at 800-354-6154.
Keith B. Norman is executive director of the 16,000-member Alabama State Bar.
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De-mobilizing the lawyers – [Op-ed]
By John (Jack) Hanbury, Hattiesburg American (Miss.)
May 24, 2010
If only BP and the federal government had mobilized as quickly as the lawyers did in response to the Gulf oil leak! Within days of the tragic well explosion, this newspaper reported that, "Teams of lawyers from around the nation are mobilizing" to solicit clients.
One boat captain remarked that his and other boat operators' phones had been ringing
non-stop with lawyers seeking oil spill clients.
Don't get me wrong. This spill is potentially devastating to many businesses. They will be
entitled to compensation and they will need competent legal representation. My issue is not with the plaintiffs, but with the members of my profession whose greed overrides any concern for fundamental legal ethics.
You see, in the "business" of mass tort litigation, the object is to get to the courthouse "firstus with the mostus" clients. When the cases are eventually consolidated, as they most assuredly will, the law firms with the most clients usually get major roles in managing the litigation and potentially larger fees. Immediately after a catastrophic event, they send out teams of "runners," whose job is to sign up as many clients as possible, regardless of the merits of their case.
Like most states, the Mississippi Supreme Court Rules prohibit a lawyer, or a non-lawyer acting on behalf of a lawyer, from soliciting employment in person, by telephone, or by e-mail, from an individual with whom the lawyer has no prior personal or professional relationship. This is to prevent lawyers from taking advantage of potential clients under stressful conditions and to allow people to make informed and independent decisions regarding their legal representation. Yet the rule is flagrantly disregarded by unscrupulous lawyers with little or no consequence to the lawyers or their firms.
The judges presiding over these cases have the discretion to require each plaintiff to appear and testify whether they were personally solicited by the lawyer and whether they had a previous personal or business relationship with the lawyer or firm. If the ethical rule was violated, the judge can disqualify the offending lawyer and his or her firm from the case and refer them to the appropriate bar association for disciplinary action.
This is not a long-term solution to a problem endemic to the legal profession. But it sure would cause some folks to think twice about their ethical obligations.
John (Jack) Hanbury is a Hattiesburg business attorney.
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A Classic Turns 50, and Parties Are Planned
By JULIE BOSMAN, The New York Times
May 24, 2010
In Santa Cruz, Calif., volunteers will re-enact every word and movement in the famous courtroom scene. In Monroeville, Ala., residents dressed in 1930s garb will read aloud from memorable passages. In Rhinebeck, N.Y., Oblong Books will host a party with Mocktails and recorded music by the indie band the Boo Radleys.
All summer “To Kill a Mockingbird” will be relived through at least 50 events around the country, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of a book that became a cultural touchstone and an enduring staple of high-school reading programs.
Its publisher, HarperCollins, is trying to tap into what appears to be a near-endless reserve of affection for the book by helping to organize parties, movie screenings, readings and scholarly discussions. The publisher has recruited Tom Brokaw and other authors to take part by reading from the novel — which tells the story of the small-town lawyer Atticus Finch, who defends a black man accused of rape, and his family — in their hometowns.
Of course, there is also the hope that the events, which are scheduled to run through Sept. 22, will drum up more sales of the book. HarperCollins plans to issue four new editions of the novel next month, each with a different cover and all to be placed on special “Mockingbird” -themed floor displays in bookstores.
Perhaps the largest concentration of celebrations for the book are in Monroeville, which calls itself the “literary capital of Alabama” after its most famous resident, the “Mockingbird” author Harper Lee. The city is planning four days of events, including silent auctions, a walking tour of downtown, a marathon reading of the book in the county courthouse and a birthday party on the courthouse lawn.
The festivities are not expected to attract an appearance by the mysterious Ms. Lee, who is 84 and still living quietly in Alabama after never publishing another book. “Harper Lee has always been a very private person,” said Tina Andreadis, a spokeswoman for HarperCollins. “The legacy of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ speaks for itself.”
Few novels have achieved both the mass popularity and the literary cachet of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The book was originally published in 1960 by J. B. Lippincott and Company (now part of HarperCollins), won a Pulitzer Prize and has not been out of print since. It has sold nearly one million copies a year and in the past five years has been the second-best-selling backlist title in the country, beaten out only by the novel “The Kite Runner.”
Interest in the book intensified after the 2005 film “Capote,” in which Catherine Keener played Ms. Lee, and grew even stronger the next year, when Sandra Bullock played her in “Infamous.”
Sales of the book are especially robust in the South, including Kentucky, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Florida, and in the Midwest, particularly Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
Mr. Brokaw, who will read from the novel in a bookstore in Bozeman, Mont., on July 11, said he vividly recalls reading it as a 20-year-old college sophomore in South Dakota in 1960.
