Busy day on Capitol Hill

July 31, 2008

After a long and sometimes tumultuous journey to the desk of President George W. Bush, yesterday the sweeping housing rescue bill finally became a law.

In addition to helping struggling mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae from going under, the measure will, among other things: allow some subprime borrowers to have the terms of the their mortgages changed to a fixed, 30-year loan; provides funds to fix up foreclosed properties in hard-hit areas in an effort to prevent neighborhood property value loss; gives help for some struggling first-time homebuyers; and fund preforeclosure counseling.

Meanwhile, yesterday Congress moved on some other closely-watched bills (Yes, they are only bills, and they’re sitting there on Capitol Hill):

The House passed a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products. FDA officials have voiced opposition to the measure, saying that the agency doesn’t have the resources for such a task, and the White House has criticized the measure as well, saying that regulation of cigarettes would give a false imprimatur that some cigarettes are safe.

But lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, a sponsor of a companion bill in the Senate which is also supported by presidential candidates Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, said the law is necessary. “Senator Kennedy believes strongly that this is the most important thing Congress can do to prevent youth smoking and save kids from a lifetime of addiction and early death,” said Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for Senator Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Health Education and Labor Committee yesterday.

The House also passed a bill that would ban lead and other dangerous chemicals from items such as jewelry and rubber ducks that could end up in kids’ mouths. The move came after worldwide recalls of many children’s’ products which were found to contain lead last year.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the version of the bill passed by the House “moved in our direction a little bit on some of the issues that we were concerned about” in earlier drafts, some questions may still remain.

House lawmakers also found time to cite former White House advisor Karl Rove in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about Justice Department goings on. Rove joins former White House counsel Harriet Miers and chief of staff Josh Bolten, who were cited with contempt charges earlier. The Justice Department has declined to institute charges against them. What happens now for Rove remains unclear.

Over on the Senate side, the energy bill stalled over a provision on offshore drilling. Next week begins a monthlong break for the lawmakers before election season starts, meaning the housing bill may be the last big piece of successful legislation by this Congress.


Subprime fiasco keeping class action lawyers busy

July 30, 2008

Class action suits are hot again! (Thanks to the mortgage industry meltdown.)

According to a report by Cornerstone Research and Stanford Law School’s Securities Class Action Clearinghouse (Via ABA Journal), subprime-related litigation is driving up the number of lawsuits seeking and gaining class action status. Of the 110 class action lawsuits filed in the first half of this year, more than half were subprime suits. And there have already been more financial sector class action suits filed this year than in all of 2007. (Image by Sv)

DC v. Heller, Part II

July 29, 2008

If you thought that being on the winning side of a landmark Supreme Court case and then receiving a commemorative engraved revolver in honor of the achievement would satisfy Dick Heller, you were wrong.

Heller yesterday launched yet another challenge to the District of Columbia’s gun laws, just weeks after the high court agreed with his claim that the District’s handgun ban was unconstitutional and struck it down.

The District has since rejiggered its gun laws, allowing residents to own registered revolvers, but keeping a ban of machine gun weapons. Heller filed a lawsuit yesterday in federal court challenging that regulation, contending that it is too broad because it covers semiautomatic handguns as well.

“D.C. has stuck to its position that semi-automatic guns are machine guns,” Lead attorney Stephen P. Halbrook told the Washington Times. “It’s a crazy definition of machine gun.”

The lawsuit also challenges the law’s requirement that guns be kept locked in the home, saying that it impairs residents’ ability to use the weapons in self-defense.

“Under the D.C. [law], a robber has to make an appointment with you so you can get your gun ready for him,” Holbrook told the Washington Post.

Monday status conference

July 28, 2008

Another issue of Lawyers USA is fresh off the presses, and here’s a look at what is inside (subscribers can click the links for more):

Taking mediation to the bank(ruptcy court): Long associated with family law disputes, mediation programs were slow to catch on in complex business litigation. But that’s changing, particularly in bankruptcy courts where two thirds of the nation’s 90 courts now run mediation programs. More here.
Take two aspirins – and open a credit card? Many doctors and dentists are marketing medical credit cards to their patients, and consumer lawyers say they are a new wave of predatory lending. More here.

Me write pretty one day: More law firms are helping summer and first-year associates master their firms’ writing style, with veteran attorneys acting as personal writing coaches. The coaches read and review associates’ written assignments, and offer individualized criticism. More here.

