Yuletide wrap

December 24, 2008


DC Dicta will be taking a holiday hiatus until after the New Year. But before you rush off to do all that last-minute gift shopping, here’s one last look at the legal news:

Chamber’s suing mad: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the legality of a Bush administration rule requiring all companies working on federal contracts to electronically check the legal working status of their employees through the E-Verify system. (Lawyers USA)

IRA help must wait for New Year: Congress has passed a bill that will suspend the rule requiring retirees over the age of 70 1/2 to withdraw a certain amount from their retirement accounts in 2009. But the Treasury Department announced that no such similar suspension will be made for 2008, meaning anyone who has yet to meet the minimum distribution requirement must do so by Dec. 31. (Lawyers USA)

Holiday Pardons: President Bush issued 19 pardons this week – but none was for Scooter Libby. (Washington Post, New York Times)

FDA takes another look at BPA: First the FDA called the chemical safe, then a wave of scientific reports questioned that finding. Now the FDA is taking another look at the chemical bisphenol-A, a controversial component found in products such as baby bottles. (New York Times)

Pleading the Fifth – a little too late: A witness in convicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ corruption trial said he should have evoked his constitutional right not to testify instead of taking the stand and incriminating himself. (AP)

Luck be a justice tonight: How does someone become a Supreme Court justice? Says retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: be “the right person in the right spot at the right time. Simply stated, you must be lucky.” (USA Today)

The year that was: As the year comes to a close, here’s a look at the most popular online stories of the year from Lawyers USA. (Lawyers USA)

Happy Holidays!


DC Dicta’s greatest hits of 2008

December 22, 2008

With 2008 almost in the history books, it’s a good time to take a look back at the most popular posts of the year here at DC Dicta. Looking back, the hottest items on the blog revolved around presidential campaign moments, Supreme Court shenanigans, celebrity testimony on the Hill, and the beleaguered Justice Department. Let’s count them down:

10. Mukasey: ‘Not every violation of the law is a crime’

mukaseyagComments made by Attorney General Michael Mukasey in August – particularly the quote: “Not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime” – circulated around the blogosphere and ultimately became a catchphrase to represent the problems plaguing the Justice Department in recent years.

9. The Funniest Justice: Antonin Scalia

scaliasideNo one leaves ’em laughing in the courtroom like Justice Antonin Scalia, who handily won the title of Funniest Justice for the October 2007 term.

8. Kennedy winks in EEOC’s direction?

kennedy2After January oral arguments in Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC, this post noted that Justice Anthony “Swing Vote” Kennedy seemed to indicate pretty clearly that he believed the retirement benefits system in question discriminated on the basis of age – just as the EEOC contended. Although he did go on to find the program discriminatory, he was in the Court’s minority, writing the dissent in a case that did not at all adhere to the Court’s usual conservative vs. liberal breakdown. (Scalia and Ginsburg joined Kennedy’s dissent – when does that every happen?)

7. Actor to lawmakers: Let patients bring pharma suits

quaidMr. (Dennis) Quaid went to Washington. The actor, whose newborn twin daughters were accidentally given a nearly-lethal dose of the drug herapin, told lawmakers in May that without the right to sue pharmaceutical companies, consumers will become “uninformed and uncompensated lab rats.”

6. U.S. News law school rankings leaked!

When the folks at Above The Law put up a document showing the 2009 U.S. News & World Report law school rankings a few days before they were published in March, we sent you there.

5. McCain’s switch on Souter; Obama: Thomas isn’t too bright

thomas2Ah, remember that video of then presidential candidate Barack Obama basically saying Justice Clarence Thomas wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer? Of course you do! Many of you watched it right here in August.

4. Biden calls Court a Supreme campaign issue

bidenDuring the campaign season, now Vice President-elect Joe Biden was one of the most frequently searched subjects leading to DC Dicta. When he talked about the importance of the election in terms of potential Supreme Court nominees in August, the related post was one of the most popular blog items for weeks afterwards.

3. Cover blown off Chief Justice’s school visit

robertssmallWho knew Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. was so popular? Well, he obviously does – since he tried to clandestinely visit a local high school in March for a talk with students. But somehow word got out, newspaper reporters were there waiting for him, and DC Dicta readers wanted to know all about it.

2. 400 requests for reduced crack sentences in two days

crackWhen new reduced federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses, approved last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, went into effect retroactively in March, one day later more than 400 court orders from around the country slashing prison terms had been processed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

And the most hit blog post of the year (drumroll, please!):

1. High court denies Enron investors’ petition

enronThis Jan. 22 post noted that the Supreme Court, on the heels of its decision in Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific-Atlanta Inc., denied a petition by Enron investors seeking to pursue similar claims against bankers from firms including Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse Group. The move ended the investors’ actions claiming the bank companies colluded with Enron officials’ fraud.