“I just remember being utterly absorbed by it, and inspired by Atticus, and very taken by Scout,” Mr. Brokaw said. “Those are very powerful characters. And I don’t remember another book about the South that treated race in quite that fashion.”
Mary McDonagh Murphy, a writer and documentary director whose book, “Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of 50 Years of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’,” will be published in June, called “Mockingbird” “our national novel.”
“I can’t name another book that is this popular, that tells such a good story, has such indelible characters and makes a social statement without being preachy,” Ms. Murphy said. “It is plain in the very best sense of the word.”
Less plain is Ms. Lee’s response to the unceasing popularity of her one and only book. Executives at HarperCollins said they began planning the summer-long celebration of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on the assumption that Ms. Lee would not take part. “She’s almost never given interviews,” said Kathy Schneider, a senior vice president and associate publisher at HarperCollins. “That’s why we didn’t expect her to participate in a big way.”
Ms. Murphy, who has interviewed Ms. Lee’s sister Alice Lee, said that Harper Lee was unhappy that in interviews decades ago, reporters did not quote her precisely. And she also had a philosophical issue — “that writers should not be familiar and recognizable,” Ms. Murphy said. “That was for entertainers.”
Wally Lamb, a novelist who will be part of a panel discussion about the book in Wilton, Conn., in September, said he believes Ms. Lee’s quiet stance evokes Boo Radley, a character to whom Ms. Lee has compared herself.
“One of the things that I find really cool about her is what I consider her caginess,” Mr. Lamb said. “And I think maybe the mystery surrounding her, and that sort of silence that she decided to maintain with the media, that becomes part of the legend of the book.”
Letter: Oil leak prompts state bar response
Baton Rouge Advocate (Louisiana)
May 17, 2010
In light of the April 20 oil rig explosion and subsequent oil leak, the Louisiana State Bar Association is working with other state legal entities to disseminate information to residents about attorneys’ duties and responsibilities, as governed by the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically in the area of client solicitation after accidents and disasters.
In view of complaints already being investigated about improper behavior by some lawyers (most from out of state), the LSBA stresses that education is the key to making informed legal decisions.
To advance this education effort, the LSBA has partnered with the Louisiana Civil Justice Center. The center’s free consumer legal assistance hot line can be accessed at (504) 355-0970 or (800) 310-7029, Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Assistance is also offered in Spanish.
The intake specialists will provide general information about the rules, in addition to fielding its regular calls on various civil legal issues.
The LSBA also wants to remove the unfair playing field that may hamper the many Louisiana lawyers who are, indeed, adhering to the rules.
To that end, the LSBA wants citizens to know: In cases of accidents or disasters, the rules prohibit attorneys from initiating direct-mail communications within 30 days of the incident. Solicitation of employment through unwanted personal visits or telephone calls by an attorney with whom a person has had no prior association, or someone acting on an attorney’s behalf, violates the rules. Solicitations involving coercion, duress, harassment, fraud, intimidation or undue influence are prohibited.
Anyone targeted by unethical or illegal solicitation or any other rules violation should contact the Office of Disciplinary Counsel at (800) 326-8022. The LSBA will continue to provide an effective, unified voice on issues affecting the fair and professional regulation of the practice of law.
For devotees of the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," the name Atticus Finch has become synonymous with the word "hero." As the lawyer protagonist of the book, he stood up for what he believed was right, even in the face of widespread opposition.
His influence seems especially strong among those in the field of law. In fact, one facet of the Alabama Law Foundation is "The Atticus Finch Foundation." Its primary goal is "to make access to justice a reality for all Alabama citizens."
Many of the state's most prominent leaders in law see Finch as a composite of the best people in their profession -- past and present -- a beacon of truths that are at the core of their mission. We asked a few of them just how the book, and the character of Atticus Finch in particular, affected their decision to enter the field of law and whether the values he has come to represent affect them even to this day as they practice.
Morris Dees, co-founder, Southern Poverty Law Center
After launching a Montgomery law practice in 1960 (the year "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published), Dees won a series of groundbreaking civil rights cases that helped integrate government and public institutions:
"To Kill a Mockingbird" didn't influence me to go to law school, but it had a tremendous influence on my decision to sell my publishing company that I had founded, and to engage full-time in civil rights law. It was a pretty powerful influence, along with Clarence Darrow's book about his life as a lawyer, "The Story of My Life." With both of them, I saw someone who had the courage to stand up against the popular opinions of the community without fear of retribution.