In other news:

The housing bill awaits the president’s signature. (NYT)

Congressional investigators say it takes the FDA way too long to make pharmaceutical companies peddling prescription medications for an unapproved use to stop. (AP).

Proposed revisions to the regulations implementing the Americans With Disabilities Act were published in the Federal Register last month by the Department of Justice, giving both the businesses required to comply with the standards and advocates for those protected by them cause for concern. (AP via ABA Journal).

“Lawyers generally are lousy writers,” said Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, almost spitting out the words Friday at a Kennedy Center CLE lecture based on his recent book. (AP)

Friday morning docket: Let’s get physical

July 25, 2008

Capitol Hill turned into a big aerobics class yesterday when Richard Simmons, who testified before lawmakers about the need for more phys education programs in schools, exchanged his suit for red, while and blue sparkly workout short-shorts and proceeded to sweat to the oldies with congressional staff. (Photo by David Gerard) Meanwhile:

A lawmaker is promising to introduce a bill that would block an effort by the Labor Department to make it tougher to limit workers’ exposure to chemicals on the job. (WaPo)

Senate Democrats warned Attorney General Michael Mukasey not to let any political appointees slip their way into permanent posts at the Justice Department. (WaPo)

The housing bill continues to move closer to passage, but some say it won’t cure all the nation’s mortgage ills. (Arizona Republic). Meanwhile foreclosures continue to rise. (Reuters)

House lawmakers scolded federal regulators Thursday for failing to implement recommendations made in 2001 that were designed to keep medically unfit commercial truck and bus drivers off the nation’s highways. (AP)

Lawmakers on Thursday questioned the legality and effectiveness of the government’s tactics in a May raid that led to the arrest of nearly 400 immigrants. (AP)

Heller plaintiffs to get commemorative revolvers

July 23, 2008

The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case D.C. v. Heller scored a victory in their bid to invalidate Washington’s handgun ban. Now each of the six named plaintiffs will win something else: a commemorative gun from Smith & Wesson.

The Massachusetts-based gun maker has announced plans to give the plaintiffs engraved Model 442 revolvers in honor of the June 26 ruling in the case. The phrases: “D.C. vs. Heller,” “Second Amendment” and “The right to keep and bear arms” will appear on the gun along with an image of scales pf justice. They will be presented to Shelly Parker, Tom Palmer, Gillian St. Lawrence, Tracey Ambeau, George Lyon and Dick Heller.

The rest of the commemorative firearms will be sold in the fall, with a portion of sales going to the Second Amendment Foundation, which partnered with Smith & Wesson to make the special edition guns.

In it’s announcement, the company praised the Second Amendment Foundation’s “pivotal role in the Heller case and its ongoing efforts to preserve the Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens.”

“We are proud to work with Smith & Wesson on this project,” Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, was quoted as saying in the announcement. “June 26 saw a landmark victory for the Second Amendment, and for all Americans. This is a fitting way to commemorate a significant moment in history, and support future efforts that will continue to strengthen our constitutional rights.”

The blog DCist notes that the announcement has ruffled some feathers, including those of Josh Sugarmann, founder and executive director of the Violence Policy Center, who called the move a snub to law enforcement.

“Smith & Wesson, which manufactures a ‘vest busting’ revolver that can penetrate the body armor worn by law enforcement, issues a special ‘commemorative’ revolver to celebrate the end of a law strongly supported by Washington, DC police and other national law enforcement organizations . . . the same week as the 10-year anniversary of the same caliber and type of Smith & Wesson handgun being used to kill two Capitol Hill police officers,” Sugarmann wrote on the Huffington Post. “Now what was that about the gun industry’s insularity and ubiquitous tin ear for irony?”

FEMA seeks immunity from Katrina trailer suits

July 23, 2008
FEMA trailer outside hurricane-ravaged home

FEMA trailer outside hurricane-ravaged home

Today attorneys arguing on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency will ask a federal court to dismiss the agency from lawsuits alleging that trailers provided for hurricane Katrina survivors exposed them to dangerous fumes.

The suits claim that the trailers provided to people living in Gulf coast states in 2005 contained high levels of formaldehyde, which can cause breathing problems and is believed to be carcinogenic.

But FEMA contends that it relied on the manufacturer of the trailers to furnish a “safe, habitable, functional product” to people who lost their homes.

“It is well-established that the (government) is only liable in such situations if it supervised and directed day-to-day activities of its contractors, which did not occur in this case,” stated court papers.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys contend that it is premature to release FEMA from the litigation. More here.

Photo by Infrogmation.