Finance director to run for court seat
By Phillip Rawls, Associated Press
October 30, 2007
MONTGOMERY — State Finance Director Jim Main, who had a varied career as both a plaintiff and defense lawyer before entering state government, said Tuesday he plans to run for the Alabama Supreme Court next year.
Main, 62, acknowledges there is concern among some in the business community about him having been a law partner with former Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley, one of Alabama’s best known plaintiff lawyers. But he said his nearly seven years of service in the cabinets of Republican Govs. Fob James and Bob Riley should demonstrate a fair and balanced approach to business issues.
One of Alabama’s nine Supreme Court seats will be on the 2008 ballot. It will be a rare open seat because Justice Harold See has announced he will not seek re-election.
Main said he plans to qualify when the Republican Party starts signing up candidates in January.
“If the qualifying were today, I would qualify,” he said.
Main is the first Republican to jump into the race. One Dem-ocrat, Lauderdale County District Judge Deborah Bell Paseur, has already said she will run.
Republican Kelli Wise, a judge on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, has been considering the race. She said Tuesday she is uncertain what she will do because the governor recently appointed her husband, Arthur Ray, to a district judgeship in Montgomery and he will have to run for a full term next year.
Wise, who is in the middle of her appeals court term, said she and her husband are discussing whether they can conduct two campaigns simultaneously and look after their 8-year-old daughter. They hope to make a decision by Thanksgiving, she said.
Montgomery attorney Doug McElvy said Tuesday he is receiving lots of encouragement to run as a Republican for the state’s highest court. “I’m very strongly considering it,” he said.
McElvy is well known in legal circles, having served as president of the Alabama State Bar in 2004-2005 and currently serving as vice chairman of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism.
- - -
Lawyers' Group Wants Halt to Executions
By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press
October 28, 2007
WASHINGTON - Serious problems in state death penalty systems compromise fairness and accuracy in capital punishment cases and justify a nationwide freeze on executions, the American Bar Association says. Problems cited in a report released Sunday by the lawyers' organization include:
* Spotty collection and preservation of DNA evidence, which has been used to exonerate more than 200 inmates;
* Misidentification by eyewitnesses;
* False confessions from defendants; and
* Persistent racial disparities that make death sentences more likely when victims are white.
The report is a compilation of separate reviews done over the past three years of how the death penalty operates in eight states: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Teams that studied the systems in Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania did not call for a halt to executions in those states. But the ABA said every state with the death penalty should review its execution procedures before putting anyone else to death.
"After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle executions, it has become crystal clear that the process is deeply flawed," said Stephen F. Hanlon, chairman of the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project. "The death penalty system is rife with irregularity."
The ABA, which takes no position on capital punishment, did not study lethal injection procedures that are under challenge across the nation. The procedures will be reviewed by the Supreme Court early next year in a case from Kentucky.
State and federal courts have effectively stopped most executions pending a high court decision.
Prosecutors and death penalty supporters have said the eight state studies were flawed because the ABA teams were made up mainly of death penalty opponents.
- - -
AG, ABA square off over death penalty
By Dana Beyerle, Tuscaloosa News
October 30, 2007
MONTGOMERY | The president-elect of the American Bar Association and Attorney General Troy King squared off Monday over an ABA report calling for an end to Alabama’s executions.
Birmingham attorney Tommy Wells, who becomes president of the nation’s largest lawyer’s group in August, defended the report that said Alabama’s and four other state death penalty systems are “deeply flawed.”
“The ABA has taken no position on the death penalty,” said Wells. “The only position is if you’re going to impose the death penalty, you got to make sure the system gets it right.”
But King disagreed, saying the ABA has an agenda.
King’s message to the organization: Mind your own business.
“If you talk to the families of crime they will tell you there already is a moratorium in Alabama where it takes far too long to execute someone without interference by outside groups that come to Alabama and tell us how to run our state,” King said.
Without citing specifics, a Monday news release from the ABA called for a nationwide moratorium on executions so states can study whether their legal systems meet legal standards for fairness and due process.
Gov. Bob Riley recently temporarily stayed an execution, pending a change in the way the state administers lethal injection. But he doesn’t support a moratorium.
“We haven’t read the report, but I can say the governor supports the death penalty and opposes a moratorium,” spokesman Jeff Emerson said.
The ABA’s Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project said problems common to death penalty states include major racial disparities in imposing the death penalty, inadequate defense for the indigent, and irregular clemency reviews.
The study also cited what it called serious problems in many states, including elected judges who may feel pressure from voters, judges’ ability to ignore jury recommendations of life in prison without parole, inadequate understanding of mental illness and retardation, inadequate preservation of evidence through the entire legal process, and relatively short periods of time to file appellate petitions for review.
Keith Norman, executive director of the Alabama Bar Association, said its position is the same as the national bar. He said the state bar advocates a statewide death penalty commission to oversee indigent defense.
King said Alabama’s death penalty system must already adequately protect the rights of murderers or “you’d see wholesale reversals and you don’t see that.
“It’s not just Alabama appellate courts, it’s all the way up [to the U.S. Supreme Court],” he said.
The ABA committee that produced Alabama’s report included state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, defense attorney William Clark, former University of Alabama law professor Daniel M. Filler, and former U.S. Magistrate Judge John L. Carroll.
The ABA said Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, and Florida should stop executions and study their implementation.
“Until states take a look at their own systems using some sort of uniform standards we believe there ought to be a moratorium until we can be sure it’s fair and the citizens of a state are getting justice they believe they ought to have, especially a defendant wrongly accused,” Wells said.
For their part, some former or current prosecutors said the bar association is pushing an anti-death penalty agenda.
Tuscaloosa County District Attorney Tommy Smith said the ABA should not criticize the practice of allowing judges discretion in sentencing someone to death.
“As far as judges reviewing [a jury recommendation], it was mandated by the Supreme Court and instituted 30-plus years ago in order to create a buffer between jury decisions and someone getting different sentences,” Smith said. “Part of what a judge has to consider is whether the sentence in this case is proportionately or disproportionately the same as others.”
- - -
Legal aid for indigent gets boost from new rule
By Mike Odom, BaldwinCountyNow.com
October 28, 2007
FAIRHOPE, Ala. — Recent action by the Alabama Supreme Court could lift the state from its bottom ranking in providing services to people who qualify for free legal assistance in civil cases.
“Alabama ranks behind all states, D.C. and Puerto Rico in meeting the civil legal needs of the poor,” said Sam Crosby, a Daphne attorney and current president of the Alabama State Bar. “A recent survey showed less than 20 percent of those needs were being met in the state.”
Starting in January, all Alabama attorneys currently in private practice in the state must certify that money held for clients in bank trust accounts be part of a system that uses interest from those accounts to support legal aid to the poor and similar projects.
Before the state Supreme Court adopted the new rule in September, the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) was a voluntary system. Once the rule becomes effective next year, Alabama will become the 35th state in the county to have a mandatory IOLTA program, Crosby said.
The change from optional to mandatory participation in the program will significantly increase the amount in grants made each year, said Tracy Daniel, executive director of the Alabama Law Foundation, the nonprofit group in Montgomery that manages IOLTA funds.
“Last year we provided about $875,000 in grants to support these programs,” Daniel said. “In the years to come, we expect that amount could double.”
Daniel pointed to legal needs involving child custody and consumer protection issues as some of the cases the funding will support.
“Courthouse doors should not be closed on any Alabama citizen just because they can’t afford an attorney,” she said. “We all should have a right to have our day in court.”
The increase in IOLTA funds will provide greater assistance to the main statewide organization providing legal aid in non-criminal cases, said Jimmy Fry, executive director of Legal Services Alabama.
“All offices in the state were combined into one several years ago,” Fry said. “We now have 10 offices with 55 lawyers and 10 paralegals. We opened 8,000 cases last year, but for every client we serve, there are 10 to 20 people eligible for our services.”
Fry said that in the 1970s, legal services provided assistance to approximately 15,000 clients a year, but in the 1980s federal funding was reduced, offices were closed and the number of clients served cut almost in half.
“But for the last two years, there have been increases in funding from Congress,” he said.
Fry said the rule change was the result of several groups in the state working together.
Crosby agreed and said the Alabama State Bar, the Alabama Law Foundation and the Access to Justice Commission established by the state Supreme Court, all played important roles in getting the rules of attorney conduct amended to make IOLTA participation mandatory.
Daniel said there are 15,400 attorneys licensed in Alabama but only those in current private practice have trust accounts that generate interest for legal assistance and other programs.
“Taken alone the amounts may not seem large,” Crosby said. “But when you multiply it by that many total accounts, it’s a substantial sum.”
Crosby said that attorneys and judges have a professional duty to support legal aid for indigent residents, and that the Alabama Board of Bar Commissioners voted unanimously in July to change the law, setting the stage for the Supreme Court’s action two months later.
“You want a system of justice that treats people fairly,” he said. “Without a lawyer, you are not on an even playing field in many situations.”