Obviously, the book is fiction, but you have to realize that there were a lot of white Southerners who also took principled stands in the '40s, '50s and '60's -- lawyers who were willing to say that the way black people were treated in the South was wrong, and there was no reason they should not have equal rights.
That exhibited itself as a lawyer, when you went to court and a black person did not get a fair trial, was not allowed to serve in a jury, not allowed to participate in the things we took for granted.
There have been people who criticize the book because they say Harper Lee was very careful not to step on a lot of the mores of the day. Atticus kept within the accepted approaches of the day, even though he did put up a defense for Tom Robinson. There are those who say it was interesting how during the trial Atticus Finch called the reprobate father of the girl "Mr. Ewell," but called Tom Robinson "Tom." I don't agree with those criticisms. You have to look at the time in which the story is set. He had great respect among the black community because he was willing to stand up against a mob in front of the courthouse.
One thing I can say with pride: There is a long history of lawyers in Alabama standing up for the underdog, even before the civil rights movement, who believed that everyone deserved a vigorous defense, though it was very rare for juries take the word of a black person.
The most despicable courts of appeals had judges who would never go against the attitudes of the white community. Laws were passed in Alabama aimed strictly at blacks -- it was a death penalty offense to break into an occupied dwelling in the nighttime. That was a law designed to protect white women in their homes at night. Our judicial system and legal system had a lot of very prejudicial and biased laws in them, which I'm glad to say now, because of a more enlightened attitude among lawyers and judges, have been eliminated.
Alyce M. Spruell, president-elect, Alabama State Bar
In July, Spruell will become the first woman to serve in that position, after 133 men have preceded her. Her practice is Spruell & Powell LLC in Tuscaloosa:
I have been blessed in my life and professional career with real-life mentors who are embodiments of the Atticus Finch character. My father, Rick Manley, who has practiced law in Demopolis, Alabama, for over 50 years, is an example of the caring, professional counselor of law that the Atticus Finch character personifies and celebrates.
In an "Atticus-like" fashion, my father served as the local city schools board chairman, as a member of the state Legislature, and as a State Bar leader, serving the public in ways that were sometimes unpopular and that cost him clients, elections and career aspirations. As a small child and even today, I have watched lawyers, like my father, help others for little or no pay because, like Atticus, it was the right thing to do.
Bobby Segall, Montgomery lawyer, past Alabama State Bar president
I think I already wanted to be a lawyer when I first read "To Kill A Mockingbird," but I loved the book and the movie, and I loved Atticus Finch. When I was in junior high school, I thought Atticus was the ultimate hero, and I still do.
I found everything about him inspiring, but the scene from the movie that has inspired me most over the years is the one where Atticus walks out of the courtroom and the Rev. Sykes tells Scout, "Stand up, your father is passing."
Nothing to me is as important as having the love and respect of your children, and no scene or words ever dramatized respect for another person more powerfully or emotionally. In the practice of law, I often think of that scene and of those words, and they have always been my guiding light -- try to make your children proud.
I think Atticus's inspiration carried over to my view of lawyers who I considered role models -- people like Judge Frank Johnson Jr. and lawyers Truman Hobbs Sr. and Albert Copeland. They were Atticus-like, and I wanted to be like them. I don't believe I've ever reached the standard Atticus, and they, set, but it's important to me to keep trying.
Judge John L. Carroll, dean, Cumberland School of Law, ex-U.S. magistrate judge in Montgomery
Atticus Finch was a definite inspiration to me to seek a career in law. I was in college when the book and movie came out, and I entered law school six years after I graduated from college. I went to law school because I wanted to emulate the values that Atticus Finch embodied.
He was a servant leader and skilled lawyer who understood the importance of the rule of law. More importantly, he knew that a lawyer's highest and best calling is to represent individuals in unpopular causes.
Atticus Finch continues to inspire me today to use the power that my law degree has given me to help those in our society who are powerless.
Tom Methvin, current Alabama State Bar president
There is no question that the character of Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" has influenced generations of people in the way they perceive lawyers and in thinking about a career as a lawyer. He is portrayed as a strong and true crusader for justice, someone who stands up for what is right even if it might cost him a lot, personally and professionally.
That's definitely a portrait of what the law is meant to be. The law is meant to be a voice for those who otherwise wouldn't be heard. The law is an avenue for the weak to be able to stand up against the strong. The character of Atticus Finch embodies these ideals and creates a positive image not only of the law, but of lawyers and the job we do.
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State Bar to help oil spill victims
By Cosby Woodruff, Montgomery Advertiser
May 12, 2010
The Alabama State Bar Association has set up a page on its Web site to help people impacted by the oil spill with legal representation.
The page “How to protect your rights when disaster strikes,” is available at www.alabar.org.
