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UN marks soaring Iraq death toll
Legal World News | 2007/01/16 17:38

U.N. officials in Baghdad say more than 34,000 Iraqis perished in violent incidents last year, far more than the government had reported.  U.N. experts say it is urgent to strengthen the police, courts, and other institutions to stem the bloodshed.  VOA's Jim Randle reports from Baghdad.

The chief of the U.N. Human Rights Office in Iraq, Gianni Magazzeni, says U.N. staffers gathered the information from hospitals and the Ministry of Health. The statistics are grim.

"During 2006, a total of 34,452 civilians have been violently killed and 36,685 wounded," he said.

The report says an average of almost 100 people a day die in Iraq's violence.

These figures are much higher than those from Iraq's government, and government officials have called previous U.N. reports "exaggerated."

This report says the security services have been infiltrated by sectarian militia members and are ineffective.

Magazzeni says the appalling toll will not stop until Iraqis have reason to have faith in their police, courts and other institutions of justice.

Historians in court for "Da Vinci Code" appeal
Court Feed News | 2007/01/16 17:30

Two historians who lost a plagiarism case against "The Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown launched an appeal on Tuesday to have the verdict overturned.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who wrote "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" which they say Brown copied, were at London's High Court to hear the opening of the appeal.

Their lawyer, Jonathan Rayner James, will argue that the original judge was wrong to dismiss the idea of a "central theme" in the historians' research which he says was used extensively in six chapters of "The Da Vinci Code."

"The ... judge 'rejected' the central theme because, inter alia, it was not the substantial part of HBHG (The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail)," he said in a printed summary of his argument to be presented in court.

"This approach is incorrect; it does not have to be the substantial part of HBHG ...

"Was there enough of an expenditure of skill and labor to warrant copyright protection? The appellants submit that there was."

Brown, who was called as a witness during the original case last year, is not expected to be present for the appeal.

Judge Peter Smith ruled in April that the central themes were too general or abstract to be protected by copyright.

Brown said at the time that novelists must be allowed to draw from historical works without fear of being sued.

"The Da Vinci Code" is one of the most successful novels of all time, selling more than 40 million copies worldwide and being turned into a major Hollywood movie. It is published in Britain by Random House, as is "The Holy Blood."

The appeal is likely to focus on legal argument, and lack the original case's colorful and often heated debate about the Merovingian monarchy, the knights Templar and Jesus' bloodline.

Both "The Da Vinci Code" and "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" raise the possibility that Jesus had a child by Mary Magdalene, that she fled to France after the Crucifixion and that Christ's bloodline survives to this day.

They also associate Magdalene with the Holy Grail.

As in the case last year, the appeal will also focus on Brown's wife Blythe, who emerged as a key contributor to "The Da Vinci Code" through research and ideas.

"In this case, Mrs. Brown knew that she was exclusively using HBHG for that subject matter comprising the Langdon/Teabing lectures," Rayner James said, referring to the six chapters around which the case centers.

"She took a 'short cut' through the research and investigation and simply lifted the material from HBHG."

The appeal is expected to wind up on Friday. The judgment is likely to be delivered in written form at a later date.

Court blocks widow from collecting $5M
Court Feed News | 2007/01/16 17:29

The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the widow of a man who died in a Texas jail from pursuing a $5 million jury verdict.

The court without comment declined to consider the appeal of Jessie Dorado, whose husband died in an El Paso jail after being denied medication to control seizures. Eduardo Miranda, a Mexican national, was a physician who was arrested in 1997 on a two-year-old drunk driving charge. He died 74 hours later.

Miranda lived legally in El Paso, but practiced medicine in Juarez, Mexico.

His family invoked a federal civil rights law authorizing suits against state and local government officials who violate a person's constitutional rights. A jury awarded Dorado $5 million after deciding that the jail's doctor knew of Miranda's medical needs and failed to minister to him.

A Texas appeals court threw out the verdict. The court said the jail doctor had not acted with deliberate indifference. The appeals court also said Miranda's lawyers presented little evidence that the jail doctor set policy at the facility, a threshold plaintiffs often must cross in civil rights lawsuits against government officials.

Nissan Altima Hybrid Qualifies for Tax Credit
Lawyer News | 2007/01/15 19:01

WASHINGTON -- The Internal Revenue Service has acknowledged the certification by Nissan North America, Inc., that its 2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid vehicle meets the requirements of the Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit as a qualified hybrid motor vehicle.

The credit amount for the hybrid vehicle certification of the 2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid is $2,350.

Consumers seeking the credit may want to buy early since the full credit is only available for a limited time. Taxpayers may claim the full amount of the allowable credit up to the end of the first calendar quarter after the quarter in which the manufacturer records its sale of the 60,000th vehicle. For the second and third calendar quarters after the quarter in which the 60,000th vehicle is sold, taxpayers may claim 50 percent of the credit. For the fourth and fifth calendar quarters, taxpayers may claim 25 percent of the credit. No credit is allowed after the fifth quarter.

Pentagon admits spying on citizens within US
Legal Career News | 2007/01/14 21:20

The CIA and the American military have been accessing the banking and credit records of hundreds of American citizens suspected of ties to terror groups, the New York Times reported Sunday. Since 9/11, the two US government arms have been using little-known provisions of the Right to Financial Privacy Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the National Security Act  to issue a version of a "national security letter" to domestic banks, credit companies, and other financial corporations. The letters request certain financial information but are generally "noncompulsory" as the CIA and the military have no domestic enforcement authority. The FBI has also issued thousands of similar letters since Sept. 11. All three groups claim increased powers to probe the banking records of American citizens under the Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11.

Democrats and civil liberties groups like the ACLU have expressed serious concern over these and other domestic spying techniques, especially as exercised by government agencies focused abroad. The military and the CIA contend that such intelligence is invaluable in finding leads and strengthening other operations. The ACLU has won two suits against the FBI  related to national security letters.

Tampa law firm faces contingency fees lawsuit
Headline News | 2007/01/14 00:49

A Tampa law firm that has garnered millions of dollars in neglect and abuse settlements and lawsuits against nursing homes in Florida and around the country is now on the defense end of a suit that contends the firm knowingly violated Tennessee law regarding contingency fees.

The lawsuit against the firm, Wilkes & McHugh, was filed in December in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Tennessee.

Plaintiff Debbie Howard hired the firm several years ago to sue a Memphis nursing home in the death of her grandmother for medical negligence, according to the 38-page complaint.

The class-action claim states Wilkes & McHugh engaged in an unlawful scheme to collect 40 percent or 45 percent in contingency fees of settlement amounts, although Tennessee law caps fees to 33 and 1/3 percent in medical malpractice cases. The complaint says the law firm charged the higher and unlawful contingency fee to hundreds of clients in Tennessee.

“Although it has never actually tried any of these nursing home lawsuits in Tennessee, defendant Wilkes & McHugh has reaped tens of millions of dollars in legal fees from settlements ... paid by nursing home defendants to their Tennessee clients during the Class period,” according to the complaint.

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