- - -
Ga. House Speaker Suggests Impeaching Judge Over Handling of Courthouse Shooter Case
By Greg Land, Fulton County Daily Report
Citing "serious questions about the poor handling of public funds," Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson has plunged the Legislature more deeply into the debate over the spiraling costs of the Brian G. Nichols murder trial. Richardson appointed a Senate committee Thursday to look into DeKalb Superior Court Senior Judge M. Hilton Fuller Jr.'s handling of the case. And Richardson suggested one option is impeachment, according to The Associated Press.
The Georgia Constitution provides little guidance on the circumstances that warrant impeachment of judges but it does allow for impeachment of judicial officers upon a two-thirds vote of the House.
Richardson named House Whip Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, to head the committee and said he will add two or three other lawmakers to the group. Both Richardson and Fleming are attorneys.
Henry County Superior Court Judge Arch W. McGarity, who chairs the state Council of Superior Court Judges, said he was unaware of any Georgia judge ever having been impeached.
"They certainly have the authority to form a committee and look into his handling of the case," said McGarity. But, he noted, the sections of the Georgia Code outlining reasons for impeachment don't seem to apply in Fuller's case.
"It seems to me that the JQC (Judicial Qualifications Commission) is probably the proper forum," he said, recalling that at least one Fulton County jurist, former State Court Judge Dorothy J. Vaughn, had been removed by the JQC in 1995 over issues involving her failure to set bond, among other things. "But that's not the issue here, either," he said dryly.
Several members of the General Assembly have raised questions about the spiraling costs -- between $1.2 million and $1.8 million -- to defend Nichols, accused of killing a Superior Court judge and three others during and after an escape for the Fulton County Courthouse on March 11, 2005.
- - -
Judicial Races Now Rife With Politics - Corporate Funds Help Fuel Change
By Robert Barnes, Washington Post
October 28, 2007
BUTLER, Pa. -- It's always packed for Wing Night at American Legion Post 117, and in the crowd Seamus McCaffery saw the building blocks of his electoral success.
The local sheriff, the union guys, the daughter of a veteran who said, "I like your commercial about being a Marine." And the beefy biker in black leather, with the long gray ponytail and ZZ Top beard.
"You think the big politicians are going to ask for his vote?" scoffed McCaffery, himself a biker. "They'd be afraid of him!"
McCaffery makes no bones about being a politician: He's got a snazzy Web site, an unrelenting statewide travel schedule and more than $1 million in his campaign treasury.
He's also a judge. And the job he covets is an elected spot on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
McCaffery is one of two Democrats facing two Republicans in a Nov. 6 election that has broken the state's record for Supreme Court campaign contributions, at more than $5 million so far. It follows a line of recent judicial contests across the country that set records for spending, as well as for negative television ads and special interest involvement.
Experts believe it is all a warm-up for 2008, as pro-business groups and trial lawyers bring their fight over tort laws to the state level and as partisan groups vow a greater role in the elections.
Judicial elections are an almost uniquely American invention, with a patchwork of more than 16 selection systems spread across the country. In the 21 states that hold direct partisan and nonpartisan elections for the high court, some already have evolved from quiet, down-ballot contests to full-blown campaigns with consultants and multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns. An Illinois Supreme Court contest in 2004 cost more than 18 of the 34 U.S. Senate contests that year, and candidates for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court last year raised a total of $8.2 million.
The spending increases in large part reflect a decision by business groups to get involved in the contests. The National Association of Manufacturers announced in 2005 that it was establishing the American Justice Partnership to promote tort reform in the states, and the resulting battles between trial lawyers and business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce have led to some of the most expensive campaign battles.
A large majority of the money raised for races in 2005 and 2006 was spent in 10 states, and 44 percent of it came from business interests, the National Institute on Money in State Politics found. That was about twice as much as was given by lawyers, who had traditionally funded the campaigns.
The heightened spending and increasingly aggressive tone of the contests have alarmed nonpartisan groups and judges from around the country. Retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a longtime critic of judicial elections, has taken the lead in denouncing what she has called the "arms race" in campaign fundraising, and at a recent conference she presided over at Georgetown University Law Center, two of her like-minded former colleagues -- Justices Stephen G. Breyer and David H. Souter -- were in the audience.
"The reputation of the American judiciary is in the hands of the state courts," Breyer said. The rising demands on judges to raise money for their expensive campaigns -- plus the spending of outside groups -- could lead to the impression that the courthouse door "is open to some rather than the door is open to all.''
Thomas R. Phillips, a retired chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, said canons of conduct outside the courtroom make judges "uniquely unable to defend themselves from attacks" from groups angry about unpopular decisions that judges have made.
That issue has particular resonance in Pennsylvania, where a 2005 middle-of-the-night decision by the legislature to grant pay raises for all three branches of government continues to roil state politics.
The state Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers could rescind their own pay raises but not those for judges. The state constitution did not allow judicial salaries to be reduced, the court said, a prohibition meant to insulate judges from political retaliation. Electoral retaliation was another matter: One justice lost his seat when he faced voters later that year.
Now, a group called PACleanSweep is urging voters to reject 66 of the 67 sitting judges on the ballot for retention this year -- the only exception being one judge who returned her raise to the state treasury.
Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the Justice at Stake campaign, a nonpartisan effort that has highlighted the explosive growth of fundraising and changing nature of judicial elections, said there is an inherent conflict in treating judges the same as politicians.
The "new politics" of judicial elections, Brandenburg said, "demands that judges be Huey Long on the campaign trail and Solomon in the courtroom and not miss a beat in between."
Some judicial candidates have been even more outspoken than in the past since a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said some state restrictions on the speech of judicial candidates were unconstitutional.
Former Alabama chief justice Drayton Nabors, unseated in the 2006 election, said in one of his television commercials: "I'm pro-life. Abortion on demand is a tragedy. And the liberal judicial decisions that support it are wrong."
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer declared in his 2003 campaign, "I am pro-choice and proud of it." The Pennsylvania candidates this time have been more circumspect. "People know that I'm bound by a code of judicial conduct," said Republican Maureen Lally-Green, who like McCaffery is a judge on the state's Superior Court. "If I'm going to rule on any case, I can't promise what I'm going to do."
But the candidates can give hints. Republican Mike Krancer's television commercials declare him a conservative who doesn't believe in legislating from the bench, while the screen flashes his endorsement from the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.
Although the candidates have largely avoided personal attacks, there are signs the race could change in the closing days. The Pennsylvania Republican Party last week called Democratic candidate Debra Todd, also a Superior Court judge, "the drug dealer's choice for Supreme Court" based on a ruling she issued dismissing charges against a suspect.
Such tactics and the candidates' dependence on fundraising are what motivate those who would change the system, such as Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. She would scrap the partisan elections for a form of merit selection, where the governor chooses from candidates nominated by an independent commission. (Maryland and Virginia have different versions of appointive systems, and Virginia judges never face voters.) Currently, Marks said, "If we wind up with qualified candidates, it is in spite of the process, not because of it."
But Marks acknowledged that voters are reluctant to give up their role, and candidates such as McCaffery said they should not.
His campaign is based on his outsize personality and compelling life story. With a shiny shaved head and barrel chest, McCaffery is a former Marine and Philadelphia beat cop, who said he went to night school for 11 1/2 years to finish college and earn a law degree from Temple University.
As a lower court judge he opened a courtroom in the bowels of the old Veterans Stadium to deal with unruly Eagles football fans, and he parlayed the resulting publicity into a campaign slogan: "The judge who brought law and order to the NFL."
He made a steady rise through the state court system, along the way turning down what he said was a $2 million offer "to become the next Judge Judy." As for the campaigning, McCaffery likes it -- and says he has no trouble "being a politician out here and a judge in the courtroom."
Michael DeBow, a professor of law at Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Alabama, was a somewhat lonely voice advocating judicial elections at the O'Connor event, saying they "do the best job of promoting public involvement." He contended that studies of job performance show "not much discernable difference" in judges from a state that holds elections and those where the positions are appointive.
Federal judges are appointed, McCaffery said, but their political backgrounds are hardly irrelevant to the president and members of Congress who play a role in their selections. And merit selection is "elitist," he said, and not open to candidates with his background.
McCaffery mentioned his wife, who is also his campaign manager, a Harvard and University of Pennsylvania law school grad who served as an assistant district attorney.
"She's appointable," McCaffery said. "I'm electable."
- - -
ON THE NET A copy of Alabama state bar documents that outline current and 2005 charges against Tom Williams: http://blog.al.com/pr/documents
By VIRGINIA BRIDGES, Mobile Press-Register
October 27, 2007
A Baldwin County lawyer who has represented the county's Planning and Zoning Commission for years has been indefinitely suspended from practicing law by the Alabama State Bar.
The state bar's disciplinary commission suspended Tom Williams at the end of September after he failed to respond to the bar's requests for information on three complaints that the association started investigating this year, according to documents and Robert E. Lusk Jr., assistant general counsel to the bar -- the state organization that regulates lawyers.
"At the time the petition for summary suspension was filed, there were four pending disciplinary matters," Lusk said this week. Williams could not be reached for comment.
When Baldwin officials confirmed Williams' suspension Oct. 2, they arranged for county and contract attorneys to cover the planning commission meetings, county officials said. Baldwin Administrator Michael Thompson said the county may hire a third staff attorney to work on planning, zoning and other issues.