It gives advice on how to avoid being pressured into selecting legal representation immediately following a disaster. Anyone who feels he or she has been so pressured can call the Bar at 269-1515.
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Alabama State Bar warns of legal schemes after Gulf oil spill
By Lauren B. Cooper, Birmingham Business Journal
May 11, 2010
The Alabama State Bar is urging residents along the Gulf Coast to be aware of potential unethical behavior and improper client solicitation from attorneys in the wake of the massive oil spill.
The state bar has posted on its website information about protecting legal rights for residents during mass disasters, such as the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from a BP oil rig, providing advice about how to make informed legal decisions, said a news release.
“Lawyers can play a significant role in helping victims recover from a disaster,” said Keith B. Norman, executive director of the state bar. “While tragic situations like this often bring out the best in our profession, there are those who may view this as an opportunity for personal enrichment, without concern for the rights of the individuals and businesses involved.”
Norman said Alabama attorneys are required to adhere to the Rules of Professional Conduct adopted by the Alabama Supreme Court and lawyers are prohibited from soliciting business when potential clients are in situations that make it hard to focus on attorney selection.
If residents do see solicitation, they should report it to the bar’s office of general counsel in Montgomery, said the release.
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ALABAMA: AG King meets with oil company leaders
By Thomas Allen, NBC13, Mobile
May 7, 2010
(MONTGOMERY)— Alabama Attorney General Troy King traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, yesterday for a meeting of the Gulf Coast States Attorneys General with Mr. Jack Lynch, Senior General Counsel for the United States for British Petroleum.
Before departing Mobile for Jackson, Attorney General King addressed a meeting of local officials concerned about their communities saying that, “I am headed to Jackson to deliver the message to BP that this is their disaster and it is their responsibility. So far, I commend their responsible position that they intend to pay claims for the injuries they cause. However, I want to see the terms of this commitment memorialized to writing so that Alabamians can understand their rights.
“Before returning to Montgomery, Attorney General King praised the unprecedented co-operation occurring between the states saying, “We have never seen state officials working together across geographic and political boundaries like this before. Truly, we understand that the Gulf Coast belongs to all of us. We are all in this together.“
Commenting on the meeting in Jackson, the Attorney General said, “Our discussions today were worthwhile and productive. We expect to see BP’s commitments in writing very soon. That includes their commitment to an expedited claims process for those being affected by this disaster. After hearing about the great fear and hardship that our residents are already experiencing, BP pledged to process most claims within 48 hours.
A toll-free telephone number (800-440-0858) has been established to handle the filing of claims. In addition, in Alabama we are working to establish a partnership between my Consumer Protection Division and the State and Mobile County Bar Associations to provide on-site claims assistance for those dealing with this crisis. This will be Alabamians helping Alabamians. We also expect BP to commit to writing their position that the liability limitations of the Oil Pollution Act are not now, and will not, limit their commitment to pay for the effects of this oil spill.“
Tom Methvin, President of the Alabama Bar Association, who has made increasing volunteerism among attorneys the touchstone of his tenure as President, said, “we have over 4000 lawyers at the Alabama state bar who have agreed to advise clients for free.
We will be marshaling some of our forces to provide several public meetings to help people understand what their options are and particularly to understand what they may be signing.”
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Bill could hobble Louisiana's law clinics
By SONIA SMITH, Associated Press
May 10, 2010
Law clinics at universities across Louisiana fear a state senator's proposal could force them to close, leaving their impoverished clients without free legal services in cases ranging from child support to water pollution.
Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said he's heard those concerns and plans to put limits on the legislation.
Both sides acknowledge the measure is aimed at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, which Adley and business lobbyists say has driven jobs from the state. The clinic's supporters argue its lawyers help community groups hold state and federal regulators accountable, to make sure they comply with pollution laws.
As it now stands, the bill -- scheduled for a Wednesday hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee -- would prevent all university law clinics from challenging government agencies in court, suing individuals for damages or making constitutional claims. That would limit access to justice for thousands of low-income Louisianians and prevent law schools from providing students with a complete legal education, legal experts argue.
The proposal comes at a time when law clinics nationwide find themselves under fire from legislatures, courts and industry interest groups. Environment-focused clinics, which tend to ruffle the feathers of businesses, are taking most of the heat.
Adley said he offered his proposal after chemical and oil industry lobbyists complained to him about lawsuits brought by the Tulane environmental clinic, including a suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators that would require them to enforce clean air regulations in the Baton Rouge area.
Dan Borne, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association, criticized the Tulane clinic as having a "wanton disregard for the economic well being of the state" and "clearly anti-development agenda" that he said has scared away millions of investment dollars.
