AAJ CEO stepping down

April 9, 2009

This week Jon Haber, CEO of the American Association for Justice, the country’s largest trial lawyers group, announced he is stepping down.

Haber, who has held the position for four years, said that the time was right for a change at the top, given the current “pro-civil justice President and Congress.”

“Because we are in such a strong position, I have decided this is the best time for me to step down to take on new challenges,” Haber said in a statement.  “The new pro-civil justice environment has put the organization in the strongest position it has been in a generation.  This time period also presents opportunities for those seeking the next challenge in their careers when it comes to fighting for justice and progressive values.  I am considering several very promising opportunities.”

Attorney bloggers on InjuryBoard.com had praise for Haber’s work. “He brought the AAJ into the current century by updating its use of technology and making it appreciate what needed to be done to better advocate the ‘People Over Profits’ philosophy of the organization,” wrote attorney Mike Schneider.

Mike Bryant added: “Jon was the leader in bringing the organization into the advanced technical world. As an organization of and for plaintiff lawyers it is a hard fought battle with insurance, pharmaceutical, and big business interests.”

No word yet on who Haber’s replacement will be.


Supreme Court agrees to agree

April 8, 2009

supremebenchDon’t let this week’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Corley v. U.S. – where the justices split along ideological lines with Justice Anthony Kennedy again serving as swing voter – fool you. This term, the justices are opting more often to agree to agree.

So far this term, nearly half of the Court’s opinions have either been unanimous or nearly so, reports AP’s Mark Sherman.

Corley is the eighth decision this term in which the Court split 5-4. In six of those splits, Kennedy was the swing voter, joining the Court’s so-called conservative bloc four times, and the liberals twice. Two 5-4 opinions had no clear ideological connection.

Since the Court developed a reputation as having a strong ideological divide in its October 2006 term, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. has often expressed a desire to see more consensus among the justices. In 2007, Roberts said: “The court functions most effectively as a judicial institution saying what the law is when it can deliver one clear and focused opinion of the court.”

It is unclear whether Roberts’ stewardship is behind the justices seeing more eye to eye.


Camera-shy Scalia

April 7, 2009

scaliahandsSupreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia loves talking about the Constitution. He’s not afraid to discuss hot-button topics like the death penalty and gay marriage. But apparently, he’s not a big fan of getting his picture taken.

Yesterday, during a speech at William Carey University in Mississippi, Scalia was busy talking about constitutional originalism while a media photographer, who was authorized to take still shots of the justice, was snapping away. Still, Scalia was displeased.

“Could we stop the photos please?” Scalia said, according to a report by The Hattiesburg American.

Interestingly, the last time Scalia spoke in Hattiesburg was in 2004, when a free speech battle was spurred after a federal marshal seized the tape recorders of reporters from the American and the Associated Press covering Scalia’s talk. The news organizations sued the U.S. Marshals Service and won, and Scalia later apologized to the reporters and they got their tape recorders back.

Yesterday during Scalia’s talk, he touched on the issue of gay marriage just over a week after Rep. Barney Frank made headlines for calling the justice a “homophobe.” Although Scalia declined to comment on Frank’s comments at the time, yesterday Scalia said that the Fourteenth Amendment does not provide a right for gays to marry any more than it provided a right for women to vote. It is for legislators to carve out any such right, Scalia said – just as they did by passing the 19th amendment guaranteeing women’s suffrage.

He acknowledged that not all Supreme Court justices share his views.

“There are four justices who have sat beside me who believe that the death penalty is now unconstitutional … and they believe it to be unconstitutional, because they think it ought to be,” he said. No word yet on whether the ears of Justices Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter or Breyer began to burn.

One footnote, since Scalia was en route to Mississippi during yesterday’s brief Supreme Court session, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. announced Scalia’s opinion in U.S. v. Navajo Nation, according to Legal Times BLT blog.


High court: Delayed confessions can be inadmissible

April 6, 2009

supremesA confession by a defendant who had been in police custody for more than six hours without being presented to a magistrate is inadmissible, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

In the 5-4 opinion in Corley v. U.S., the Supreme Court found that 18 U.S.C. §3501 – which holds that admissions “shall be admissible if it is voluntarily given” within six hours of an arrest – did not supplant the McNabb-Mallory rule, which requires police to take a defendant “without unnecessary delay” before a magistrate judge.

“Today presentment is the point at which the judge is required to take several key steps to foreclose government overreaching: informing the defendant of the charges against him, his right to remain silent, his right to counsel, the availability of bail, and any right to a preliminary hearing; giving the defendant a chance to consult with counsel; and deciding between detention or release,” wrote Justice David Souter for the majority. “In a world without McNabb-Mallory, federal agents would be free to question suspects for extended periods before bringing them out in the open, and we have always known what custodial secrecy leads to.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the majority, leaving the Court’s conservative bloc to file a dissent. More here on Corley from Lawyers USA.

He Court also ruled in U.S. v. Navajo Nation that The Navajo Nation has no claim for damages under the Indian TuckerAct) for an asserted breach of fiduciary duty by the Secretary of the Interior in connection with his failure promptly to approve a royalty rate increase under a coal lease the Tribe executed in 1964.


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)


Court blocks release of dozens of convicted sex offenders

April 6, 2009

cjrobertsLate Friday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. issued an order that prevents the release of some sex offenders who have completed their prison terms, but remain under civil confinement.

The portion of the federal law allowing such civil confinement had been invalidated by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Congress overstepped its authority by allowing convicted sex offenders who served their terms, but were deemed dangerous by the government, to be held civilly.  The law, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, was passed by Congress and sighed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006.

Friday Solicitor General Elena Kagan asked the high court to grant an immediate interim stay of the federal appellate court ruling while considering a permanent stay request. Roberts, in turn, granted the permanent stay pending consideration of certiorari in the case.

Roberts’ ruling will keep about 77 convicted offenders to remain in custody in North Carolina. Without the stay, the inmates could have been released as early as next week.

More here from the AP and here from SCOTUSBlog.


Friday morning docket: Blossoms and buzz

April 3, 2009

cherryblossomsjeffersonWith the cherry blossoms in full bloom here, the members of the three branches of government are, fittingly, busy as bees.

After a busy week of decisions, non-decisions and oral arguments, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are back at work this morning, holding a private conference. That means orders – including possible new cert grants, could be forthcoming, and we’ll bring you newsworthy updates here.

Across the street from the Supremes, Congress has been hard at work tackling issues like the budget, health care and tobacco regulation.

And though President Barack Obama spent most the week in Europe meeting with world leaders, the multitasker also unveiled his first federal appellate judge nominations, naming picks for some vacancies on the 2nd and 4th Circuits.

Meanwhile,

Do over in Alaska? After federal prosecutors moved this week to toss a conviction handed down against former Sen. Ted Stevens, who lost his seat in November, Republicans want a new election. (NYT)

Credential check: After a convicted felon with no law degree managed to pose as an attorney and represent clients in 16 cases in 10 different federal courts, the Judicial Conference has set a new policy requiring courts to more carefully check attorneys’ credentials. (Lawyers USA)

Ice cold COLA: Federal judges, including the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, will get a 2.8 percent cost-of-living-adjustment for 2009 under the recently enacted Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009. (Lawyers USA)

Lending crackdown: A bill that would impose tougher standards governing mortgage lending in an effort to stamp out predatory practices was filed in the House.  (Lawyers USA)

Bad assist: Assisted living lawsuits are mounting, and plaintiffs’ lawyers say poorly trained staff and lax regulations are to blame for incidents of abuse and neglect of residents. (Lawyers USA)