Law blog roundup

Happy bright and sunny Monday morning. Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

  • Byron Warnken weighs in on same-sex marriage.
  • In an interview a couple weeks ago, DLA Piper Chairman Frank Burch told me not to believe everything I read when I asked about the reported $5 million payday it had offered to new hire James Wareham. AM Law Daily breaks down the history of the firm’s $5 million man.
  • Speaking of DLA, word has it that one Julia Louis-Dreyfus will be stopping by the firm’s Mt. Washington office to film her HBO pilot, Veep. George Clooney’s movie Syriana also filmed at DLA’s Baltimore office.
  • Fighting fair could save a marriage from divorce.
  • Recounting Spiro Agnew’s fall from grace.
  • Dish Network will have to put Elmo before American Idol.
  • As partners continue to depart from Howrey, the Washington Post offers its take on the firm’s downward spiral and its efforts to find a new balance.

Blawg Review comes to Baltimore

The traveling legal blog carnival that is Blawg Review touches down in Baltimore on Monday. Jennifer Lubinski will be writing about peace symbols on the occasion of the 53rd anniversary of the creation of the peace sign.

Lubinski, an avid Blawg Review reader, said she got an e-mail from the “mysterious blog runner” asking her to host Monday’s edition, No. 299. She was happy to accept.

“It gives you national exposure, which is exciting,” she said.

Lubinski is not sure how the topic was selected but has received suggestions on articles and blog posts to use from Blawg Review’s unknown editor. How the material is used, if at all, is entirely up to her, as it is with every Blawg Review host. Lubinski’s blog, Work Product, has a literary bent that she intends to incorporate.

Lubinski planned to post her entry this morning. Another Maryland-based blogger, Miriam Seddiq, will host the Blawg Review on March 7.

Top 5: ‘I was there to reclaim our badge’

It was an eventful week in the city of Baltimore and in the state of Maryland, as city police announced charges against officers allegedly involved in an extortion scheme, and the same-sex marriage bill moved its way through the state Senate. Those stories and more in this weeks top  staff law stories:

1. 17 Baltimore officers charged in extortion scheme – by Danny Jacobs

The 14 Baltimore City police officers thought they were called to the police academy Wednesday morning for an equipment inspection. Instead, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III personally took their badges before they were arrested for allegedly conspiring to commit extortion with a Rosedale towing company.

“I was there to reclaim our badge,” Bealefeld said Wednesday afternoon.

In all, seventeen officers and the two brothers who own Majestic Auto Repair Shop LLC were charged as a result of a joint investigation between Baltimore police and federal agents. The officers are alleged to have arranged for Majestic to tow vehicles from accident scenes since January 2009 even though the company had no contract to tow for the city, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Majestic paid the officers approximately $300 per referral, with one officer taking in more than $14,000 over the course of nine months, prosecutors alleged.

2. Zuckerman Spaeder convinces Murphy & Shaffer to join its fold – by Danielle Ulman and Danny Jacobs

Since the day William J. Murphy opened his litigation practice in 1984, he estimates he’d fielded more than 25 overtures to fold his firm into another one. None of them interested him.

None, that is, until Martin S. Himeles Jr. came knocking — for the second time.

The two sat down over lunch about five years ago to discuss the possibility of Murphy & Shaffer LLC joining up with Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, where Himeles is the managing partner of the Baltimore office.

3. Baltimore judge dismisses fired public defender’s lawsuit – by Danny Jacobs and Brendan Kearney

A Baltimore judge has dismissed former State Public Defender Nancy S. Forster’s $1 million wrongful termination lawsuit.

Judge Pamela J. White said Forster’s lawsuit reflects “deep disagreement” between Forster and the three-member board of trustees as to how best perform the agency’s work, a dispute that ultimately led to Forster’s controversial removal in August 2009. But that did not amount to a violation of a “clear mandate of public policy,” the standard for a wrongful termination cause of action, White ruled Thursday.

4. Public Defender audit finds flaws – by Brendan Kearney

The Maryland Office of the Public Defender must fine-tune its procedures for determining who is eligible for its services and improve its bookkeeping and fee collection practices, according to a legislative audit published Tuesday.

The audit, which covered mid-2007 through mid-2010, also faulted the indigent legal defense agency for contracting out network and database management instead of handling it in-house and for paying one employee for 168 days after the person left — to the tune of $20,560.

