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California diocese threatened with contempt
Lawyer Blog News | 2007/04/11 15:54

A federal bankruptcy judge is threatening the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego with contempt for allegedly attempting to hide assets to avoid payment to clergy sexual abuse victims. Judge Louise DeCarl Adler ordered the diocese's lead attorney into court Wednesday to explain why she and her colleagues should not be sanctioned. Adler cited a March 29 letter sent by a diocese parish organization to pastors urging them to get new taxpayer identification numbers and transfer funds to new accounts. The threat Monday came six weeks after the diocese sought bankruptcy protection amid lawsuits by more than 140 people who accuse priests of sexual abuse.

The judge said any post-bankruptcy transfers between the diocese and parishes outside of normal cash operations violate her ruling against shifting the diocese's assets while the bankruptcy case is pending. She said any transfers require court approval.

In a sternly worded order, Adler said attorneys Susan Boswell, Jeffry Davis and Victor Vilaplana appear to have "conspired with parishes" to create new bank accounts separate from the diocese.

Boswell wrote in court documents Tuesday that no intentional misrepresentations or misstatements had been made. She said the diocese has "no access or control" over money in more than 770 bank accounts opened by parishes and parochial schools under the diocese's taxpayer identification number.

Davis wrote in court papers that he thought comments Adler made in an earlier hearing suggested that parishes should obtain their own taxpayer identification numbers for clarity in the bankruptcy case.

Attorneys for the alleged victims have repeatedly accused the church of trying to hide assets to reduce the overall sum available for potential settlements. They estimate that a fair settlement would total about $200 million.

In March, the diocese proposed a $95 million settlement schedule for victims that would offer plaintiffs anywhere from $10,000 to $800,000.

San Diego was the fifth U.S. diocese to file for bankruptcy. The other dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy protection are Davenport, Iowa; Portland, Ore.; Spokane, Wash.; and Tucson, Ariz. Tucson has emerged from bankruptcy protection, while proposed settlements are awaiting final approval in Portland and Spokane.

Gonzales gets subpoena in US firings
Lawyer Blog News | 2007/04/11 06:19

The US House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Tuesday for US Justice Department documents relating to the firings of eight US Attorneys. In a letter accompanying the subpoena, committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) noted that the DOJ's "incomplete response" to the committee's request for documents "falls far short of what is needed for the Subcommittee and Committee to effectively exercise their oversight responsibilities in ascertaining the truth behind the very serious concerns that have been raised regarding this matter."

The subpoena comes the day after four senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Gonzales, requesting additional undisclosed documents in that committee's investigation of the firings and claiming the DOJ failed to turn over relevant documents despite repeated calls from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The letter from US Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) suggests that the DOJ has been less than forthright in disclosing documents:

We are concerned that additional documents relevant to the Committees' investigations are missing or have been withheld.... Given that this was a process that extended over more than two years and involved staff from both the Department of Justice and the White House, and involved consideration of a number of U.S. Attorneys, there would seem to be other documents that would comment upon the reasons some U.S. Attorneys were chosen for removal and others were not. For example, there are press reports that the former U.S. Attorney in San Francisco had multiple evaluations and was the subject of significant discussions. Documents reflecting those multiple evaluations and significant discussions have not been produced to date. This raises a question about whether we have seen all similar documents about others selected for replacement or left in place.

In addition, the letter identifies specific undisclosed documents such as a chart provided by former Gonzales aide Monica Goodling to former chief of staff Kyle Sampson, who both resigned in the wake of the scandal, that was described in an e-mail that was turned over to the committee. The letter also outlines several document requests and poses questions from the committee concerning its disclosure procedures.

Last Thursday, Leahy sent a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding seeking undisclosed documents relating to the firings from President George W. Bush. Last Monday, Leahy rejected attempts by the Bush administration to move up the date that Gonzales is scheduled to testify. In March, Sampson told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the prosecutors were fired for political reasons rather than for poor performance as the DOJ has claimed.

Cablevision appeals network DVR ruling
Lawyer Blog News | 2007/04/10 17:01

Cablevision Systems Corp. appealed on Tuesday a federal court ruling that blocked the New York-area cable TV provider's rollout of a next-generation digital video recorder service. Cablevision sought an expedited review of the case before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, claiming that the U.S. District Court ruling in New York last month misapplied copyright law to its remote-storage digital video recorder, or DVR.

