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US court ruling could widen steroid probe
Court Feed News | 2007/01/01 01:00

In a ruling that could boost federal efforts to prosecute athletes who used steroids, a US appeals court said yesterday that lower courts had wrongly blocked the US government from access to confidential Major League Baseball drug tests.

At issue are subpoenas involving more than 100 baseball players in tests by two laboratories. Prosecutors continue to investigate whether players such as Barry Bonds, who holds the record for home runs in a single season, lied to a federal grand jury in San Francisco about steroid use.

A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said a lower-court judge who had overseen cases involving Balco, a San Francisco-area lab that illegally distributed steroids to athletes, had abused her discretion.

“The subpoenas were not unreasonable and did not constitute harassment,” Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote for the panel. The drug tests could provide key evidence in showing which players used steroids, drugs many observers see as behind an explosion of home runs in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Amid growing scrutiny in recent years, Major League Baseball started unannounced steroid testing of players in 2003.

Michael Rains, criminal attorney for Bonds, said the tests did not incriminate his client, who could become the major leagues’ all-time home-run king next season.

“If what the government saw and got in April of 2004 was harmful to Barry Bonds, you can darn well bet that would have been leaked by now,” he said in an interview. “There is nothing at all about those tests that is harmful to Barry Bonds.”

“The government’s quest to get these — initially I’m sure just to target Barry — has been just another of a goose egg for them in their continuing efforts to both target, harass, indict and prosecute Barry Bonds.” US Attorney Kevin Ryan said in a statement, “We are pleased that the majority of the 9th Circuit panel found that the government’s seizures and use of grand jury subpoenas were reasonable.”

“We will continue to review the ... opinion to determine what the next investigative step may be,” Ryan said.

Investigators initially obtained a subpoena in 2003 to receive the anonymous drug testing results for 11 baseball players, and then sought to get the results from two firms that did the work, Quest Diagnostics in New Jersey and Comprehensive Diagnostic Testing, or CDT, in Long Beach, California.

A legal fight ensued and federal agents in April 2004 searched CDT, finding positive drug test results for eight players, with possible positive results for 26 others, according to the court ruling.

The government sought further records amid opposition from the labs and the Major League Baseball Players Association. A different judge in Nevada ordered the return of specimens and notes. That ruling was also wrong, the 9th Circuit said.

In a partial dissent in the 115-page ruling, Judge Sidney Thomas expressed concern the ruling would ease the way for prosecutors to seize confidential medical records.

“There is no question that the baseball players who participated in the random testing had a justified expectation of privacy in the test results,” Thomas wrote.

“The scope of the majority’s new holding in the digital age could not be greater; it removes confidential electronic records from the protections of the Fourth Amendment.”

A spokesman for Major League Baseball declined comment, saying lawyers had not yet reviewed the decision.



Many Californians handle their own divorces
Headline News | 2006/12/31 20:58

Rising legal fees, fewer legal aid services and a do-it-yourself mentality are driving more Californians to handle their own divorces, but sometimes not very successfully.

Court officials and legal experts worry that tens of thousands of former California couples don't realize their divorces weren't finalized after they tried to end their marriages. Many more, officials say, simply let their cases languish because they're stumped by complex paperwork and court procedures.

"People just don't get it done. They don't know how to get it done," said L.A. County Superior Court Judge Mark Juhas. "That's troubling. There are legal ramifications to continuing to be married."

About 80 percent of people in California who file for divorce handle their own paperwork, according to court officials. It's estimated that about a third of all petitions have not been finalized.

Richard Zorza, who coordinates a national network of organizations working on self-representation, said one reason people are increasingly handling their own civil court matters is rising lawyer fees.

He also blamed decreasing legal aid services for poor people, and a "Home Depot philosophy of people feeling they can do things on their own."

But the legal system, Zorza said, is complex and shouldn't be navigated by people without legal training.

In San Diego County, one of the few counties where statistics are available, 46 percent of people represented themselves in divorces in 1992; by 2000 that figure had climbed to 77 percent.

At a legal services center in Van Nuys, Calif., officials say they see 20 people a month who incorrectly thought they were divorced.

"They come in screaming," said Norma Valencia, a paralegal at the center operated by Neighborhood Legal Services. "They say, 'You don't understand my situation. I want a divorce right now.'"

Other couple have showed up weeping that they've remarried without a completed divorce and they're afraid to tell their new spouses.

Getting divorced in California requires filing divorce papers, serving them on the spouse and then writing and processing a judgment with the court. A divorce cannot become final until at least six months after the date the papers are served.

Juhas has tried to tackle the problem of divorces that haven't gone through by calling about 100 people a month and asking them if they need help.

About 10 percent say they've reconciled, and about 30 percent ignore him. But more than half want to be divorced but need help, he said.

Court officials also have launched self-help programs so people can get divorced.



US court rejects bid to stop Saddam execution
U.S. Legal News | 2006/12/30 20:05

A US federal judge has rejected an eleventh-hour bid by lawyers for Saddam Hussein seeking a direct stay of execution. US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued a 6-page ruling late Friday evening following a telephone conference with lawyers in the wake of court papers filed around 1 PM Friday afternoon.