Tulane's environmental clinic drew fire from Gov. Mike Foster and industry groups when it sued in 1997 to block construction of the Shintech plastics plant in an impoverished, predominantly black community in St. James Parish. Tulane won a victory when Shintech abandoned its plans in favor of another smaller facility near Baton Rouge.
But while Adley and Borne focus on Tulane, the bill would affect all clinics in the state and the thousands of low-income clients they serve, said Robert Kuehn, president of the Clinical Legal Education Association.
"In wanting to kneecap Tulane, the Louisiana Chemical Association is going to kneecap all the state's law clinics," he said.
The legislation would have a drastic impact on all seven sections of Loyola University's law clinic, said Loyola spokesman Tommy Screen.
Stephen Griffin, interim dean of Tulane Law School, said without changes, Adley's proposal would shut down four of Tulane's seven clinics.
Messages left for the chancellors of the LSU and Southern University law schools were not returned.
After meeting with the presidents of Tulane and Loyola last week, Adley said he wants to amend the bill so it deals only with clinics that file lawsuits against businesses and the state that Adley said create an unfriendly climate for creating jobs. How that would be determined is unclear.
If clinics didn't comply, the universities could lose all state funding. Although Tulane is a private institution, it gets millions of dollars in state money. Loyola, a Jesuit university, gets about $925,000, Screen said.
Adley argues schools receiving state funds should not be allowed to sue the state.
Adam Babich, director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, said Adley misunderstands how the courts and government are intended to interact. Public participation in the process is essential, he said, and Tulane's student lawyers give voice to citizens' environmental concerns.
"If somebody in the state issues a permit that's not legal, it's in everyone's interest to get that resolved," Babich said.
Other law clinics around the country also are subject to scrutiny and legal fights. Clinics in Maryland, New Jersey and Michigan have faced recent challenges either through legislation or legal action.
Louisiana law clinics already operate under some of the strictest rules in the nation. After Tulane's victory in the Shintech case, industry groups complained to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which regulates law clinics, and the court limited the type of clients law clinics could represent to the most impoverished.
Babich said Adley's legislation in any form will be bad for Louisiana and its universities.
"This kind of action has the potential to just be a national embarrassment, damaging our reputation both in terms of good government and in terms of education," Babich said.
Some questioned the wisdom of moving forward on a bill targeting an environmental organization as an oil slick the size of Puerto Rico loomed off the Louisiana coast.
"It's ironic, of course, for essentially a bill that would insulate the oil and gas and chemical industries from challenge from residents to be coming up just as we are seeing the kind of damage that can result from poorly considered decisions," Babich said.
Lawyers, agency offer free legal clinic for low-income families
By Lauren Bowar, The Montgomery Advertiser
May 5, 2010
Area lawyers have teamed up with the Montgomery Community Action Agency to provide legal advice to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it.
Members of the Montgomery County Bar Association's Volunteer Lawyers Program began offering a free legal clinic in November, said Royal Dumas, a Montgomery attorney and the program's coordinator. The clinic is the first of its kind in Alabama, he said.
The clinic takes place at the Head Start Educational Building on Adams Avenue the first Tuesday of every month. Montgomery County residents are able to see the attorneys about civil matters such as divorce, custody issues, debt and foreclosures.
To receive the free legal advice, people must be 125 percent below the poverty level, Dumas said.
When people arrive at the clinic they are asked to sign in and then explain their issue to a paralegal. Once they are found to meet all the requirements of the program, they then meet with a lawyer.
The legal staff at the clinic consists entirely of volunteers, Dumas said.
It takes about 30 minutes to "triage the issue," which is what Dumas calls it when someone talks with a lawyer about their legal problem. Some problems can be solved on the spot, but others take more time, he said.
If a problem cannot be resolved at the free clinic, then those who qualify will be sent to the Volunteer Lawyers Program, Legal Services or the Family Sunshine Center for a follow up, he said.
If a person does not fall within the income bracket, then they will be sent to a lawyer referral service to receive counsel, Dumas said.
Thomas Methvin, president of the Alabama State Bar Association, worked with program director Linda Lund and Dumas to set up the free clinic, Dumas said.
"Our hope -- and what we have been doing -- is to help and provide quality service to people," Dumas said. "There are lots of people who don't know about resources and don't expect there to be resources."
Dumas said people believe this because historically in Alabama it has been true. He said traditionally Alabama lawyers have not dedicated as much time and resources as other states, spending less money per capita than any other state and even territories such as Puerto Rico.
The issues that people bring to the clinic are often the biggest issues in their lives, Lund said, such as the custody of children or if they are being sued, how they will pay bills.