Monday status conference: Holiday week edition

December 22, 2008

With the holidays upon us, the week may be a slow one on and around the Hill. But legal news never stops:

Three-star nursing homes? The new rating system thcreated by the federal government to rate nursing facilities is drawing heat from opponents in the industry, who say nursing care can’t be judged the same way hotels or restaurants are. (AP)

New approach to piracy patrol: If you were planning on using illegally-downloaded music as stocking stuffers, there is some good and bad news for you: the good is you probably won’t get sued; the bad is that your ISP may cut you off. Welcome to the new world of copyright protection. (WSJ via ABA Journal)

Work to be waiting for Obama? Sen. Harry Reid wants an economic stimulus bill passed and waiting on the Oval Office desk for Barack Obama as soon as he is inaugurated. But it’s still unclear if that will happen. (Politico’s The Crypt)

Take a vacation – on us you! Some companies, seeking to cut labor costs without layoffs, are nipping and tucking instead. Think four-day workweeks, unpaid vacations and furloughs. (NYT)

Friday morning docket: Mad about Madoff lawsuits

December 19, 2008

scrooge-duckAs the holidays approach, many lawyers are focused on a particular piece of “bah, humbug!”: the Ponzi scam perpetrated by securities Scrooge Bernard Madoff. Holland & Knight jumped out this week with the formation of a specialized Madoff practice group “to assist clients with strategies concerning any losses sustained as a result of involvement with Bernard Madoff’s controlled entities,” according to the firm. And they aren’t the only lawyers busy over this matter – the lawsuits have already started flying.


To the rescue: The White House will announce a plan to help U.S. automakers as soon as this morning, CNN is reporting. That plan could include low-interest loans or even bankruptcy, according to other news outlets.

Nixon source passes: Watergate über-tipster “Deep Throat” has died. (AP)

Dear FDA: Medical device maker Medtronic Inc. plans to notify the Food and Drug Administration about a California woman’s death, which was allegedly caused by its Infuse Bone Graft. (Lawyers USA)

From pink slip to plaintiff: As the recession deepens and layoffs mount, attorneys representing both former employees and management report a surge in layoff-related legal activity. (Lawyers USA)

Will the case of the missing pants be taken to the Supremes?

December 18, 2008

pantsA former administrative law judge who wanted to sue the pants off a local dry cleaners for allegedly losing his trousers has lost an appeal in the case.

Today the D.C. Court of Appeals rejected a bid by Roy L. Pearson Jr. to revive a $54 million lawsuit he filed, claiming that the cleaners breached their “satisfaction guaranteed” promise when his suit pants went missing.

A three-judge panel of the court rejected Pearson’s request for a new trial. Now his only options are to ask for an en banc review by the entire court, or file a petition for certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court. Neither would be all that surprising, given Pearson’s tenacity thus far.

Bush’s new “right of conscience” rule to be swiftly axed by Obama

December 17, 2008

xmaswhitehouseA federal regulation with a “right of conscience” provision allowing medical professionals to refuse to participate in treatments they oppose morally is set to be finalized by Bush administration officials this week. But it looks like the rule will be short-lived.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that members of the Obama transition team are taking a hard look at that and other regulations that could have an effect on reproductive rights issues, with an eye on reversing them once the president-elect is in office. The rule set to go into effect this week would allow health workers to opt out of performing some services including providing birth control pills, IUDs and the Plan B emergency contraceptive.

The rules that could be affected range from budgetary allocations to regulations and executive orders.

One of the first actions in this arena by the incoming president will be lifting an executive order limiting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.  Another rule on the chopping block could be the so-called “global gag rule,” which prevents foreign organizations receiving federal funding from spending anything on family planning services that include abortion services or advocacy.

More here from the Journal. More on the regulation here from Lawyers USA (sub. req’d).

Trial attorney group, tobacco company react to high court ruling

December 16, 2008

cigaretteAfter yesterday’s surprise Supreme Court decision in Altria Group v. Good, a 5-4 ruling that state law claims that tobacco companies deceptively market “light” or “low tar” cigarettes are not preempted by federal law, reaction was swift.

The trial lawyers’ group the American Association for Justice lauded the decision, saying it protected consumer’s rights.

“Today’s decision is a victory for consumers and affirms that cigarette manufacturers cannot claim immunity from consumer fraud when they claim their products have lowered tar and nicotine levels, even though they do not,” AAJ President Les Weisbrod said in a statement. “State laws have an important role to play in helping the federal government police false claims, and today’s decision supports that role.”

Weisbrod went on to say he hopes the Court will follow the same reasoning in future cases. Another closely-watched preemption case involving claims over FDA-approved drugs, Wyeth v. Levine, is still pending.

The tobacco company Altria expressed disappointment in the decision. But it also pointed out that the case has yet to be decided on the merits.

“While we had hoped for a dismissal based upon federal preemption, it is important to note that the Supreme Court made no finding of liability,” said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel. “We continue to view these cases as manageable, and the company will assert many of the strong defenses used successfully in the past to defend against this very type of case.”