5. Md. Senate gives preliminary approval to same-sex marriage bill – by Steve Lash

Even as the state Senate resumes debating same-sex marriage after its preliminary approval of a bill on Wednesday, the measure’s opponents are gearing up for a vote in a wider forum.

Del. Don H. Dwyer Jr. said enactment of Senate Bill 116 would spur a referendum drive that will put the issue on the ballot in November 2012.

“The voters ought to have the final say on this and they will, one way or another,” said Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, a House Judiciary Committee member. “When the voting public is given the final say, marriage remains between a man and a woman.”

Very superstitious

Turns out powerful New York City trial attorneys can be as superstitious as baseball players.

That’s the takeaway from this New York Times article juxtaposing their reasoned, analytical grounding with a penchant for eating the same meal every day, not getting a haircut during a trial and using the same door to enter and exit the Manhattan courthouse.

“It’s part of the human condition that no matter how many years of education you’ve had, you still have faith in certain totems,” Arthur R. Miller, a law professor at New York University, tells the Times. “I won’t go to court without a three-piece suit and without a red tie, and without a red pocket square.”

One lawyer who’s represented organized crime figures says he gives $20 to any homeless person who asks when he’s working a trial.

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Pioneering New York M&A attorney dies

A prominent New York attorney with a Maryland link has died.

Joseph Flom, the last living name partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, has died at 87 of heart failure.

Flom, who the Wall Street Journal said was known for making an art form out of the hostile takeover, was born in Baltimore in 1923, but grew up in various parts of Brooklyn, NY.

He joined Skadden as its first associate in 1948, when the firm was made up of four people. According to the WSJ, the firm’s fortunes rose with Flom’s, who took to merger and acquisition work and helped grow Skadden into a multinational firm that in 2010 had 1,900 lawyers.

Over the years he had some major deals under his belt, including Ronald Perelman’s takeover of Revlon and he advised Anheuser-Busch Cos. when it was purchased for $52 billion in 2008.

But he was also a dedicated philanthropist, supporting a New York school for children with learning disabilities and cancer research at Mount Sinai-NYU Medical Center Health system.

If you traveled to New York City last summer, you may have seen one of Flom’s latest contributions — 60 upright pianos set up in public spaces in parks throughout the city for anyone to play.

Tweeted to death?

The use of Twitter in courtrooms is a topic near and dear to my heart.

Our Danny Jacobs was able to use Twitter to break the news of verdicts against ExxonMobil in Baltimore County Circuit Court, but tweeting was banned in Baltimore during then-Mayor Sheila Dixon’s corruption trials. And our “Judge on the Jury” columnist, retired Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, has written on the topic several times.

So, imagine my joy on reading this bit of news from the Associated Press: A judge in Connecticut has rejected a defense motion to ban courtroom tweets during a fatal home-invasion trial.

The defense team raised an interesting point, though. They claimed that, in a co-defendant’s trial, “sudden typing of tweets by reporters and spectators signaled to the jury what evidence observers believed was significant.”

In that other trial, the co-defendant was convicted and got the death penalty. Not that they’re blaming the tweets for that; just sayin’ what happened.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that a sudden burst of tweets could affect justice more than the gasps, laughter or any other response of spectators in the courtroom. Litigators? What say you?

When Clarence Thomas speaks, I listen

News reports that Justice Clarence Thomas ended nearly seven years of silence during oral arguments Monday reminds me of the story of the 5-year-old girl who had yet to speak a word.

Then, one morning, she says to her father, ”Daddy, the oatmeal is cold.”

The delighted dad blurts, “Wow, that’s amazing. Your first words — and a complete sentence at that. But why, why did it take you so long to speak?”

“Up until now, everything’s been fine,” the youngster responds.

Like the father to his daughter, I, too, can recall the times I heard Thomas speak during oral arguments. And, as in the case of the daughter, on both occasions the justice’s comments were memorable for their clarity and authenticity.

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Law blog roundup

It’s Presidents Day, but we’re still working here at The Daily Record, so we figured some of you out there might be working, too. Take a gander at the latest in blogs below:

  • Who does snitching hurt?
  • Can’t the Maryland Division of Corrections do its own employee background checks without demanding Facebook log in information?
  • What’s with all the no beard policies?
  • Above the Law offers a free crash course in pre-law.
  • Video ridiculing the IT system for California’s courts gets few clicks, but those watching are likely the ones with the power to change it. Dig the guy in the track suit.
  • This guy needs to put down the booze.