"It truly affects everyday life and is of desperate importance to them," she said. "They have nowhere to go."
"Missing a car payment can unravel everything," he said. "We can't do the whole thing but we can take a little piece of the pie."
Teresa Harris, non-federal share coordinator with the Montgomery Community Action Agency, sees people everyday that need help with issues just like those the free clinic deals with, which is why the agency supports the clinic's work.
"A lot of low-income families make bad choices because of a lack of legal counsel that is unaffordable," she said.
Right now the clinic is still getting on its feet, Lund said, but expectations are high. The clinic has seen about 70 clients in the past seven months, she said.
"We want to be more proactive in the community," Dumas said. "In Montgomery County there's a large need for legal services by people that can't afford legal services. We want to learn what the barriers are and break those barriers down."
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Alabama's top judge honors 12 students at Law Day program
Alvin Benn, The Montgomery Advertiser
May 1, 2010
Twelve students from across Alabama got quite a thrill Friday when the state's top judge greeted and honored them at the annual Law Day program.
Held at the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building in Montgomery, the event once again saluted students who submitted the best essays and posters linked to the law and what it means.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elizabeth Kellum and Keith Norman, executive director of the Alabama State Bar, also tried to impress upon them the importance of abiding by the law.
"The rule of law is something that is vitally important and a concept that we hold up more than any other country across the world," Norman said.
Dozens of entries were submitted for consideration by judges who read the essays and examined the posters prepared by students from Athens, Elmore, Montgomery, Birmingham, Phenix City and Eufaula.
Cobb, who grew up in the Conecuh County community of Evergreen, and Kellum, who is from Vance in Tuscaloosa County, told the students that opportunity is available to succeed in the state regardless of whether a town is big or small.
"I became the youngest judge in the state of Alabama at the ripe old age of 25, and the first female chief justice of the Supreme Court in the history of the state of Alabama," Cobb said, adding that her tenure on the highest court has been "an amazing privilege."
Cobb lauded America's court system, calling it, by far, the best in the world when human rights are concerned.
"Our job is to protect the rule of law," said Cobb, who said "95 percent of all the jury trials in the world are held in the United States of America."
"As Keith mentioned, there are other countries striving to develop democracy and one of the hardest, most difficult achievements is to establish a rule of law," she said. "You hear it bandied about, but it truly is the essence of what the legal profession is all about."
Cobb mentioned the "human element" as reasons why "we don't always get it right, but we try."
The chief justice read parts of two winning essays and then joined Kellum in congratulating the winners and posing with them for pictures when the event ended.
Kellum repeated a line from Shakespeare's Henry VI to "kill all the lawyers," but said it was not meant to denigrate the legal profession.
"Everybody laughs because they think it's a knock on lawyers," she said, adding: "there are probably jokes about lawyers that I have not heard, but I've heard most of them."
She said the Shakespearean quote often is taken out of context "because they were planning to overthrow the government and they knew that in order to succeed, they would have to kill all the lawyers because they would be there to protect the rights of all the citizens."
The competition offered students from kindergarten through 12th grade the chance to submit hand drawn posters and typed essays about issues of importance in the legal community.
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Nashville's legal community struggles to cope with flooding
Leigh Jones, National Law Journal
May 4, 2010
The Nashville legal community struggled Tuesday to cope with flooding that shut down utilities and closed key arteries following disastrous rainstorms over the weekend.
Offices near the Cumberland River and others located on a power grid cut off by the floods were still closed Tuesday, after the river burst its banks and drowned much of the downtown area in sewage-tainted water. State courts, schools and other government offices were closed, and it remained unclear when they would reopen. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee was open.
Stites & Harbison partner A. Stuart Campbell could see the river from his office. "I'm three blocks away. It's amazing. I think this is something that won't happen again," he said.
Stites & Harbison has 43 attorneys in Nashville. About half of its attorneys and staffers were not at work Monday. About 85% came in Tuesday, Campbell said.
The 87-attorney Nashville office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz was closed Tuesday because of the power outage. Bass, Berry & Sims, which has 156 attorneys in Nashville, also was closed. Some of its attorneys were working from offices at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, said Robert Wood, managing partner of Bradley Arant's Nashville office. Bradley Arant was closed Monday but had reopened Tuesday.
"There are places in neighborhoods that have just been devastated," Wood said. "For those directly affected, they are still kind of in shock."
Bradley Arant was already receiving calls from clients — including commercial real estate developers and health care companies — that were concerned about insurance coverage, Campbell said. Many Nashville businesses were on a 100-year flood plain and weren't required to carry flood insurance.
"Nobody had flood insurance," he said.