Kollar-Kotelly wrote:

As Judge Reggie Walton recently concluded in a strikingly similar matter, this "Court lacks habeas corpus jurisdiction over an Iraqi citizen, convicted by an Iraqi court for violations of Iraqi law, who is held pursuant to that conviction by members of the Multi-National Force-Iraq." Al-Bandar v. Bush, et al., Civ. A. No. 06-2209 (RMC) (D.D.C. Dec. 27, 2006) (denying motion for temporary restraining order to prevent transfer of petitioner to Iraqi custody); see also, Al-Bandar v. Bush, et al., Civ. A. No. 06-5425 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 29, 2006) (denying motion for stay or injunction enjoining transfer of petitioner to Iraqi custody pending appeal). A United States court has no "power or authority to review, affirm, set aside or annul the judgment and sentence imposed" by the court of a sovereign nation pursuant to their laws. Hirota, et al. v. General of the Army Douglas McArthur, et al., 338 U.S. 197, 198, 69 S. Ct. 197, 93 L. Ed. 1902 (1948); Flick v. Johnson, 174 F. 2d 983, 984 (D.C. Cir. 1949). Accordingly, this Court has no jurisdiction to prevent the transfer of Petitioner Hussein to the custody of the Iraqi government, as that would effectively alter the judgment of an Iraqi court.

Moreover, Petitioner is not being held under the custody of the United States, and as a result, this Court lacks habeas corpus jurisdiction. Petitioner's counsel agreed that, while Petitioner may be held by members of the United States Military, it is pursuant to their authority as members of the MNF-I. The MNF-I derives its "ultimate authority from the United Nations and the MNF-I member nations acting jointly, not from the United States acting alone." Mohammed v. Harvey, 456 F. Supp. 2d 115, 122 (D.D.C. 2006). As such, it is clear that Petitioner is either in the actual physical custody of the MNF-I or in the constructive custody of the Iraqi government, and not in the custody of the United States. Id. As Petitioner is clearly not held in the custody of the United States, this Court is without jurisdiction to entertain his petition for a writ of habeas corpus.



Apple chief could still face SEC investigation
Legal Career News | 2006/12/30 06:29

Steve Jobs, the chairman of Apple Computer, still faces the prospect of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice, The Times has learnt, even though he did not benefit personally from the repeated backdating of stock options. Apple published its long-awaited annual report yesterday. It contained details of the company’s internal investigation into options backdating.  

The findings appeared to exonerate Mr Jobs, concluding that, although he was aware of options backdating and even chose some of the dates, he was not aware of the accounting implications of the practice.

The report added that Mr Jobs did not benefit financially from the backdating programme because he returned all the stock options granted to him during the period under investigation.

However, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the US market regulator, which is already investigating the stock options scandal at more than 100 companies, including Apple, told The Times that an executive could be found guilty of backdating without benefiting from the award.

A spokesman for the SEC, who was unable to comment directly on the Apple investigation, said: “An executive does not have to benefit personally from stock options backdating to be found to have violated the rules . . . Past cases show that personal gain is not a precondition to any action by this office.”

The SEC would not confirm whether the company or Mr Jobs was under investigation, but it is understood that investigators from the regulator’s enforcement division next month will begin to look into more than one million pages of evidence gathered by Apple during its internal review of the stock options affair.

The Justice Department is also said to be looking into the backdating of options at Apple. It declined to comment.



IRS warns of e-mail scams
Lawyer News | 2006/12/30 02:30

Iowans are being warned about stepped up scams in email that may look like they're from the Internal Revenue Service. IRS spokesman Christopher Miller says the schemes have been around for months but they've picked up again in recent weeks.

Miller says the fraudulent e-mails are designed to trick the recipients into disclosing personal and financial information, usually credit card numbers, PINS, Social Security numbers and account numbers, which could be used to steal their identity and financial assets. Identity theft is a growing crime that's costing tens of thousands of Americans millions of dollars.

Miller says the agency's investigators have identified about a hundred different e-mail scams involving the IRS, many with similarities. The language of the e-mails is typically the same, saying after the latest calculations, they've determined the person is due a tax refund of 63dollars and 80cents -- which Miller says is significant because many of the scams use that same total. Miller says the tax collection agency never makes it a practice to email Iowans to ask for this sort of information.

Miller says the IRS typically uses regular mail or sometimes phone calls but they make sure to verify the individual they're talking to by using information only they would know. He says they've seen a recent rise in complaints about these bogus emails and taxpayers in Iowa who want to make sure they're not ignoring the real thing -do- have an alternative.



SEC Announces Administrative Judge McEwen To Retire
Headline News | 2006/12/29 20:24

Administrative Law Judge Lillian A. McEwen has announced that she is retiring from her position with the SEC, effective Jan. 3, 2007. Since her appointment in September 1995, Judge McEwen has presided over, and issued initial decisions in, scores of administrative proceedings brought by the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. She also served on multiple occasions as the SEC delegate to the Federal Administrative Law Judges Conference and was a founding member of Judicial Council, which is affiliated with the Washington Bar Association.

Prior to her appointment to the SEC, Judge McEwen served as an administrative law judge with the Social Security Administration in Fresno, Calif., from July 1994 to March 1995, at which time she was promoted to Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge in New Haven, Conn. Judge McEwen began her legal career in 1975 as an Assistant United States Attorney in Washington, D.C. From 1979 to 1982, she was counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, where she worked extensively with Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., on criminal forfeiture and racketeering legislation. Judge McEwen then practiced criminal law privately from 1983 to 1989 and 1993 to 1994. During 1989 through 1992, she was an Assistant Professor of Law at the District of Columbia School of Law.



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