Two of the pending complaints against Williams relate to letters or phone calls that the Bankruptcy Court reportedly received from debtors concerned about Williams' representation, according to a state bar investigator's affidavit.
"In one case the court reported that had Williams filed a particular bankruptcy matter when he had been paid in 2005, the debtors would not have been required to meet the requirements of a new bankruptcy law," the affidavit states. "As a result of his failure to meet some of the pre-filing requirements, the case could possibly be dismissed."
A third client alleges that she paid Williams $1,000 to represent her in a 2006 child custody matter that was never resolved, the document states. The fourth pending disciplinary action relates to Williams not completing his 2006 continuing legal education requirements, despite a recent extension, the affidavit states.
The affidavit also indicates that Williams isn't in compliance with terms of his probation that relates to a December 2005 guilty plea to violating three Rules of Professional Conduct.
The state bar appointed a trustee to shut down Williams' practice and assist his clients, Lusk said. For Williams' license to be reinstated, he would need to respond to the state bar's requests for information and petition the disciplinary board to set aside or modify the suspension, Lusk said.
Of the 15,763 attorneys licensed to practice law in the state, the state bar has suspended seven and disbarred seven since January, according to Lusk.
Baldwin County officials said they were surprised to learn about Williams' suspension. Williams has served as the planning commission's legal counsel since at least 1993, but never charged the county for any of his services, -- which included attending planning commission meetings that sometimes extended past midnight -- county officials said.
"I have always felt like he has given us good advice when he has had input and we have asked him for input," said Art Dyas, vice chairman of the planning commission.
In January 2006 the state bar's disciplinary commission suspended Williams for six months, but deferred the sentence in exchange for a two-year probationary period, according to the disciplinary board documents.
The plea related to a case in which Williams initially advised Robertsdale resident Felicia Watson to decline a $20,000 insurance settlement offer, according to state bar documents on that case. Watson's 22-year-old son, Michael Dickens, died in a one-car accident in 2001.
The driver of the car, Billy Eubanks, and Dickens reportedly had been at a gathering where drugs and alcohol were used, according to the documents. Watson couldn't be reached for comment. Williams, who was hired by Watson shortly after the accident, filed a lawsuit in 2003 -- the last day it could be filed -- the documents state.
In August 2004, the lawsuit was settled for $20,000 and Williams retained one-third as attorney's fees. The disciplinary commission ordered Williams in 2005 to return the $6,600.
"It wasn't how much he received, it was the fact that the client was no better off for having hired him," Lusk said. Meanwhile, Watson sought reimbursement from the Alabama Crime Victim's Compensation Commission, according to state bar documents.
In May 2003 the commission requested more information, which Watson forwarded to Williams. Williams never forwarded the information, and Watson's claim for reimbursement was denied due to lack of cooperation, the documents state.
In October 2004, Eubanks pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and was ordered to pay Watson more than $42,000.
- - -
Lawyers must join legal aid program - Alabama Law Foundation says $2 million is possible.
By BOB LOWRY, Huntsville Times
October 19, 2007
MONTGOMERY - The Alabama Supreme Court has ordered all of the state's licensed lawyers to participate in a program that will build a fund to provide legal aid to the poor.
Attorneys routinely hold money in trust accounts for clients to pay costs related to legal services such as court filings, real estate fees, depositions and business transactions.
Previously, an attorney could opt out of what is called Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts.
But, effective Jan. 1, 2008, all of the state's 15,400 lawyers must join the program under a unanimous ruling by the high court and the State Bar's Board of Bar Commissioners.
It requires attorneys to pool short-term or nominal deposits made on behalf of clients or third parties into one account. Interest generated by the accounts is dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations that provide free civil legal services.
Although each IOLTA deposit earns a small amount of interest, the pooled IOLTA accounts accumulate enough interest to build a substantial contribution.
The Alabama Law Foundation, an arm of the State Bar, administers Alabama's IOLTA.
Tracy Daniel, executive director of the program, said Thursday that Alabama is the 35th state to adopt a mandatory IOLTA program. Alabama's voluntary IOLTA program, created in 1987, awarded its first grants in 1989.
Since 1987, the foundation has awarded $13.1 million in grants, primarily to groups such as Legal Services Alabama Inc., and the Voluntary Lawyer Associations in Birmingham and Mobile.
Daniel said the amount of grants the foundation is able to disburse ebbs and flows with interest rates. In 2004, she said only $287,000 was available but, so far in 2007, the foundation has donated $835,000.
"Looking at it optimistically, I believe our revenues will at least double," said Daniel, who predicted it could increase to as much as $2 million annually.
As part of the court order, Daniel said the justices instructed Alabama banks to give the Alabama IOLTA interest rates comparable to its other customers.
While other customers have been earning up to 4 percent on their accounts, the Alabama IOLTA was earning, in some cases, as low as .25 percent, she said.
"I'm really pleased to see that Alabama is doing this," Tom Keith, a consumer attorney with the Huntsville branch of Legal Services of Alabama, said Thursday. "We're way behind our sister states in the South."
Keith credited Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb with taking the lead on the project.
"I think a lot of it was just the leadership of Justice Sue Bell Cobb and her concern about issues that affect common people," he said.
Keith said Legal Services of Alabama gets no state funding, although the City of Huntsville provides the local branch with a $20,000 annual appropriation.
"It (IOLTA) helped us in the past when interest rates were high," he said. "At one time, we had two lawyers funded here (Madison County) who just did domestic violence."
Now, Keith says the agency has four lawyers to cover seven North Alabama counties.
- - -
Ala. lawyers to participate in program to help poor
The Associated Press
October 19, 2007
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The state Alabama Supreme Court has directed all the lawyers in Alabama to participate in a program designed to provide legal help for the poor in civil matters.
Starting Jan. 1, attorneys must pool short-term or nominal deposits made on behalf of clients or third parties into one account. Interest generated by the accounts is dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations that provide free civil legal services.
The funds will be disbursed by the Alabama Law Foundation, which was established by the Alabama State Bar, and the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation, established by the Alabama Association for Justice.
The money will be distributed to organizations that help in legal matters involving issues such as housing, family law, domestic violence, health, disability and foster car, the Alabama Bar said in a news release.
Alabama is the 35th state to establish such a program, and it should generate $1 million annually, Alabama Bar spokesman Brad Carr said.
- - -
TV Ratings for High Court Arguments Would Be Awful, Alito Says
Mark Sherman, The Associated Press
Justice Samuel Alito doubts the public is clamoring for Supreme Court sessions to be televised and predicts they would battle Congress for last place in the ratings.
Alito said Friday that the same-day availability of oral argument transcripts on the Internet and extensive media coverage means the "only thing missing is pictures of the justices and the lawyers with their lips moving as they ask and answer questions."
"I am concerned that if our arguments were televised we'd be competing neck and neck with Congress ... for the lowest ratings that have ever been recorded by the Nielsen system," Alito said in an often humorous speech at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics conference on the need for major changes to the Constitution.
Alito refrained from addressing specific proposed reforms, including those dealing with electing Congress and the president or ending lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices.
"There are very strong reasons to be wary about wholesale or dramatic constitutional change," he said.
He felt freer, he said, to discuss the prospect of cameras in the courtroom since that would involve agreement among the nine justices, not a constitutional amendment.
Sessions of the House and Senate are televised on the C-SPAN cable channels. C-SPAN has offered to cover Court sessions in their entirety, but some justices are implacably opposed to allowing cameras in the courtroom.
It was only seven years ago that the Court agreed to make available same-day audio recordings of its biggest cases.
Alito went through a typical day's listing of television programming that already features courtroom drama, including Judge Judy, Judge Maria Lopez and Judge Alex.
"If our arguments were on television, we'd face some very stiff competition because there is already a surfeit of programming for court aficionados," Alito said.
Reporters were allowed to write about Alito's talk Friday, but the justice forbade television and radio reporters from recording his remarks for broadcast.
Alito decides on a "case-by-case basis" whether to allow cameras at his public events, said Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg. She offered no explanation as to why he chose to exclude cameras Friday.
A public television crew from Richmond, Va., recorded the entirety of the conference for airing at a later date, according to a sign posted at the conference.
Alito's on-again, off-again restrictions on press coverage are similar to those of Justice Antonin Scalia, whose speeches often are open to media coverage, but not cameras.
- - -
DANA BEYERLE, Tuscaloosa News
October 21, 2007
Quote of the Month: "There are no campaign finance laws in the state of Alabama," former gubernatorial legal adviser Ted Hosp wrote in the Alabama Lawyer, the magazine of the state Bar Association. That article appeared prior to an Associated Press story last week about the absence of any effective campaign funding controls in Alabama. "Perhaps stated more accurately, the campaign finance laws that do exist are so riddled with holes - some intentional, others no doubt unintended - that they are effectively meaningless," Hosp wrote. Hosp, a lawyer in Birmingham, served in Gov. Don Siegelman's administration.