Most of the city's law firms are located downtown. "It's a critical core," said Jonathan Cole, president of the Nashville Bar Association. The 3,000-attorney group is organizing community outreach to handle pro bono those legal problems sure to come involving insurance and repair contracts, Cole said. The bar was trying to contact small firms and solo practitioners whose offices have been affected by the floodwaters to help with temporary workspace and supplies.
"Big firms have disaster plans," said Cole, a partner at Baker Donelson. "It's the one- to five-person shop that this could be devastating for. We want to be responsive to help out."
Pinnacle at Symphony Place, a 29-story office tower in downtown Nashville that opened in February, was closed due to a lack of power. The building, located two blocks from the river, is home to Bass, Berry & Sims and to Pinnacle Financial Partners. Sherrard & Roe, a 30-attorney law firm, has a lease there but has not yet moved in. Richard Fleming, leasing agent for the property, said that he doesn't expect power to return until next week.
Vanderbilt University Law School went ahead with administering final exams this week, although some faculty, staff and students have been "adversely affected" by the floods, said Dean Chris Guthrie.
"The weather has changed rather dramatically, and it's beautiful here today," said the dean, in an e-mail message.
At least 28 people have died from the rainstorms and floods that began Saturday and stretched through the weekend. It resulted in 20 inches of rain pounding Nashville and the surrounding area.
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Bar Raised for Law-Grad Jobs - Employment Prospects Dim as Firms Retrench, Derailing Career Paths for Many
By NATHAN KOPPEL, The Wall Street Journal
May 6, 2010
Fabian Ronisky thought he was on track last summer to become a high-powered corporate lawyer. He was an intern at a leading firm in Los Angeles, earning about $3,000 weekly. But the firm didn't offer him a permanent job.
Alexis Smith and Fabian Ronisky both are about to enter one of the worst job markets for attorneys in decades. Neither has a lawyer job lined up.
So Mr. Ronisky, a 25-year-old student at Chicago's Northwestern University School of Law, spent the fall sending 50 resumes to law firms and government agencies, to no avail. Now, just days shy of graduation and with $150,000 of student loans, he plans to move back to his parents' home in San Diego and sell music and movies online.
"I wanted to use my education," he said. "But times change."
Mr. Ronisky is one of about 40,000 law-school students who will graduate this spring and enter one of the worst job markets for attorneys in decades. This year's classes have it particularly bad, according to lawyers and industry experts. Though hiring was down last year as well, they said 2009 graduates applied for jobs before law firms had felt the full brunt of the downturn.
The situation is so bleak that some students and industry experts are rethinking the value of a law degree, long considered a ticket to financial security. If students performed well, particularly at top-tier law schools, they could count on jobs at corporate firms where annual pay starts as high as $160,000 and can top out well north of $1 million. While plenty of graduates are still set to embark on that career path, many others have had their dreams upended.
Part of the problem is supply and demand. Law-school enrollment has held steady in recent years while law firms, judges, the government and other employers have drastically cut hiring in the economic downturn.
Large corporate law firms have been hit particularly hard. The nation's 100 highest-grossing corporate firms last year reported an average revenue decline of 3.4%, the first overall drop in more than 20 years, according to the May issue of The American Lawyer magazine.
Morrison & Foerster LLP, a 1,000-lawyer San Francisco-based firm, hired about 30% fewer graduates this year than in the prior year. "It would not surprise me if all firms cut back on hiring law graduates for a couple of years," said Keith Wetmore, its chairman. Saul Ewing LLP, a 250-lawyer Philadelphia firm, cut hiring of law graduates this year by about two-thirds.
Law firms of all sizes have suffered as clients have curbed work on real-estate acquisitions, mergers, public offerings and other staples of corporate practice. They have had to fire lawyers, reduce hiring and defer the start dates of the law graduates who did receive job offers.
Many 2009 law graduates who were offered jobs just started work this year. And many graduates hired in 2010 won't start until 2011. So even when the economy picks up, firms would first have to absorb their backlog of recent hires.
It is too early to get a comprehensive view of the employment rate for the 2010 class, but there are plenty of troubling indicators.
Law firms had an average of 16 summer internship positions to offer this year, about half the number of the previous year, according to a March report by the National Association for Law Placement Inc.
Employers last year offered 69% of summer interns a full-time job, down from about 90% in the previous five years.
The University of Texas School of Law, long regarded as among the nation's top 20, estimates the employment rate for 2010 graduates is down about 10% to 15% from last year.
"I've been at this for 23 years, and this is the worst job market I've ever seen," said Karen Klouda, head of career services at the University of Iowa College of Law.
