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Bush in strife over role in lawyer firings
Legal Career News | 2007/03/14 16:43

Embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday it's up to President Bush whether he remains in the administration and said he wants to stay and explain to Congress the circumstances surrounding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Amid an escalating political row and calls from some Democrats for his resignation, Gonzales said, "I work for the American people and serve at the pleasure of the president."

"I think you can look at the record of the department in terms of what we've done ... going after child predators, public corruption cases," he said on NBC's "Today" show. "I think our record is outstanding."

Critics charge that the prosecutors were ousted because of political considerations.

Gonzales acknowledged, as he had on Tuesday, that mistakes were made in the handling of the U.S. attorney firings and said he wanted to remain in the job to make things right with Congress.

"I think we've done a good job in managing the department. .. Things are going to happen," he said. "We are going to work with Congress to make sure they know what happened. ... We want to ensure that they have a complete and accurate picture of what happened here."

"I didn't become attorney general by quitting," Gonzales said on CBS's "The Early Show."

Several Democrats have called for Gonzales' resignation, among them presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards.

"The buck should stop somewhere," Clinton said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" which was broadcast Wednesday morning. She added that Bush "needs to be very forthcoming -- what did he say, what did he know, what did he do?" and that high-level White House adviser Karl Rove also "owes the Congress and the country an explanation" for his role in the affair.

The firestorm of criticism has erupted in the wake of the disclosure of e-mails within the administration which showed that Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, had discussed the possible firings of U.S. attorneys in early 2005 with then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers.

Gonzales accepted Sampson's resignation this week; Miers had left the administration earlier this year.

It was the second time in as many weeks that Gonzales came under withering criticism on Capitol Hill. Last week, the attorney general and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller admitted that the FBI had improperly, and at times illegally, used the USA Patriot Act to secretly pry out personal information about Americans in terrorism investigations.

Gonzales, himself a former White House counsel, has been friends with Bush for years, going back to when he served as Bush's secretary of state in Texas. Bush retains full confidence in the attorney general, spokesman Dan Bartlett, traveling with Bush in Mexico, said Wednesday. "He's a standup guy," Bartlett said of Gonzales.

As for the firings, Bartlett said White House officials had heard complaints from members of Congress regarding prosecutors and Bush had raised the subject during an October 2006 meeting with Gonzales. He described the exchange as "offhand" and said Bush did not name any specific prosecutors but did identify their states.

"This briefly came up and the president said, 'I've been hearing about this election fraud issue from members of Congress and want to be sure you're on top of it as well,' " Bartlett said.

Bartlett said that Gonzales had responded, "I know, and we're looking at those issues."

In the NBC appearance Wednesday, Gonzales said he had a "general knowledge" of Sampson's conversations with Miers about the prosecutors, but said "I was obviously not aware of all communications."

"I think we have an obligation to ensure where we can improve upon performance around the country," he said.

One of the ousted U.S. attorneys, David Iglesias, who was the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, told Congress had had received a call from Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., that he considered intimidating. Democrats in Congress have charged that some prosecutors were sacked because there was a belief within the administration that they were not moving quickly enough on political corruption cases involving Democrats.

Domenici acknowledged calling Iglesias but denied trying to put any pressure on the prosecutor to speed up his investigation.

Asked Wednesday if politics played a role in the firings, Gonzales said, "These firings were not politically motivated. They were not done in retaliation. They were not done to interfere with a public corruption case."

Japan court rejects gas lawsuit from China
Legal World News | 2007/03/14 16:41

Five Chinese citizens seeking compensation from Japan for injuries from poison gas left behind in China by Japanese forces during World War Two lost a court battle on Tuesday.
The five Chinese had sought a total of 80 million yen (US$680,000) from the Japanese government for injuries and health problems they suffered between 1950 and 1987.

But on Tuesday, the Tokyo High Court upheld a lower court ruling in May 2003 that had dismissed their damages suit, one of a range of war-related issues that have at times strained relations between the two Asian giants.

It was not immediately clear whether the Chinese plaintiffs would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Beijing and Tokyo have been grappling with a number of disputes over everything from energy resources and territorial boundaries to historical issues stemming from Japan's invasion and occupation of parts of China from 1931 to 1945.

But ties have warmed since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office last September and made his first trip abroad an ice-breaking visit to China. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is expected to make a reciprocal visit to Tokyo in April.

In a separate but similar court battle, the Tokyo District Court ordered the government in September 2003 to pay a total of about 190 million yen in compensation to 13 Chinese, including bereaved relatives of victims.

The Japanese government filed an appeal several days later.

The case arose from poison gas incidents in 1974 and 1982 and a shell explosion in 1995, all involving discarded Japanese munitions in Heilongjiang province in northeastern China.

China says Japanese forces left behind about 2 million chemical weapon shells in China, and more than 2,000 people have been harmed by them.

Japanese studies have placed the number of such shells at about 700,000.

Japan had pledged to clean up the weapons by this year, but it later sought an extension, saying the deadline was impossible to meet. China has complained about the slow pace of disposals.

On Aug. 4, 2003, one man died and more than 40 people were injured after five World War Two-era metal barrels containing mustard gas were unearthed at a construction site in the city of Qiqihaer, Heilongjiang.