- - -
Will lawyers exist in 100 years? Join the debate [Long article]
Frances Gibb, The Times of London
October 23, 2007
Technology and standardisation will make lawyers less important, Richard Susskind argues in his forthcoming book, The End of Lawyers? Over the next six weeks, in six exclusive draft extracts, he examines the radical changes ahead for legal services
It was a typical legal dinner. As the fine wine flowed, Richard Susskind cast his eye about the splendid wood-panelled main hall of the Mercers’ Company in the City of London. The mercers, traders in fine cloths and silks, had trained their last apprentice in 1888. Now, like many other ancient trades and crafts, from the tallow chandlers to the wheelwrights, they were mostly known for their livery companies. Could lawyers die out in the same way?
In a new book (to be published next year by Oxford University Press) Susskind argues that lawyers and the legal profession in their present shape face extinction – or at least are “on the brink of fundamental transformation”. He sees a future, as he puts it, when “conventional legal advisers will be much less prominent in society than today, and, in some walks of life, will have no visibility at all”.
The driving force towards the end of lawyers as we know them is twofold: information technology and what Susskind calls the market pull towards commoditisation – carving up a lawyer’s job into identifiable and discreet pieces that can be outsourced and done more cheaply by others. As a result, the jobs of many traditional lawyers will be substantially eroded and often eliminated.
This provocative conclusion is outlined in the first of six draft extracts from Susskind’s book, to be published weekly on Times Law online from today. The book, a sequel to his 1996 bestseller The Future of Law, is aimed at stimulating debate and, in a new venture, readers are invited to comment on each article. Those remarks will inform the final shape of the book and its conclusions.
Susskind says: “The challenge I lay down is for lawyers to ask themselves, with hands on hearts, what elements of their workload could be undertaken differently – more quickly, cheaply, efficiently or to a higher quality – using different methods of working.” In other words, what are the core indispensable legal skills lawyers have and what can be replaced by less costly workers supported by technology or by lay people armed with online self-help tools? The market, he argues, is increasingly unlikely to tolerate expensive lawyers doing jobs (guiding, advising, drafting, researching, problem-solving and more) that can be done better by “smart systems and processes”.
Conventionally, a book is written and published. Over time comments are made and a second edition results. But why, Susskind asks, not release the ideas and arguments earlier and incorporate responses into the book? Alex Spence, editor of Times Law Online, says: “The idea of this is to get lawyers thinking about what they do and how it will evolve. These are issues that the lawyers we talk to get very passionate about, so we’re hoping for a spirited debate.”
Alongside each week’s extract will be an interview with a leading legal figure: names include Richard Bennett, general counsel at HSBC, David Morley, managing partner at Allen & Overy, and Mark Chandler, general counsel at Cisco Systems in the US.
Susskind’s message builds on some of his earlier ideas in The Future of Law – such as his belief that lawyers are not “self-evidently entitled to profit from the law”: law is not there to provide a livelihood for lawyers any more than ill-health exists to provide a living for doctors.
A number of thoughts prompted the book. In recent years he has been struck, he says, about how lawyers have one thing in common: they seem to want to deny that they are lawyers – “they downplay the content of their jobs”. Rather, they are counsellors, confidantes, therapists, deal-makers, project managers and so on. That denial could be because to be a lawyer is “not the coolest of jobs” or a sign that the need for the Black Letter lawyer is waning and the job is undergoing fundamental change.
Yet against all the changes, he was struck by how few lawyers had thought about the future of the profession – despite the numbers, 15,000 annually, now coming to universities to read law. Almost no one, be they practitioners, academics, ministers or others, is articulating a vision of the future, he says. “No one seems to be worrying about the next generation of lawyers.”
A further stimulus for the book came from the Clementi reforms, the Legal Services Bill and the opportunities for business to have a stake in running law firms. Such people talk about call centres, outsourcing, online legal services, automatic document generation – another language from lawyers. Under businesses, the delivery of legal services will be very different.
So Susskind predicts that if lawyers do not embrace new ways of working, then in 100 years, or less, people may sit in comfort in a converted court-room, as they do now in some of London’s converted banks, and “appropriately nourished, speculate in a leisurely manner about solicitors and barristers... who were these people? What was their craft? Why do we no longer have them... and what brought about their end?”
- - -
New Incentives May Bolster Public Service Student-Loan Law Forgives Debt for Those Who Pursue Careers in Altruistic Fields
By ANNE MARIE CHAKER, The Wall Street Journal
October 11, 2007
A law President Bush signed last month drew a lot of attention for trying to make college more affordable for many. Less trumpeted were provisions that support the altruists among us.
The law, signed by President Bush last month, appropriates $20 billion to cut interest rates on certain federal student loans and increase grant aid for low-income students over the next five years. But the College Cost Reduction and Access Act also creates an important incentive for all students to enter fields of public service by offering to forgive what could amount to tens of thousands of dollars of school debt per student.
The legislation broadly defines public service to include a wide range of occupations, such as public health, public education, working for a nonprofit organization and serving in law enforcement or as a public-interest lawyer. The Education Department says it expects to issue guidance to clarify exactly which professions will qualify.
"It changes the whole calculus of the situation," says Honora Spillane, a 25-year-old law student at Syracuse University. After graduation, Ms. Spillane wants to work in state and local government, but for a long time, she wasn't sure she could afford to. Now, the new law makes that a more realistic goal, she says.
The median starting salary for public-interest law is about $40,000, compared with pay at private law firms that can start at $150,000 for a highly rated graduate, according to Philip Schrag, a professor at Georgetown University who directs the law school's Public Interest Law Scholars Program. Students coming out of private law schools carry about $100,000 in debt on average.
If public service "was your career goal, and that was why you went to law school, then this law is going to make it possible," Mr. Schrag says. He says the legislation could potentially reshape the field of public service, providing more lawyers to serve more people, such as middle-income families who can't afford a lawyer but aren't poor enough to qualify for legal aid.
Here's how the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program will work: For people working in public service, the balance of a student loan is forgiven after 120 monthly payments, equal to 10 years. Let's say a single borrower graduates with $100,000 in student debt and gets a public-service job that pays $40,000 a year with annual raises of 3%. Because of the relatively low salary, the borrower would qualify for a newly created program known as Income Based Repayment, which stretches out the repayment period beyond the usual 10 years. Monthly repayments for this graduate would be between $309 and $403. After 10 years, the individual has repaid $42,448, and is forgiven the balance of $125,552, assuming interest of 6.8%, the current rate for federal Stafford loans.
In order to qualify for the program, your loans must come under the federal Direct Loan program. If you borrowed from banks and other commercial lenders for your federal student loans, you can still qualify for the program by consolidating them through the Direct Loan program. Some colleges offer direct federal loans, while others work through commercial lenders only. Your college financial-aid office should have more information on the program. Or you can check FinAid.org2, which offers financial-aid information and has a page at: www.finaid.org/loans/publicservice.phtml3.
Other professional groups also are expecting heightened interest in public-service work. "We have low salaries and a very high debt burden," says Rebecca Myers, special assistant to the executive director at the National Association of Social Workers. "We're really glad to see that there's some movement on this, and we believe it will help social workers."
For medical-school graduates, who carry an average $130,000 of debt, the provision could save up to $75,000 in student-loan payments by working in public service for at least 10 years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The group says it is seeking clarification on which specific types of jobs qualify as "public health" workers under the terms of the new provision.
Some caveats: Federal law treats the amount of any debt forgiven as taxable income. Also, if a borrower gets married, the couple's combined income is counted toward calculating monthly payments, and the borrower might not qualify for Income Based Repayment.
Beyond public service, the new law aims to make college more affordable for middle-income and low-income students by gradually halving the interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford loans, to 3.4% from 6.8% currently, by 2011. The Stafford loan program is the government's biggest student-loan program, with more than six million undergraduates expected to borrow more than $37 billion for the 2007-08 academic year. More than half of those typically qualify for subsidized loans, where interest accrued in school is paid for by the federal government.
Tuition increases continue to surpass the typical rate of inflation. Average tuition and fees at four-year private colleges in 2006-07 are $22,218 -- 5.9% higher than they were a year earlier. Add in room and board and the total comes to $30,367. At public colleges, total tuition and fees in 2006-07 for in-state students is $5,836 -- 6.3% more than a year ago.
The law also helps needy students who receive Pell Grants. The maximum amount that students can currently receive is $4,310. That gets increased to $4,800 by next year, then to $5,000 starting in 2010, and then to $5,400 by 2012.
However, to offset the cost of the additional spending, the government has reduced payments to banks and other lenders who, acting as middlemen, issue the federal loans to students. These lenders in turn have begun scaling back a host of discounts they had previously offered students amid competition for borrowers.
The law also makes some improvements in the federal formula that schools use to determine aid. It doubles the amount of a dependent student's earnings that are sheltered to $6,000 by 2012-13 from $3,080 for 2008-09. It also raises the income threshold below which a family isn't expected to contribute to college to $30,000 from the current $20,000.
- - -
Watchdog group eyes Alabama - Says 2008 judicial elections to be expensive, nasty
ERIC VELASCO, The Birmingham News
October 15, 2007
Next year's race to replace retiring state Supreme Court Justice Harold See is one of five judicial elections nationwide that merit close scrutiny, the watchdog group Justice at Stake said.
