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Sirote & Permutt expands mortgage banking practice
Uncategorized | 2008/04/07 18:06
Sirote & Permutt PC recently expanded its mortgage banking litigation practice to assist financial services and mortgage banking companies with legal challenges surrounding the subprime mortgage banking crisis.

The Birmingham-based firm repositioned 16 lawyers into the team with industry-focused knowledge. The team will be led by Sirote Shareholder C. Lee Reeves, according to the press release.

"Because of the challenging environment that exists today and because of our heavy involvement in mortgage banking generally, we have prioritized the importance of our mortgage banking litigation group to best take care of the needs of our clients."

Sirote & Permutt PC operates offices in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile.

Birmingham Business Journal - by Crystal Jarvis Staff


Attorney: SC Firm, Railroad to Settle
Blog News | 2008/04/07 15:17

A textile company that closed after a train wreck and toxic chemical spill in 2005 settled a lawsuit with a railroad company, ending a trial that began a month ago, an attorney for the firm said Monday.

Avondale Mills, Norfolk Southern railroad and the mill's insurance company reached a deal over the weekend, said attorney Terry Richardson. He said the agreement did not allow him to release the details of the settlement.

Avondale Mills sued Norfolk Southern for $420 million in damages, claiming equipment at the firm's Graniteville facilities was covered with corrosive chemicals and it would have cost more than the business was worth to clean the buildings and replace the machinery.

On Jan. 6, 2005, a Norfolk Southern train veered off the main track onto a spur, rear-ending a parked train whose crew had failed to switch the tracks back to the main rail. The wreck ruptured a car carrying chlorine and released a poisonous cloud over the mill town of Graniteville. Nine people died and 250 were injured. Some 5,400 people were evacuated.

Richardson said Norfolk Southern should be held accountable because the railroad knew members of the crew operating the Graniteville tracks the night before the crash had been working long hours in violation of company rules.



Appeals court may let NSA lawsuits proceed
Topics | 2008/04/07 15:07

A federal appeals court on Wednesday appeared unwilling to end a pair of lawsuits that claim the Bush administration engaged in widespread illegal surveillance of Americans.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals repeatedly pressed Gregory Garre, the Bush administration's deputy solicitor general, to justify his requests to toss out the suits on grounds they could endanger national security by possibly revealing "state secrets."
Judge Harry Pregerson wondered: "We just have to take the word of members of the executive branch that it's a state secret. That's what you're saying, isn't it?"
A moment later Judge Michael Hawkins suggested that granting the request could mean "abdication" of our duties.

At the heart of both cases is the U.S. Justice Department's argument that any lawsuit claiming illegal activity on behalf of AT&T and the National Security Agency--even if the eavesdropping is known to have taken place--cannot proceed because it could let enemies and terrorists know how the government's surveillance apparatus works.
It "could compromise the sources, methods and operational details of our intelligence gathering capabilities," Solicitor General Garre said.

In the first case, called Hepting v. AT&T, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other attorneys had filed a class action lawsuit against AT&T saying it unlawfully opened its networks to the NSA. Last summer, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco ruled that it could proceed.

The second case, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. President Bush, is unique: it involves a classified document that the U.S. Treasury Department accidentally turned over to an attorney for the foundation. The top-secret document showed, according to the group, "Al-Haramain and its attorneys had been subjected to warrantless surveillance in violation of (federal law)." They responded by filing another lawsuit in February 2006 alleging violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The Justice Department says the Al-Haramain case must be thrown out because it, too, could endanger state secrets. The foundation's attorneys must not even be allowed to refer to it, government attorney Thomas Bondy said Wednesday, because their "mental recollections of the documents are also out of the case."

"I'm feeling like Alice in Wonderland," replied Judge M. Margaret McKeown.
While no decision was announced Wednesday, and a final ruling might not be reached for months, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit pressed prosecutors to justify asking that the case be dismissed based on declarations submitted by senior Bush administration officials. (All three judges are Democratic appointees.)

"The bottom line here is that once the executive declares that certain activity is a state secret, that's the end of it?" Pregerson asked. "No cases, no litigation, absolute immunity? The king can do no wrong?"

The conversation occasionally took bizarre turns, such as when the attorneys and the judges knew the contents of confidential documents they had all reviewed--but could not discuss those contents in a courtroom with reporters and the public in the audience.
Another odd twist was the repeated reference to the Bush administration's public claim that there is no widespread surveillance of Americans--meaning a kind of suspected electronic dragnet that would permit the NSA to sift through a large chunk of Internet communications. Last April, retired AT&T employee-turned-whistleblower Mark Klein described just that kind of arrangement at an AT&T switching facility in downtown San Francisco on Folsom Street.

But administration officials have never been willing to deny a dragnet program in a signed affidavit made under penalty of perjury. That might derail the lawsuit against AT&T for now, but on the other hand, it could carry threat of criminal prosecution if the affidavit turned out to be a lie.

"What would be wrong with a simple affidavit denying that the government has intercepted the telephone conversations of American citizens without a warrant," Hawkins asked.

In December 2005, after The New York Times reported the existence of the NSA eavesdropping program, the president replied by saying: "I authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations."

McKeown suggested this wording for an affidavit: "Without admitting or denying that the government has a relationship with AT&T, I, Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So from the executive branch under oath, essentially affirm what President Bush said." The judge also said that because the government denies the dragnet program "and says they do not do any such surveillance without a warrant and there is no such program," the affidavit should be no problem.

Garre replied that such an affidavit is unnecessary because the president has already made a public statement.



Ohio Settles Lawsuit Over Youth Prisons
Court Issues | 2008/04/04 15:07

The state of Ohio plans to pour money and resources into its juvenile detention system after settling a lawsuit alleging serious violations.

The state is promising $30 million in additional annual spending and the hiring of more than 100 extra guards. It also will hire additional psychologists, nurses, social workers and teachers, improve its off-hours programs for children and revamp its program for sex offenders.


A report released late last year found Ohio's youth prisons are overcrowded and understaffed and fail to educate children behind bars or keep them safe. It also found cases of excessive use of force.

The settlement ends legal challenges that began in 2004 with allegations of excessive force being used against girls at the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility.

A judge must still approve the settlement filed Thursday in federal court in Columbus.

The state is satisfied the agreement will bring much-needed change to the system, said Tom Stickrath, director of the Youth Services Department. He said the extra funding is a strain during tight budget times but eventually could lead to lower costs as the system improves.

The annual budget for the system, which serves about 1,700 children, is about $260 million.

"It's certainly a long-term investment in doing the right thing for the youth in our system, for the juvenile courts across the state and ultimately for the citizens," Stickrath said in an interview.

"It's a difficult time to be looking at any extra resources but I think it's a needed investment in our future," he said.

A veteran civil rights attorney who helped coordinate the lawsuit commended the state for settling.

"The plan safeguards public safety while working toward more youth being served in smaller, more appropriate, community-based facilities," said Cincinnati attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein.

In 2004, lawyers with the Children's Law Center of Kentucky sued the state over allegations of excessive force being used against girls at the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility. Around the same time, the Department of Justice launched an investigation over the same allegations.

Twelve employees at the Scioto facility were eventually charged with abusing and endangering inmates and in early 2005 the agency's director was forced to resign.

A year ago, the Children's Law Center and other groups updated the 2004 suit to include the entire agency, saying the state had made inadequate progress on its promises to address their concerns.

In addition to overcrowding and excessive force, a report found that guards regularly place children in solitary confinement for inappropriately long periods of time, a practice that "is unconstitutional on its face" and should cease immediately.



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