Top 5: Comparative fault, Hopkins and UB and the LSAT

In Monday’s Maryland Lawyer this week, legal affairs reporter Danny Jacobs looked into the LSAT exam; he was also there as Johns Hopkins and the University of Baltimore School of Law announced a new partnership. Those stories and more made it to this week’s top 5:

1. Md. bill would block any shift to comparative fault – by Steve Lash

Del. Benjamin F. Kramer has introduced legislation to codify Maryland’s common-law ban on plaintiffs in personal injury cases from recovering damages if they were partially at fault.

House Bill 1129 was prompted by signs that Maryland’s top court is considering a switch to a comparative fault standard that would let plaintiffs recover when they share some of the blame for their injuries, said Kramer, D-Montgomery.

2. Hopkins, UB to open Center for Medicine and Law – by Danny Jacobs

Before Dr. Fred Levy attended law school, he viewed the law as a kind of dark side of medicine, with lawyers existing only to sue him if he made a mistake.

“Med students … are kind of afraid of it, frankly,” said Levy, an associate professor of emergency medicine at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

A joint program announced on Tuesday between Hopkins and the University of Baltimore School of Law aims to change that perception. The Center for Medicine and Law, scheduled to open in July, will focus on how law affects health care providers in their daily work.

3. Glen Dale couple awarded $1.4M against mortgage broker – Danny Jacobs

A Glen Dale couple has been awarded $1.4 million from their former mortgage broker, whom they accused of predatory lending practices resulting in more than $40,000 in broker’s fees and $9,600 in monthly mortgage payments on two homes.

Vernon and Wanda Thompson won a judgment Wednesday against Tyrone Frisby in Prince George’s County Circuit Court that includes $1 million in punitive damages. But the Thompsons’ lawyer said the award was “bittersweet”: the default order was entered against Frisby for failing to plead, and his former employer, U.S. Mortgage & Investment Services Inc., had been dismissed from the case after its sole owner died.

4. Suit seeks $2M for man’s death at Baltimore behavioral center – by Steve Lash

The family and estate of a man killed by a fellow patient last March at Baltimore Behavioral Health Systems Inc. have filed a $2 million lawsuit against the facility, claiming it allowed the assailant to return without adequate security after telling a counselor he was “going to kill someone.”

Lee McCoy II’s son and the boy’s mother, Kathy Cornish, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Friday in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The complaint also contains a negligence action by the personal representative of McCoy’s estate.

5. What’s so bad about the LSAT? – by Danny Jacobs

Approximately 760 people in Maryland took the Law School Admissions Test on Saturday and Monday, the last chance for many to get scores they need to submit to law schools for admittance into the Class of 2014.

Five years from now, however, candidates for the Class of 2019 might choose not to take the test that has started the law school process for generations of lawyers. An American Bar Association committee reviewing law school accreditation standards has voted twice in straw polls essentially to remove the LSAT as a requirement.

First Baltimore: Will Prince George’s be next?

Saying Baltimore had the right idea, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. is seeking a constitutional amendment that would require the judges on the Prince George’s County Orphan’s Court to be Maryland attorneys.

“Life is so complicated and estates are so large,” Miller told a Senate panel Wednesday in explaining why judges who hear probate cases in one of Maryland’s most populous counties should be learned in the law.

“You need somebody sharp on the orphans’ court,” Miller, D-Prince George’s and Calvert, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “You need somebody trained in the law.”

But Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a committee member, appeared unconvinced. “A wise and compassionate CPA” who understands the financial implications of wills, trusts and estates would make a fine orphans’ court judge, said Forehand, D-Montgomery.

Miller disagreed, saying certified public accountants are better suited at providing expert testimony in orphans’ court cases than at making the ultimate legal conclusion.

If the General Assembly approves the amendment — Senate Bill 281 — Maryland voters will be asked in November 2012 if orphans’ court judges in Prince George’s County must be Maryland lawyers.

Miller’s testimony followed the ratification by Maryland voters last November of a constitutional amendment requiring that judges on the Orphans’ Court of Baltimore City be Maryland attorneys. The amendment made Baltimore’s Orphans’ Court the only one in the state whose judges must be members of the bar.

Ratification also led Gov. Martin O’Malley to refuse to seat Ramona Moore Baker, a non-lawyer, on the Baltimore court — even though she had won election to the bench the same day as the statewide vote. O’Malley said he was following the advice of Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who concluded that seating Moore would violate the newly amended constitution.