Expect the kind of no-holds-barred battle between business and plaintiff trial lawyer interests that have helped Alabama set the standard for expensive and nasty elections, said the Washington-based group that monitors judicial elections.
Top officials with Alabama's Democratic and Republican parties said the race will be one of the key contests in the state. Democrats hope to build on the momentum of Sue Bell Cobb's 2006 victory as chief justice, while Republicans want to keep control over the rest of the nine-member court.
"We will do what we can to ensure the court remains Republican," said Mike Hubbard, the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. "We don't want that chipped away."
Both sides expect attention from the business, lawyer, gambling and union groups that have spent freely in past elections. Since 1993, state Supreme Court candidates have raised $54 million, by far the most in that period nationwide.
Justice at Stake officials also expect a big battle for the seat being vacated by See, whose court race in 1996 gained national notoriety for an opponent's campaign ad that compared See to a skunk.
"The state's partisan system of judicial elections, combined with an absence of both campaign contribution limits and disclosure rules for special interests, suggest a raucous campaign for Justice See's seat," said a Justice at Stake news release.
In 2006, when five seats were contested, Alabama's Supreme Court elections attracted $12.4 million, more than in any other state. The $7.7 million race that year for chief justice was the second-most expensive judicial election in the nation's history.
About two-thirds of the campaign cash in 2006 came through political action committees, where the source of the money often was shrouded through PAC-to-PAC transfers.
The other four states that Justice at Stake said it would monitor are Minnesota, Missouri, Washington and West Virginia.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties in Alabama consider next year's state Supreme Court race to be crucial.
The Republicans have gained control of the court over the last decade, after the state was deemed "Tort Hell" by two national magazines and the court was labeled as anti-business.
"This election is going to be very important to our party," said Hubbard, who also is the state House Minority Leader. "It is important to have quality justices who are pro-business and not trying to legislate from the bench. All of the stakeholders will have to step up to the plate."
Jim Spearman, executive director of the state Democratic Party, predicted the high court race will attract the most attention among in-state candidates. "It will be a very competitive race," he said. "This will be a good test case for Alabama, a chance to get a justice who will vote for the people of Alabama. The working people of Alabama deserve to be heard instead of Big Business."
Both the Alabama State Bar and Cobb have proposed substantial changes to how appellate judges are selected, but have found little support in the Legislature. Cobb also recently called for a ban on PAC contributions of more than $250.
- - -
Appointment hardly new idea – [Letter to the Editor]
The Montgomery Advertiser [also published in The Birmingham News]
October 14, 2007
Mr. Robert Avant of Fayette recently wrote questioning the Alabama State Bar's recommendation of a merit-based appointment process for appellate judges in Alabama.
Specifically he asked, "Why did this simmering need for an appointment process come to boil only after the GOP took control of the appellate courts? And why is the appointment of judges only indicted for appellate judges and not for district and circuit judges?"
In response to the first question, this is not a recent proposal. In 1951, the then-Alabama State Bar president, John A. Caddell of Decatur, first proposed this plan. A similar plan was included in proposed legislation re-writing the judicial article introduced in 1973, and pushed by then-Chief Justice Howell Heflin. This provision was stripped out before the judicial article's passage by the Legislature.
As for the second question, appointment of circuit and district judges would be impractical because there are a number of judicial circuits that have so few lawyers to make an appointment process either necessary or effective.
Consequently, non-partisan election of the district and circuit judges would work much better.
Keith B. Norman, Executive Director
Alabama State Bar, Montgomery
- - -
Walthall censured for poor accounting, not bad ethics
By Layne Holley, Prattville Progress
October 13, 2007
A local attorney said the censure of one of his peers came about as the result of the man's own honest ethics, not an attempt to hide a mistake.
"It takes a stronger person to admit when they're wrong. If you do that, you shouldn't be punished as severely," said Prattville attorney Chip Cleveland, speaking of fellow Prattville attorney George P. Walthall.
Cleveland said such an admission by Prattville attorney George P. Walthall Jr., a former municipal judge, in a recent case before the Board of Bar Commissioners of the Alabama State Bar not only saved Walthall's license, but also speaks volumes about his integrity.
Walthall admitted earlier this year that a claim by the bar association accusing him of co-mingled client and third-party funds with business and personal funds was true. The claim might never have been made at all had Walthall himself not reported the accounting errors.
"It's not like he got his hand caught in the cookie jar," said Cleveland. "Do I think that there are trust fund mistakes that happen (in law offices) on a regular basis? Yes. Do I think they are cured and no harm done? Yes. Because it's so delicate, I think it can happen a lot if the lawyer doesn't stay on top of it. But George stepping up to the plate and self-reporting, I think that's a rarity and he should be commended for such."
Robert E. Lusk Jr., Assistant General Counsel for the Alabama State Bar said his agency's investigation showed no willful wrongdoing. He added that Walthall cooperated with the investigation.
"There was no allegation of theft or misappropriation," Lusk wrote in an email to the Progress. "By rule, lawyers are required to segregate client and third-party funds and hold them in trust separate and apart from business and personal funds. Walthall violated this rule. Our investigation revealed poor accounting rather than 'malicious' or dishonest activity.
"During the course of the bar's investigation, all client and third-party funds were accounted for."
Walthall said he realized he had an accounting problem after he discovered an employee had been embezzling from the firm. The embezzler was successfully prosecuted, as was another employee involved in a prior embezzling incident. After the most recent embezzler was fired, Walthall performed an in-house audit and discovered the accounting errors.
"When I realized we had a problem, I self-reported to the Bar Association. As soon as I self-reported, I hired a different accountant to come in and do a complete audit of all of my trust accounts to ensure that monies that I held that belonged to others were available for them at any time," said Walthall.
Walthall said the embezzlement did not create the accounting errors, but his investigation led to their discovery. He said he assumed that staff members collecting money and making deposits were matching every check to every deposit and to every account the money should go to.
"It was all there, it just didn't jibe and match up," Walthall said. "I have businesses. I have rental property. I do work for a lot of clients who have rental property. I have clients. They come in and make a payment. It's just real difficult to make sure all the way through that paper trail that that's not a deposit. The client doesn't care whether it goes toward rental or a payment of a fee that I've earned or whether it goes toward a retainer. He doesn't care, but it makes a difference to me and it makes a difference to the bar association."
Still, Walthall said he is not putting the blame on his staff.
"Some folks will understand -- I think certainly the mayor (of Prattville). I equate this to the situation that the city ran into recently where they got fined by ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management)," Walthall said. "The man at the helm doesn't know exactly what's going on all the time, but it is my responsibility to know everything that's going on in my office. If there's something wrong, it's because I didn't do something right. Regardless if it's another staff person, employee or things of that nature, the buck stops at the top."
Lusk said Walthall cooperated fully with the investigation, which included interviewing witnesses, reviewing documents, bank records and accounting records.
Cleveland and Walthall had to show the Disciplinary Commission that there were no funds missing from the law firm's accounts and that anyone with money in the trust accounts had immediate access and that any money that did not belong to clients had been removed from the trust accounts.
"We did that. The staff that I have now did a yeoman's job of keeping me straight. I now have two or three accountants," said Walthall.
One of those accountants was recommended by the bar association.
The state bar's disciplinary commission ruled that Walthall should be suspended from practicing law in Alabama for three years, but deferred the suspension pending a two-year period of probation. During the probation, Walthall must submit quarterly accounting reports to Lusk's office and submit to a random audit run by that office. If there are no other accounting irregularities or complaints and no other professional ethics violations, the matter will be considered closed.
Cleveland said he believes Walthall will have no problem meeting the terms of the probation.
"I expect the two years to fly by and George still be practicing law in this city and county and state for a long time," said Cleveland.
Walthall has already received much support following published reports of the incident. He offered the Progress access to any former and current clients, saying he expected they would vouch for his probity. A colleague sent a letter, which Walthall showed the Progress, expressing his faith in Walthall's integrity.
"I think that the ending message should be that George's clients should feel more comfortable now than ever before with using George as a lawyer because they know their money is being watched under a microscope, and George can continue to provide the sound, decent legal representation they need," said Cleveland. "He stepped up to the plate and took responsibility. I think when you do that, it sends a more positive message to your colleagues and your clients."
- - -
Lawyers look to India for answers - Outsourcing medical advice saves time and money, attorneys say
By COLLEEN JENKINS, St. Petersburg Times
October 14, 2007
TAMPA - Dorothy Clay Sims' client had suffered an injury, but the doctor hired by defense attorneys accused the woman of faking. At that point in the deposition, plenty of plaintiff's attorneys would have floundered, lacking enough medical expertise to dispute the claim.
Not Sims. Informed follow-up questions flashed on her computer screen, instant-messaged by the doctor in India she had hired to listen to the proceedings via a real-time Internet phone call. "I didn't even know what I was asking," she recalled, "but I said the words." When she finished, the defense doctor went silent.
Sims' law firm in Ocala is one of an increasing number in Florida and the United States that look to India for cheap and reliable legal services, motivated by desires to keep costs down and maximize time for their most critical tasks.