Cablevision's case has been closely watched in the cable TV industry. If allowed to proceed, the remote-storage DVR could allow companies like Cablevision to dramatically increase the rate at which they introduce digital video recording services to their customers.

DVRs allow cable TV subscribers to record TV programs without the hassles of videotape, letting users pause live TV, do instant replays and begin watching programs even before the recording has finished. Viewers can also skip through commercials, something that worries the TV industry.

Cablevision's system would have allowed any cable subscriber with a digital cable box to have DVR-like service by storing and playing back shows on computer servers maintained by Cablevision.

That could allow Cablevision to offer the service to many more customers without having to install the expensive hard drive-equipped DVR boxes in each home, as is currently the case.

A group of Hollywood studios successfully sued Cablevision, claiming that the remote-storage system would have amounted to an additional broadcast of their programs, something for which they haven't given permission.

Cablevision argued its service was permissible because the control of the recording and playback was in the hands of the consumer. A landmark 1984 Supreme Court case found that Sony Corp. wasn't breaking copyright laws if home viewers used Sony's Betamax videotape recorders to record and play back shows for personal use.

"We continue to believe strongly that remote-storage DVR is permissible under current copyright law and offers significant benefits to consumers, including lower costs and faster deployment of this popular technology to our digital cable customers," Tom Rutledge, Cablevision's chief operating officer, said in a statement.

Judge Nixes Conrad Black Mistrial Motion
Lawyer Blog News | 2007/04/10 00:55

Judge Amy St. Eve of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied a motion Monday for a mistrial in the prosecution of Canadian-born former media mogul Conrad Black on fraud charges. John Boultbee, a former associate of Black and his current co-defendant, requested a separate trial from Black in addition to the motion for a mistrial in Black's case. Both pleas were rejected.

Boultbee, the former CFO of Hollinger International, stands accused of illegally diverting more than $80 million from Hollinger and its shareholders during Hollinger's $2.1 billion sale of several hundred Canadian newspapers. Two years ago, Boultbee joined Black, former legal executive Mark Kipnis, and former VP Peter Atkinson in pleading not guilty to fraud charges. A fifth defendant, former Hollinger President David Radler, pleaded guilty to the charges and agreed to testify for the government.

Vonage Wins Temporary Reprieve in Verizon Case
Lawyer Blog News | 2007/04/09 16:54

Vonage won a temporary reprieve from an appeals court on Friday, hours after a lower court barred it from adding new customers while it appeals a finding it infringed Verizon Communications Inc. patents for making phone calls over the Internet.
"We just learned, just now, from our legal counsel that we secured a temporary stay until the appeals court can hear our request for a permanent stay of that order," said Vonage Holdings Corp. spokeswoman Brooke Schulz.

U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton had limited Vonage to serving its existing customers. He also required Vonage to post a $66 million bond.

The stay is good until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit hears Vonage's request for a permanent stay of Hilton's injunction.

However, it does not mean that Vonage will necessarily be able to continue its business as usual for the length of the appeals process.

An industry analyst, who said Vonage's business would face problems if the company could not add new customers while appealing the case, said the temporary stay was "unnecessary technically," as Hilton was not expected to enter his ruling until Thursday, April 12.

Benzene Case Taken to U.S. Supreme Court
Lawyer Blog News | 2007/04/08 16:11

A lawyer urges the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the state Supreme Court ruling that barred her Alabama client from suing the manufacturers of a chemical he blamed for causing his rare form of leukemia. Jack Cline died in January of acute myelogenous leukemia. Until retiring in 1995, he worked with benzene for 37 years for a company that made railroad wheels.

Cline tried to sue Ashland Inc., Chevron Phillips Chemical, and ExxonMobil Corp., which produced the benzene he believed caused his disease. The judge presiding over the case ruled in favor of the defendants, stating that Cline waited too long to sue.

The judge’s ruling was based on a 1979 precedent that held that the two-year statute of limitations begins on the date of the last incidence of chemical exposure.

In Alabama, another precedent allows lawsuits only by persons who can show “manifest harm” or demonstrable injury. But because Cline’s illness was not diagnosed until 1999—four years after his last exposure—there was no allowable time period during which he could have sued, according to both precedents.

Cline’s lawyer, Leslie Brueckner, is arguing that the state ruling violated the 14th amendment, denying Cline due process of law.

If the U.S. Supreme Court accepts the case, oral arguments should begin sometime in the fall or winter.

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