Japan apologized and paid a total of 300 million yen in compensation to the Chinese government for the Qiqihaer incident.

USS Cole families civil suit against Sudan begins
Court Feed News | 2007/03/14 06:26

Testimony began Tuesday in the trial of a civil suit brought against Sudan by families of US military personnel killed in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. The families say Sudan has provided material support to al Qaeda since 1991, without which the attack that killed the US personnel would not have been possible. The 59 family members are seeking $105 million in damages. US District Judge Robert Doumar of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has nonetheless indicated that the federal Death on the High Seas Act will likely apply, limiting the maximum damages the families could receive to $35 million.

Last month, Doumar denied a motion by Sudan to dismiss the suit based on the complaint's failure to connect Sudan with al Qaeda. An earlier motion to dismiss because the statutory limitations had passed was also dismissed. During the trial phase, the plaintiffs will try to prove that Sudan provided the terrorists with explosives, locations for training camps, and the cover of diplomatic pouches to transport materials. They will also allege that Sudan's New York consulate facilitated al Qaeda's 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Because the United States has listed Sudan as a sponsor of terrorism since 1993, Sudan cannot claim sovereign immunity.

Law firm co-founder joins Skadden, Arps
Headline News | 2007/03/13 23:41

Jerry Salzman, longtime outside counsel for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, joined Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom on Monday, leaving the law firm he co-founded as it winds down operations.

Freeman, Freeman & Salzman is going out of business after 40 years, he said. The firm had only nine lawyers after some partners retired in recent years.

"People were getting older, and it stopped being sustainable as we were getting smaller," said Salzman. "It was a good run."

Yet, Salzman said he did not want to quit working.

Who could blame him? The Merc recently agreed to acquire CBOT Holdings Inc., parent of the Chicago Board of Trade, in an $8 billion transaction that would create the world's largest futures exchange. The deal awaiting regulatory approval from the Justice Department and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Salzman joins one of the nation's elite law firms, and one he's worked with over several years. Skadden has represented the Merc in several matters, including its reorganization, initial public offering and, now, its merger.

Salzman is one of the few legal experts in derivatives regulation left in Chicago, as the city is no longer the banking center it used to be. He hopes to help build the practice at Skadden.

Meanwhile, a group of Salzman's former colleagues, he said, is moving to Jenner & Block, including Lee Freeman Jr. Freeman could not be reached for comment.

LEGAL AID: The charitable arm of the Chicago Bar Association for the first time has launched a fundraising campaign to help address what it calls a crisis in the state's legal aid system. The funds will be used to help supplement the disparity in incomes of lawyers who work for Chicago-area pro-bono and legal aid organizations compared with their counterparts in private practice.

Legal aid attorneys typically start at $38,500, according to a report from the Chicago Bar Foundation and Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice. A 2006 law school graduate earns $145,000 at one of the city's top-tier law firms.

The report forecast an impending exodus of legal aid lawyers because of the low pay.

Stopping the departures is an immediate priority for the legal community, said Kimball Anderson, president of the Chicago Bar Foundation and a partner at Winston & Strawn. Otherwise, the legal aid system is headed for collapse.

There are about 250 legal aid attorneys in the Chicago area to serve the more than 750,000 Cook County residents living in poverty.

The foundation distributed brochures and donation cards to about 35 law firms and corporations. Partners are being asked to contribute $500, and associates, $100, said Tony Valukas, a partner at Jenner & Block and chairman of the fundraising effort.

Wastewater for snow nixed by US appeals court
Court Feed News | 2007/03/13 23:40

A plan for a local ski resort to use treated wastewater for snowmaking has been rejected by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the plan will pollute the sites and violate Native American rights under the Religious Restoration Act of 1993, a March 13 story in The Arizona Republic reported.

The Arizona Snowbowl has been seeking approval to use recycled water for snow for over a year; last January a federal district court ruled against Indian tribes opposing the plan. The tribes appealed and presented their case to the Court of Appeals last September, the story said.

The tribes believe the recycled water would be harmful to the mountain's deities and that the treated water could come from mortuaries, according to the story.

Judge William A. Fletcher wrote in the court decision: "To get some sense of equivalence, it may be useful to imagine the effect on Christian beliefs and practices — and the imposition that Christians would experience — if the government were to require that baptisms be carried out with 'reclaimed water," the story reported.

The ski mountain's owner, Eric Borowsky, said, "Snowbowl intends to vigorously pursue further judicial review."

Arthur Andersen to Pay $73M In Enron Deal
Court Feed News | 2007/03/13 22:25

A US federal judge has approved a settlement under which Arthur Andersen will pay $72.5 million to investors who sued the firm for its involvement in the Enron scandal. US District Judge Melinda Harmon signed an order approving the settlement, ending the former accounting giant's involvement in a $40 billion class action lawsuit.

The University of California Board of Regents is the main plaintiff in the case and has already received over $7.3 billion from JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse Group were also sued in the case, but they are seeking a ruling that the case should never have been certified as a class action.

The US Supreme Court overturned a 2002 obstruction of justice conviction against Arthur Andersen for its involvement in the fallout of Enron, but the ruling did not come in time to save the accounting firm which is no longer in operation.

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