Last month, following the lead of Los Angeles and New York City, the Florida Bar Association became the first state bar to propose an opinion on offshore legal outsourcing. The verdict: It's ethically okay, as long as attorneys licensed stateside supervise the work and protect client confidentiality.
The professional ethics committee's final vote on the opinion in January is likely to meet resistance from some of the state's lawyers. Several committee members are concerned that the opinion is not stringent enough. In a letter to the Florida Bar News, one lawyer encouraged his colleagues "to rally against this misguided proposal."
But Tampa lawyer Bill Wagner, a principal author of the opinion, said the present rules governing attorneys make it lawful to outsource things like legal research and document preparation pretty much anywhere in the world.
"There really isn't anything ethically different in sending it to India or sending it to Arkansas," he said.
From medical to legal matters
India already provides doctors who read X-rays for American hospitals and accountants who prepare tax returns that get reviewed by this country's IRS. With both countries' legal systems rooted in British common law, the move of legal services overseas seems almost inevitable.
A Dallas law firm took the first step in 1995, opening an office in India. But the recent growth in offshore outsourcing usually takes the form of U.S. firms hiring intermediary companies that employ Indian lawyers for tasks handled by paralegals or young associates: document review, legal research and writing, deposition summaries and preparation of immigration documents.
It's the kind of laborious work Miami lawyer Etan Mark did for $300 an hour as an associate at a large law firm. Now, his year-old company, iDiligence, charges clients $18 an hour for work performed by six attorneys in Bangalore, India. The 91/2-hour time difference allows his legal team to work on projects while their U.S. counterparts are sleeping, for around-the-clock efficiency.
Mark isn't deterred by members of the legal community who accuse him of taking away American jobs.
"I genuinely feel that this is something that can really benefit the legal profession," he said. "The kind of work we're outsourcing is the work that makes second- and third-year associates not want to be lawyers anymore."
Companies increase security
Legal offshore companies have implemented tight security measures in response to concerns about client confidentiality. Ron Friedmann, who blogs about the industry, recently became the senior vice president for marketing at Integreon, a top-ranked legal services provider in India.
Calling last week from Mumbai, Friedmann said security guards had inspected his bags each time he entered and exited the company's office to make sure he didn't have a camera or any device that could store computer data. Each room had paper shredders, he said. Few had printers.
The proposed Florida Bar opinion suggests that law firms limit the overseas provider's remote access to only the computer files needed to complete work for particular clients. The committee also suggests getting prior consent from those clients.
Sims, the Ocala lawyer, incorporates India into her law practice with a twist on the typical outsourcing model.
After a positive experience with doctors on a trip there, she started MD in a Box. For $90 an hour, the company links lawyers with Indian doctors who screen potential cases, analyze records and perform medical research. The same service with American experts costs between $500 and $800 an hour, Sims said.
The company's most powerful tool is also its most technologically advanced. Lawyers can hire an MD in a Box doctor to be present during depositions using Skype, a software program that allows the doctor to listen to the proceedings in real time.
If the Indian doctors catch a defense expert making a medically suspicious claim, they quickly send literature or rebuttal questions to aid the cross-examination.
Since MD in a Box opened for business last year, a handful of Tampa Bay lawyers have become happy customers. "It's a way to keep physicians honest," said Nancy L. Cavey, a workers' compensation lawyer in St. Petersburg, who counts the St. Petersburg Times as a client. "It levels the playing field."
Outsourcing to India
-Revenue from the offshore outsourcing of legal services in India is expected to grow from $146-million in 2006 to $640-million by 2010.
-The offshoring industry employed about 7,500 people in India in 2006 and is on track to reach 32,000 by the end of 2010.
-The number of offshore legal services companies has grown from about 20 to 100 in the past two years.
-Only a handful of bar associations have issued opinions on outsourcing legal services overseas: New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. The Florida Bar ethics committee will vote on its proposed opinion in January.
- - -
Competing for Clients, and Paying by the Click
By ADAM LIPTAK, The New York Times
October 15, 2007
You can do cool things with Google, like take the pulse of the legal profession.
Google is, of course, more than a search engine. It also sells advertising, including the shaded “sponsored links” that run next to the real search results. It auctions off those ads to advertisers, who agree to pay a given amount each time someone clicks on their link.
“Christmas recipes,” for instance, was going for 54 cents per click the other day. “Britney Spears” cost 36 cents, and “Britney Spears nude” only 21 cents.
But “Oakland personal injury lawyer” cost $58.03. “Asbestos attorney” cost $51.68. And “mesothelioma attorney Texas” — mesothelioma is a kind of cancer caused by inhaling asbestos — cost $65.21.
A Web site called CyberWyre, at www.cwire.org, posts a regularly updated list of the most expensive search terms. “The four leading industries are definitely law, medicine, finance and travel,” said Sam Elhag, who writes for the site. On a recent visit, lawyers and lung cancer dominated the top 10.
Ted Frank, the director of the Legal Center for the Public Interest at the American Enterprise Institute, said the fact that some personal injury lawyers were willing to pay $60 a click was telling, particularly given that relatively few of those clicks would bring in actual business.
“These lawyers don’t really litigate cases — they settle cases,” Mr. Frank said. “And they need a big inventory of cases. The only job of the attorney is to come up with the clients.”
“There is nothing wrong with what Google is doing,” he added. “There is nothing wrong with advertising for clients. It’s just fascinating that clients are worth so much.”
And there is no client more lucrative than one with mesothelioma. That word has hovered near the top of the CyberWyre list since 2003, Mr. Elhag said.
William G. Childs, an assistant professor at Western New England College School of Law, explained why, as he put it, “mesothelioma is clearly the highest-dollar value.”
“It doesn’t happen except through asbestos, with vanishingly small exceptions,” Professor Childs said. “The vast majority of cases settle and settle rather easily. And they’re not hard to work up.”
The market for Google search terms says something, then, about the market for plaintiffs’ lawyers. For reasons that baffle economists, personal injury lawyers all charge roughly the same amount for their services, typically a third to 40 percent of any recovery.
“What explains this puzzle?” asked Alex Tabarrok, who teaches economics at George Mason University. “No one knows.” It may be, he said, that offering to work for less might be thought to signal that you are a bad lawyer.
In any event, Mr. Frank said, the high prices on Google are a direct consequence of this economic anomaly. “Instead of competing on price,” he said of plaintiffs’ lawyers, “they compete on Google.”
Google advertising has the benefit of being narrowly focused, said Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research group. “I assume relatively few people searching for ‘mesothelioma’ are doing it out of idle curiosity,” Mr. Olson said.
But some of them are looking for medical information, and they are often disappointed. “If you are searching for information on mesothelioma,” Mr. Olson said, “you will have to dodge dozens and dozens of lawyer advertisements.”
The top sponsored link that came up yesterday with a search for “mesothelioma,” for instance, was for a site that promised information “about mesothelioma’s causes, symptoms and types of treatment.” It urged readers to contact a toll-free number for more information. In the fine print at the bottom, the site revealed that it was sponsored by a Texas law firm.
For what it’s worth, what little medical information appeared on the site seemed sound and disinterested. That is not always the case, Mr. Olson said. “In areas like cerebral palsy,” he said, lawyers’ Web sites “will steer you into highly tendentious information.”
Personal injury lawyers are not the only ones who advertise on Google. “Tax lawyer” cost $34.32 the other day, “bankruptcy lawyer” $8.46 and “patent lawyer” $5.08.
“Pro bono lawyer” — the kind who handles cases without a fee — went for $2.89. (The top advertiser was a referral service for criminal defense lawyers. And no, they were not volunteering to handle cases pro bono.)
Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School, said lawyers’ enormous enthusiasm for Internet advertising meant the medium might have reached middle age. “Lawyers are usually the slowest to adopt any form of new technology,” she said.
Professor Childs, who has written about advertising by lawyers on Google on his TortsProf blog, lawprofessors.typepad.com/tortsprof, said he sometimes typed in Web site addresses rather than clicking on sponsored links when doing his research.
“It feels a little weird to cost them 50 bucks to satisfy my curiosity,” he said.
That had not occurred to me. In working on this column, I looked at a bunch of lawyers’ Web sites, at a cumulative cost to them of, oh, $1,000. Sorry.
- - -
New law gives big financial boost to legal aid programs
Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, October 12, 2007
Legislation signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could provide millions of dollars to cash-strapped legal aid programs, enough to provide lawyers for thousands of low-
income Californians in disputes over issues such as housing, family relations and health care, the State Bar president said Thursday.
The measure, AB1723, allows banks to hold lawyers' client trust funds in accounts that yield higher interest than those now used. The accounts contain damages and other funds that are entrusted to lawyers for brief periods until their clients' shares are determined and payable.
Sums held for individual clients are too small to yield interest during their short deposit, but funds for multiple clients in a pooled account generate interest that is turned over to the State Bar, which uses it for legal aid to the poor.
The accounts now raise about $10 million a year, an amount that has steadily declined with the drop in interest rates but might double under the new law, said Mary Lavery Flynn of the bar's legal services office.
