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Supreme Court to review decision on Navy sonar use
Legal Network | 2008/06/21 15:51
The Supreme Court announced Monday it will step into a dispute over the Navy's use of sonar off the Southern California coast and its potential harm to dolphins and whales.

Acting at the Bush administration's urging, the court will review a federal appeals court ruling that limits the use of sonar in training seminars. The administration says the decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco jeopardizes the Navy's ability to train sailors and Marines for service in wartime.

The government also contends that national security interests can trump those of marine mammals, and that its use of mid-frequency sonar in training exercises hasn't caused any documented harm to dolphins or beaked whales in the waters where they're conducted. Arguments will take place in the next court term, beginning in October.



Federal court issues stay in SC execution
Topics | 2008/06/20 15:52
A man scheduled to be executed on Friday was issued a stay just minutes before he was to be electrocuted, triggering a flurry of legal moves as the state sought to carry out the sentence before a midnight deadline.

James Earl Reed had been scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Friday. A federal judge in Columbia issued the stay at 5:40 p.m. after a defense attorney's last-minute request for the execution to be halted. Five hours later, the appeals court vacated the stay and defense lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution. The state was fighting that possibility.

Under the state's execution order, the death sentence had to be carried out by midnight or it would have to be rescheduled. By 11 p.m., as the high court considered the defense's request, witnesses for the execution were being brought to the death chamber.

Reed, 49, has been on death row since 1996, when he was convicted of murdering Joseph and Barbara Lafayette in their Charleston County home two years earlier. Prosecutors said he was looking for an ex-girlfriend.

During his trial, Reed fired his attorney and represented himself, denying the killings despite a confession and arguing that no physical evidence placed him at the scene. Jurors found him guilty and decided he should die.

In the request for the stay, the defense attorney cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision the day before regarding defendants' rights to represent themselves, according to the order by U.S. District Judge Henry Floyd. The high court on Thursday said a defendant can be judged competent to stand trial, yet incapable of acting as his own lawyer.

Reed would be the first person executed by electric chair in the U.S. in nearly a year and South Carolina's first since 2004.

In South Carolina, anyone sentenced to death may choose the electric chair or lethal injection. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, eight other states electrocute inmates.



Court sides with employee in benefits case
Court Issues | 2008/06/19 17:11
The Supreme Court said Thursday that courts should consider an insurance company's potential conflict of interest when reviewing the denial of an employee's health or disability benefits claim.

The court ruled 6-3 in the case of an Ohio woman who sued MetLife Inc. over a disability claim. She contended insurance companies have a financial incentive to deny claims and that conflict of interest should weigh heavily in employees' favor when they challenge benefit claims in court.

A federal appeals court ordered Wanda Glenn's benefits reinstated. The Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said federal law imposes a special standard of care on insurers requiring full and fair review of claim denials. Breyer noted that MetLife had emphasized a medical report that favored denial, de-emphasized other reports suggesting benefits should be granted and failed to provide MetLife's vocational and medical experts with all relevant evidence.

Dissenting, Justice Antonin Scalia said the court is using the wrong standard in dealing with potential conflicts of interest. Scalia said there must be evidence that a conflict improperly motivated a denial of benefits. In the MetLife case, there was no such evidence, Scalia said. Justices Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy also dissented.

MetLife administered a disability plan for Sears, where Glenn worked for 14 years. The insurance company paid benefits for two years but in 2002 said her condition had improved and refused to continue the benefit payments. MetLife saved $180,000 by denying Glenn disability benefits until retirement, her lawyers said in court filings.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Glenn's benefits reinstated in September 2006, ruling that MetLife acted under a conflict of interest and made a decision that was not the product of a principled and deliberative reasoning process. MetLife argued that the standard used by the 6th Circuit would encourage participants with dubious claims to file suit, which in turn would raise the costs of benefit plans to both companies and employers.



Former Milberg Weiss Partner Sues
Law Firm News | 2008/06/18 14:58

A former partner in Milberg Weiss has sued four of its founding partners - Melvyn Weiss, David Bershad, Steven Schulman, and William Lerach - claiming they lied to him and other attorneys about their secret kickbacks to plaintiffs in shareholder class actions. Michael Buchman sued his former partners in Federal Court on Tuesday, as the firm, now known as Milberg, agreed to pay $75 million to the United States to settle criminal complaints in the scheme.

Buchman says he joined Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach in January 1997 and was made a partner in December 2000. He worked in the antitrust division until he left the firm in February 2007. When Lerach left to set up his own office in 2004, the firm changed its name to Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman.

Buchman says the defendants lied to him, and to other attorneys, after federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment in which Seymour Lazar and Paul Selzer alleged that "certain partners of Milberg Weiss" had secretly paid them kickbacks to serve as plaintiffs in securities class actions.

Buchman's complaint states: "In various meetings that occurred at Milberg Weiss after the Lazar Indictment, Defendants Weiss, Bershad and Schulman, who were united in interest, repeatedly represented to plaintiff and to other partners in Milberg Weiss hat the accusations contained in the Lazar Indictment were untrue, politically motivated, and that the government's case rested on mischaracterization of legitimate referral fees paid to other law firms, which assertedly had been duly reported to the government of Forms 1099. Weiss, for example, vigorously denied that the alleged payments had been made to Lazar, and represented that Lazar's sold motivation for pursuing multiple class actions had been to recover for his own injuries and to serve as 'a crusader.'

"Believing these representations of fact by defendants, plaintiff continued to serve as a partner in Milberg Weiss. Similarly, most other Milberg Weiss partners who had no prior knowledge of defendants' unlawful and unethical acts also continued throughout the rest of 2005 to serve as Milberg Weiss partners.

"Defendants had a fiduciary duty to plaintiff and to other Milberg Weiss partners to be honest and forthcoming with government authorities. Were the allegations made in the Lazar Indictment true, defendants had a duty truthfully to reveal their unethical and unlawful conduct to the authorities and to take personal responsibility for such conduct. Instead, defendants refused to acknowledge the truth and continued to misrepresent the facts to government authorities, thereby putting Milberg Weiss as a firm, and the financial and professional interests of plaintiff and other innocent Milberg Weiss partners, in grave jeopardy."



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