Friday morning docket: Recess and recession

April 10, 2009

obamaeconThings are quiet on the Hill as both the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress sit in recess. Across town, President Barack Obama is spending today holed up with his economic team to try to find ways to pull the country out of its recession.

Clash of the right-ans: Religious groups fighting gay rights matters in courts are increasingly coming up on the losing end in the legal “clash between the right to be free from discrimination and the right to freedom of religion.” (WaPo)

Justice Department gets judged: The Judge who presided over the hearing dismissing the conviction of former Sen. Ted Stevens gave government prosecutors who handled the case a good tongue lashing. And it wasn’t the first time the Justice Department has felt his wrath. (WaPo)

Fools as clients? The recession has boosted the number of people representing themselves on court, raising questions about the fairness of the outcomes. (NYT)

Being e-conomical: With the recession taking its toll on the bottom lines of many businesses, attorneys who engage in electronic discovery are looking to cut costs for clients. (Lawyers USA)

Things aren’t going great, and they’re not getting better: The safety of the nation’s food supply has not improved over the past three years, and an overhaul of the food regulation system is needed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (NYT)

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Holder to prosecutors: ‘Your job is to do justice’

April 9, 2009

Yesterday new assistant U.S. attorneys being sworn in at a Washington, D.C. ceremony got a surprise guest speaker: their boss, Attorney General Eric Holder.

holder41Holder, speaking as investigators are probing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the handling of the criminal corruption case of former Sen. Ted Stevens, reiterated to the new prosecutors that their goal should be obtaining justice, not just a conviction.

“Your job as assistant U.S. attorneys is not to convict people,” Holder said, according to the AP. “Your job is not to win cases. Your job is to do justice. Your job is in every case, every decision that you make, to do the right thing. Anybody who asks you to do something other than that is to be ignored. Any policy that is at tension with that is to be questioned and brought to my attention. And I mean that.”

Holder, whose appearance at the event was not announced, addressed the Stevens case specifically. “There were mistakes made in the Stevens case,” he said. “We’ll see exactly what those mistakes were all about. …There are going to be a lot of articles, I suspect you’re going in newspapers over the next couple of days, about how things have gone wrong in the department. A lot of these articles are going to be unfair. And yet we have to deal with those perceptions. We’re capable of dealing with them, but the only way ultimately that we’re going to restore faith in this department is through the work that you all do.”

Restoring that faith means that prosecutors cannot sacrifice justice in pursuit of a guilty verdict, Holder said. “You are expected to do nothing more than the right thing. Anything other than that is unacceptable,” he said.


Monday status conference: Championship edition

April 6, 2009

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court could announce new grants of certiorari and/or freshly minted opinions. We’ll bring you more on any newsworthy developments here later.

President Barack Obama wraps up his weeklong European tour in Turkey this morning. When he returns he’ll take a look at the budget passed last week by Congress to see all the ways it differs from his own plan.msu

Meanwhile, as you plan your snacks for today’s NCAA championship game (Great Lakes State-born DC Dicta isn’t even going to try to be impartial today) here is a look at the legal news kicking off this week:

Writing’s on the drywall: Lawmakers have introduced a bill that would impose an immediate ban on defective drywall being imported from China, and an immediate recall on such materials already in the country.  A number of class action lawsuits have already been filed over the materials. (Lawyers USA)

Crash deaths curtailed: Here’s an upshot of the terrible economy – fewer people are driving on the roads, and as a result crash-related fatalities are at their lowest levels since the Kennedy administration. (AP)

Judging the Justice Department: The corruption case against former Sen. Ted Stevens, whose conviction is soon to be tossed amid allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, has some experts calling for more oversight at the Justice Department. (ABA Journal)

Documents demand:  Meanwhile, a federal judge yesterday ordered the Justice Department to give him documents concerning allegations of misconduct by the team that prosecuted Stevens. (WaPo)

Buyer’s market? Whether the reason is the sagging economy or the retirement of baby boomers, the number of law practices for sale is rising. (Lawyers USA)


Obama and Holder: The Audacity of Hoops

March 27, 2009

Eric Holder has held the position of attorney general for almost two months now, but today President Barack Obama ceremonially swore Holder in to the post during an event at George Washington University.

Obama used the occasion, picked up live by various news broadcasts, to praise Holder’s skill and judgment.

obamaholder51But, making the point that Holder is an independent thinker, Obama also pointed out that Holder has publicly discussed whether the commander-in-chief has got game.

“He even had the audacity to discuss my basketball skills,” Obama said as the crowd laughed this morning. The president was referring, or course, to Holder’s Senate confirmation hearing in January, when he was asked whether he could beat the president at hoops. Holder said he has a “New York City game,” and that he “could hang with him” on the court, but declined to say that he’d beat the president. See the video here on DC Dicta.

Obama today said he would choose “not to comment” on Holder’s baller prowess.


Monday status conference: Enron (and maybe Kagan) at the Supremes

March 23, 2009

supremesToday the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are back in the office for what promises to be an eventful day. The justices will hear oral arguments in the case of Yeager v. U.S., which considers whether collateral estoppel prevents a former Enron official who was acquitted on several charges to be retried on other charges that resulted in a hung jury.

Also today, look out for a possible special guest star: new Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who was sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. Friday, may be formally introduced to the Court.

And the Court could issue some orders and/or opinions today as well. We’ll bring you updates on newsworthy developments from the Court, so check back.

Today Obama administration officials officially unveil a plan aimed at shoring up the nation’s banking system with public-private parnerships. Oh, and if you wanted to know, so far President Barack Obama is 14 for 16 in his NCAA tourney bracket picks.

Meanwhile,

Sen. X, ?-Minn. We almost forgot about that still-vacant Senate seat for Minnesota! Now the race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman is in the hands of a three-judge panel. A decision is expected by 2011. (Oh, we kid!) (WaPo).

Bills, bills, bills: A bad economy means debt collectors are busy. They are also busy fighting off lawsuits from consumers claiming violations of the Fair Debt collection Practices Act. (Legal Blog Watch).

New COBRA rule has bite: If you or your clients are dealing with layoffs, you should take a look at the model notices the Labor Department has issued in connection with the new, expansive COBRA rules. (Lawyers USA)


Senate to vote on SG pick Kagan today

March 19, 2009

elenakaganToday the Senate is set for a confirmation vote on Elena Kagan, nominated by President Barack Obama in January to be solicitor general. But at least one high-ranking lawmakers isn’t sold on the candidate.

specterSen. Arlen Specter, the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that Kagan, Harvard Law School’s dean who is said to also be on Obama’s Supreme Court short list, still hasn’t clarified her views on warrantless surveillance and a host of other matters.

In February, Kagan submitted a series of supplemental responses to queries by Specter and other lawmakers. (See some of the responses here on DC Dicta). But Specter said Kagan did not provide “sufficient answers” to his questions, Politico reports.

Debate over Kagan’s nomination is set to start at 2 p.m., and could last as long as 6 hours before a final vote is called.


AG signals change in Rx pot prosecution policy

March 19, 2009

marijuanaleaf1The Justice Department will no longer prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries that operate legally under state laws in California and about a dozen other states, Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday.

The policy is a reversal of the approach taken during the Bush administration, where such drug distributors faced federal prosecution even in states that had passed laws permitting medicinal marijuana use by cancer patients, chronic pain sufferers and those with other serious ailments.

agholderNow, Holder said, federal prosecutors will focus on drug distributors who violate both state and federal laws. “Those are the organizations, the people, that we will target,” Holder said during a roundtable with reporters, as reported by The Los Angeles Times.