"Without costing Californians a dime, it's going to allow thousands of poor Californians to get the legal services they need," said San Francisco attorney Jeffrey Bleich, who began a one-year term as State Bar president last month.
Schwarzenegger signed the legislation Wednesday. It takes effect in January.
Poor people are entitled to state-funded lawyers in criminal cases, but not in most types of civil suits. Legal services programs concentrate on areas needed most by the poor, such as housing, family law, domestic violence, health, disability and foster care.
The bar gives the programs about $200 million a year in federal, state and private funds, including interest on client trust accounts. That's about one-third of the needed amount, said Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, author of AB1723.
He cited a state commission's recent finding that California's 6.3 million poor had one legal aid lawyer for every 8,361 people, compared with one lawyer for every 240 people in the general population.
"California provides less than $23 of legal services per poor person on average," Jones said. "A lack of representation not only disadvantages people with legal problems, it also burdens the justice system itself."
- - -
Keep the fee – [Editorial]
Rocky Mount Telegram (North Carolina)
October 14, 2007
Critics of the state's public campaign financing system for judicial elections have a new cause to root for in the form of a lawsuit filed by three Charlotte-area public defenders challenging one of the funding mechanisms of the system.
The N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law filed suit last week in N.C. Superior Court on behalf of Catherine El-Khouri, Laura Oberbauer and Anthony Purcell. The suit challenges the constitutionality of a $50 annual judicial surcharge North Carolina attorneys must pay into a special fund that helps finance the system.
The three Charlotte attorneys paid the surcharge this year under protest when they were threatened by the N.C. State Bar with having their law licenses suspended. The lawsuit argues that the surcharge is an unconstitutional tax and violates attorneys' rights to free speech.
"Against their will, (the lawyers) are forced to support candidates with whom they do or may ideologically disagree in that they are required to make a contribution," the lawsuit states. "Consequently, the judicial surcharge ... compels political speech." A lawyer for the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law added that the surcharge "singles out attorneys in an arbitrary fashion" and "delegates tax authority from the General Assembly to the State Bar."
A federal judge dismissed an earlier lawsuit challenging the public financing system and the $50 surcharge in March but said the surcharge was a matter for state courts to decide.
The judicial surcharge appears much more like a professional fee than a tax, thereby casting doubt on the claim that collecting the surcharge delegates the legislature's tax authority to the N.C. State Bar Association. The $50 surcharge originally was optional for attorneys, but lawmakers made it mandatory after not enough of the state's 22,300 lawyers donated to the fund, which also receives money through a checkoff on individual tax returns.
And requiring attorneys to pay $50 into the fund does not translate into forcing them to support judicial candidates they oppose. The money is distributed evenly to candidates for the N.C. Court of Appeals and N.C. Supreme Court who are participating in the public campaign financing system.
The lawsuit appears to have less to do with constitutional rights than simple sour grapes over a successful system that a small group of citizens opposes on purely ideological grounds.
- - -
Judicial-race excesses – [Editorial]
The Huntsville Times
October 3, 2007
Spending on state judges' campaigns must be reined in.
Spending in the election campaigns for Alabama's three appellate courts is way out of control. Most everyone agrees on that. But what is to be done and how?
The magnitude of the problem was driven home Monday by former Supreme Court Justice Janie Shores in an address to the state's appellate courts - the Supreme Court and the courts of criminal and civil appeals - as they began their 2007-2008 term.
Shores, a Democrat and the first woman ever elected to the state's highest court, made two important points. She claimed that the current situation is directly attributable to the 1994 intervention into the state court races by Republican strategist Karl Rove. And she noted that last year more than $15 million in campaign funds was spent by or on behalf of 15 judicial candidates.
The 2006 total was a national high. It broke the previous state record of $12.3 million set in the 2000 campaign.
Justices were reluctant to talk about Shores' assertions regarding Rove. But they seemed to agree with her about the need to rein in the spending. Even Republican Justice Tom Parker - perhaps the most conservative of the eight GOP Supreme Court justices - called the spending "obscene" and a "disservice to the populace."
Shores said she didn't favor changing the election system to one of appointments. Philosophy aside, Alabamians are always reluctant to give up the chance to elect public officials at every level.
But what is to be done? Shores mentioned amending the canons of judicial ethics and the special code of conduct by lawyers. That, too, presents obstacles. Even if both major parties agreed on some limits, nothing is to prevent someone from filing suit on free-speech grounds. If that happened, Shores believes it would be worth the effort to fight the suit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In recent years, the appellate court races have come to be viewed - with some evidence to support the view - as trial lawyers versus business interests, specifically the Business Council of Alabama. But out-of-control campaign spending can quickly come back to haunt those who promote it and those who accept the money.
Former Justice Shores on Monday raised the same concerns others have raised in the past. Her warnings, coupled with the alarming spending last year, make the argument that it's time to put the issue on the agenda - at least for serious discussion. It would be a start. Right now, there's not even that.
- - -
Investigators Find Marshals' Efforts to Protect Federal Judges Inadequate
Hope Yen, The Associated Press
October 4, 2007
Threats of harm to federal judges that aren't reviewed for days. Investigations into suspicious behavior at courthouses that are sloppily done. Lack of money to identify and prevent acts of violence in and outside work.
Three years after it was warned by the Justice Department's inspector general to improve security, the U.S. Marshals Service is languishing in its efforts to protect the nation's 2,200 federal judges, according to a new report. That is putting federal judges in danger even as threats against them have almost doubled in the past five years.
"The USMS must exhibit a greater sense of urgency in improving its capability to assess reported threats against the judiciary, creating and sharing protective intelligence on potential threats, and completing the implementation of enhanced security measures," states the 112-page study released Wednesday by Justice IG Glenn Fine.
Fine's latest review raises questions of proper use of resources in safeguarding judges, an issue that probably will be examined at the Senate confirmation hearings of Attorney General-designate Michael Mukasey.
As a federal judge in the 1990s, Mukasey was given bodyguards at a cost of at least $28 million, even as department officials argued about how much of a threat he really faced.
The report credits the U.S. Marshals for some improvements following a spike in acts of violence and reports of threats in 2005 and 2006. Among the improvements were installation of alarms at judges' homes. Most judges were described in the report as somewhat satisfied with that added level of protection.
But investigators found that as recently as October 2006, the U.S. Marshals' overall security efforts had diminished, with a backlog of 1,190 cases of reported threats to review. About two-thirds of the cases reviewed in 2005 and 2006 were not assessed within three days to seven days of a reported threat.
Even when threats were reviewed, the cases were not examined fully enough, leaving judges at risk, investigators said. A special office created by the agency in 2004 to identify potential threats against judges, federal prosecutors and court staff has floundered because staff and other resources were diverted to investigate reported threats.
"Given the importance of the issue of judicial protection, and the threats to federal judges in the past, we believe that the Marshals Service should move quickly to implement its plans to improve the protection of the federal judiciary," Fine said.
The Marshals Service said in a statement Wednesday it appreciated the report and noted there was "no greater sense of urgency in our agency than ensuring the security of the judiciary." The agency said it would take additional steps to improve protection and seek more money for security.
The report listed Nevada as having 227 threats to federal judges and other court officials, more than any other federal judicial district.
In interviews, Nevada court officials blamed the high numbers on an increase in telephone, e-mail and Internet Web blog threats during a series of tax protester trials in Las Vegas in 2005 and 2006. Ordinarily, judges and other court officials average fewer than 40 threats per year, they said.
Judicial security received national attention in early 2005 after an unemployed electrician broke into the home of U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow in Chicago and fatally shot her husband and mother.
In the aftermath of the Lefkow deaths, judges criticized the Marshals Service -- then led by Benigno Reyna -- as insufficiently responsive to their security. An inspector general's report a year earlier had highlighted shortcomings in how marshals assess threats. Reyna resigned in July 2005.
In a 2006 survey conducted by the inspector general and released Wednesday, about 87 percent of the 2,141 judges who responded said they were now either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the Marshals' performance. About two-thirds of the judges overall acknowledged receiving a threat at least once during their career.
According to the survey, many judges cited a greater need for marshals to improve intelligence collection and identify potential threats. They explained that unknown general dangers associated with their job -- particularly among those who hear gang, terrorism and organized crime cases -- were greater than specific threats reported against them.
In the case of Mukasey, The Associated Press reported last month that the attorney general nominee had been assigned a security team of deputy marshals while he presided as a federal judge over a high-profile terror trial in the early 1990s in Manhattan. He kept the protections, code-named "Eagle Detail," until 2005 -- nine years after the trial ended -- at a cost of about $10,000 a day.
The detail was withdrawn shortly after deputy marshals protecting Mukasey and U.S. District Judge Kevin T. Duffy filed a grievance accusing the two jurists and their wives of assigning them valet-like chores. The Marshals Service assigns security details to about 250 judges and other court officers annually.
The agency has said most of the money was used to pay salaries and benefits for Mukasey's security detail and would have been spent whether they were assigned to protect the judge or someone else. The cost of protecting at least one other judge in the same Manhattan courthouse fell far short of what the government spent to protect Mukasey, according to an AP review of financial records.