Those considering law school might want to reconsider, said Allan Tanenbaum, chairman of an American Bar Association commission studying the impact of the economic crisis on the profession. Students take on average law-school debt of about $100,000 and, given the job market, many "have no foreseeable way to pay that back," he said.
Thomas Reddy, a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School, hasn't landed a summer internship yet after sending resumes to more than 50 law firms. He is taking on about $70,000 of debt each year of the three-year program to earn his degree, but said he may be fortunate to make $80,000 a year in a lawyer job after graduating. "That is less than what I was making before I went to law school," he said.
Many graduating students remained optimistic and determined to find legal jobs, according to interviews with students and career counselors. And many have secured good positions.
But it is bad form on campuses to bask in one's success, said Sue Landsittel, a Northwestern law student who will clerk at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle and join a top corporate firm after that. "You want to celebrate your own good fortune, but you have to remember it's a delicate issue."
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Battleground over law school clinics moves to Louisiana
Karen Sloan, National Law Journal
May 03, 2010
The battle over law clinic independence didn't end last month when lawmakers backed off a proposal to withhold state money from the University of Maryland School of Law unless its law clinics turned over case information.
The fight has shifted to Louisiana, where legislators soon will consider a bill that would prohibit any law school clinic at a public or private university that receives state money from suing a government agency or seeking monetary damages from an individual or business. The proposal is similar to legislation initially considered then rejected by Maryland lawmakers. It is largely seen as a slap at Tulane University Law School's environmental clinic.
Last year, the clinic helped secure a mercury contamination settlement from EnerVest Operating LLC, an oil and gas management company. It also helped stop the planned conversion of a power plant into a coal and petroleum coke burning facility — reversing earlier approval given by the Louisiana Public Service Commission. The clinic alleged that the move that it alleged would emit large amounts of carbon dioxide. Critics have The law clinic bill was introduced by State Sen. Robert Adley and is supported by the Louisiana Chemical Association.
"The intent is fairly simple," Adley said. "Philosophically, I'm opposed to taking taxpayer money and then turning around and suing taxpayers. If you're going to take money from the taxpayers and the government, you ought not be able to sue the taxpayers and the government."
Adley said that Tulane's environmental clinic has been "overly active" in bringing frivolous lawsuits against the government.
As they did in Maryland, legal educators have come out strongly against the bill. In a letter to Louisiana senators last month, interim Tulane law Dean Stephen M. Griffin and Loyola University New Orleans School of Law Dean Brian Bromberger said the bill would be a "serious blow to legal education" in Louisiana.
"While perhaps aimed at one clinic, the bill sweeps much further and would put nearly all the law clinics in the state out of business, whether they are funded through public money or private dollars," the deans wrote. They added that law clinics are already closely regulated by the Louisiana Supreme Court; curtailing their efforts would deprive law students of valuable experience and further reduce legal options for clients with little money.
Adley countered that the bill won't hurt legal education, since law students would still be allowed participate in criminal cases, juvenile cases, state and federal tribunals and several other areas.
In addition to concerns about Louisiana law students missing opportunities to develop litigation skills, the Society of American Law Teachers is concerned about a provision that would give several legislative committees oversight over law clinics.
"Legislative oversight of lawyer activities is an unacceptable government intrusion into the necessary and confidential lawyer-client relationship and an expansion of government regulation of the rights of private citizens," society leaders wrote in a letter to Griffin.
The similar legislative fight over the University of Maryland School of Law's clinics began when, on behalf of an environmental group, its environmental law clinic sued Perdue Farms and a chicken farmer who supplied the company. The lawsuit contends that the defendants are illegally discharging pollution into the Franklin Branch and Pocomoke River, which feed into the Chesapeake Bay.
In March and April, Maryland legislators debated stripping $250,000 or more from the university unless the law clinic reported certain client information. Lawmakers ultimately decided not to take any money from the school. However, the law school clinic must now report publicly available information about its activities to lawmakers — a resolution law school administrators said was not ideal, but much better than the original proposal.
Adley's bill doesn't represent the first time that Louisiana lawmakers have targeted Tulane's environmental law clinic. Politicians have attacked the clinic since at least 1993, when then-governor Edwin Edwards threatened to pull financial support for a new downtown Tulane basketball arena and other projects unless the university silenced a clinic director who was critical of the Edwards' plan to cut a state tax on hazardous waste.
Four years later, clinic opponents successfully pushed the Louisiana Supreme Court to restrict state law clinic operations, effectively banning students from representing nonprofit community organizations and placing strict limits on client income. The restrictions were challenged in federal court and were upheld.
Adley's bill was scheduled come before the Louisiana Senate's Commerce, Consumer Protection, and International Affairs Committee on May 12.
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