- - -
Alabama court ends ethics case against Mobile judge
By PHILLIP RAWLS, The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A state judicial court dropped charges Wednesday against former Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas because he resigned, making his prosecution on judicial ethics charges unnecessary.
Thomas left office Monday rather than face trial on 30 judicial ethics charges. On Tuesday, special prosecutor Doug Jones asked the Alabama Court of Judiciary to dismiss the case because the harshest penalty Thomas could have faced was removal from office. Because of his resignation, "the matter before this Honorable Court is moot," Jones wrote.
In a one-paragraph order signed Wednesday by Chief Judge Greg Shaw, the court agreed to drop the case.
The dismissal doesn't mean Thomas' legal troubles are over. Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. said he is continuing with a separate criminal investigation that includes allegations Thomas had improper contact with inmates.
In the judicial ethics case, Thomas had been accused of helping his cousin manipulate a jail sentence and taking cases involving friends and family away from other judges without their permission.
In a resignation statement, Thomas said he did not believe he had violated any canon of judicial ethics, but vacating his office was "the best course for me, my family and for the effective administration of justice."
Thomas, 46, had been a circuit judge since 1999. He served as a county district judge from 1990-1999. Prior to that, he was an assistant district attorney. His final annual salary from the state was $140,519, Keith Camp, spokesman for the state Administrative Office of Courts, said Wednesday.
Thomas had 20 years and three months of state service, which is short of the 25 years necessary for drawing a pension immediately. Instead, Thomas will have to wait until he is 60 to receive a state pension, Marc Reynolds, deputy director of state pension system, said Wednesday.
Following Thomas' resignation, Mobile County's presiding circuit judge, Charles Graddick, ordered all remnants of Thomas' tenure removed from the county courthouse. That included his portrait in the main jury room and his name on various building directories.
"When you abuse your trust to the extent that man did, you can hardly feel sorry for him," Graddick told the Mobile Press-Register.
- - -
Fewer Women Are Seeking Law Degrees
Leigh Jones, The National Law Journal
As Crystal Dadd's graduation date from the University of Florida was drawing closer, she began weighing the options that a bachelor's degree in finance offered. Law school didn't make the cut.
Now an analyst at Morgan Stanley in New York, Dadd, 22, went so far as to take a prep course for the Law School Admission Test before she decided that pursuing a juris doctor degree was not the right move for her.
"It was something I was always interested in, but women are getting more opportunities outside of law school," she said.
Like Dadd, more women are forgoing a law degree. Since 2002, the percentage of women in law schools has declined each year, according to the American Bar Association. Five years ago, women made up 49 percent of law school enrollment. This year, 46.9 percent of law school students are women. And while the number of applicants overall has dropped in the past two years, the percentage decline in the number of women has been greater.
Although observers say a variety of factors contributed to the dip, the prevailing message is that fewer women want a lawyer's life.
The decrease comes at a time when the earning power of women in their 20s is outpacing men of the same age, at least in several major U.S. metropolitan areas. According to research from Department of Sociology at Queens College in New York, women in their 20s in Dallas, for example, earn 20 percent more than men of the same age. In New York, they earn 17 percent more.
In Dadd's case, the $10,000 moving bonus from Morgan Stanley and the chance to work and live in Manhattan's financial district outshone the prospect of spending three more years buried in books while racking up loan debt.
"I wanted instant gratification," she said, adding that she'll also receive a year-end bonus at Morgan Stanley.
In keeping with the enrollment figures, both men and women are applying to law schools in smaller numbers, according to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). But it is women who are deciding in larger numbers not to apply.
Law school and law firm leaders attribute the decline among both sexes to a strong economy from 2004 until recently, which has prompted people who would otherwise have gone to law school to start working right after college.
For the fall of 2006, applicants among both men and women plunged by 7.4 percent, the biggest drop since 1995. The percentage of women in 2006 fell by 7.7 percent, while the number of men applicants decreased by 6.7 percent. In the fall of 2005, the number of women applicants declined by 5.4 percent, and the number of men applicants fell by 4.1 percent.
The fall of 2004 marked a major deceleration in law school application growth. That year, the overall increase was 1.1 percent, with women making up 1.1 percent of that growth and men having 2.1 percent of the increase in year-over-year comparisons.
At the same time, law schools are admitting fewer women applicants than men applicants, partly because of the decrease in those applying. The number of women applicants accepted fell last year by 1.7 percent, but the number of men admitted rose by 1.1 percent. In 2005, women admissions decreased by 0.8 percent, while men admissions climbed by 1.6 percent.
Loyola University Chicago School of Law Dean David Yellen, who cautions about reading too much into the numbers, said that the reason fewer women are applying for, and enrolled in, law school may be due to their perceptions of broader options and to a strong economy.
He also said that several schools receiving initial ABA approval since 2001 have many more male than female students, which may account partly for the enrollment differences. The percentages of male students at Appalachian School of Law, Ave Maria School of Law and Charleston School of Law each exceed 65 percent, according to the "ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools."
Whatever the reason, the decrease in women students is a reversal of the long-running trend.
From 1963 to 1990, the enrollment of women in law schools rose each consecutive year, according to the ABA. In 1963, just 3.7 percent of law school students were women, compared with 42.5 percent in 1990. In 1992, for the only time, women outnumbered men at 50.4 percent. And from 1994 to 2001, female enrollment again began to climb steadily.
One reason for the reversal now may be the media attention that law firms have received about the scant number of women partners and the problems firms have in retaining women, said Elizabeth Pederson, a graduate of Stanford Law School last May and president of Ms. JD, an online community for women attorneys.
Many legal trade and general print publications recently have reported that few women become partners in the nation's law firms. In 2006, just 17.9 percent of partners in law firms were women, according to NALP, a nonprofit organization that tracks legal careers. Meanwhile, 44.3 percent of associates were women.
"You have a lot of career paths open, and one that gets bad press might give a lot of women pause," Pederson said.
To be sure, many law firms recently have adopted family-friendly policies to encourage women to stay. Last month, a group of 23 big law firms joined as founding members of the Project for Attorney Retention, an initiative of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.
Those firms and many others say that they are committed to providing options such as flex-time schedules, on-site day care, paid maternity and paternity leave and breast-feeding rooms.
NO WAY AROUND HOURS
But all those family-friendly adjustments do not eliminate the fact that practicing law, at least in a law firm, is a business in which clients expect highly paid lawyers to make themselves available promptly when needed. Such a system, said Pederson, generally does not lend itself to schedule flexibility.
"A firm doesn't want to say to a client, 'We can't do that,' when the firm down the road says, 'Call us anytime,' " she said.
Cathy Fleming, a partner at Nixon Peabody and past president of the National Association for Women Lawyers, points to a combination of factors contributing to the decrease. A perception among young women that they have a wider array of career opportunities is one reason, but a change in work ethic is also at play, she said. And law firms, with their reputation for punishing work hours, may have a tougher sell to college graduates.
"They've grown up with parents that work these crazy hours. They don't want to do it," she said.
- - -
Panel censures Prattville lawyer
By Marty Roney, The Montgomery Advertiser
October 3, 2007
PRATTVILLE -- A prominent Prattville lawyer and former municipal judge has been disciplined by the Alabama State Bar for not properly accounting for some of his clients' money.
George P. Walthall Jr. pleaded guilty to "co-mingling" client and third-party funds with personal and business funds, according to the most recent edition of Alabama Lawyer, a monthly magazine published by the bar. The magazine publishes disciplinary action taken against lawyers.
Walthall did not return phone calls and could not be reached for comment.
A disciplinary committee of the State Bar handed down a three-year suspension of Walthall's license, which was deferred pending the completion of a two-year probation period, the magazine reported. Bar officials confirmed Walthall self-reported the discrepancy and cooperated with the investigation.
Walthall can continue to practice law during the probation period, said Robert Lusk, an assistant general counsel of the bar. He pleaded guilty to failing to keep complete and accurate records of all trust account activity, the magazine reported.
"There was no allegation of theft or misappropriation," Lusk said. "By rule, lawyers are required to segregate client and third-party funds and hold them in trust separate and apart from business and personal funds. Walthall violated this rule. Our investigation revealed poor accounting rather than dishonest activity."
All funds were accounted for during the investigation, Lusk said.
Walthall served 14 years as a judge for the Prattville Municipal Court System. He also served two terms on the City Council, from 1984 to 1992. Mayor Jim Byard did not reappoint Walthall or Judge Bill Roberts to the bench in October 2006. Louis Colley currently serves as municipal judge.
Once a complaint on a lawyer is received, the State Bar staff determines if it has merit. If so, the matter is forwarded to a disciplinary committee.
In documents filed before the committee April 17, Walthall requested an 18-month period of probation, and that any disciplinary action be kept confidential unless he failed to complete the terms of probation. The disciplinary board handed down the 24-month probation and denied the request to keep the action confidential, State Bar documents show.
Under the terms of probation, Walthall must complete quarterly reports of the firm's activities, as well as submit to a random audit of client and trust accounts. If the committee determines that conditions haven't been met, the three-year suspension will be implemented, documents show.
- - -