Legal news roundup

Hobby LobbyHappy (rainy) Friday everyone! Here’s your pre-Memorial Day weekend legal news round-up:

– The Brooklyn district attorney’s office will face numerous challenges as it begins an unusual examination of 50 homicide convictions originally looked into by one police detective, Louis Scarella. Scarella , who is now retired, has come under fire some of the methods he used while investigating these cases. This includes using the same drug addict as an eyewitness. Mr. Scarcella has denied wrongdoing.

– Hans G. Poppe, a Louisville lawyer whose fainting caused a mistrial in a medical-malpractice trial is being sued by the insurance company providing medical malpractice coverage to the defendant doctor and hospital he filed suit against.

– Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. on Thursday asked a federal appeals court to exclude it from part of the federal health care law that requires it to offer employees health coverage that includes access to the morning-after pill. The chain of arts-and-crafts stores argued that businesses should be able to seek exception from that section of the health law if it violates their religious beliefs.


Judges, feeling the pressure

judgeJudges who are fed up with crowded dockets, low pay and inexperienced lawyers or pro se litigants are taking their frustration out in court, according to a recent story in The National Law Journal.

The paper reports a Florida judge was disciplined for screaming at an attorney because of the lawyer’s alleged bad attitude and a West Virginia family court judge was punished for telling a litigant to “shut up” or face jail time.

While not defending a judge losing his or her cool, legal observers said the immense pressure judges face has made these types of outburts almost inevitable.

“A fair number of judges are sitting at a low boiling point,” said Michael Downey, a partner at Armstrong Teasdalein in St. Louis who specializes in legal ethics.

Because of the rough economy, Downey said more litigants are deciding to represent themselves, while others are hiring less expensive but more inexperienced attorneys.

“People are coming in unprepared or with borderline arguments, at best,” Downey said.

And when a judge loses it, social media outlets like Twitter and YouTube allow the world to instantly see the outburst.

Sanctions against judges for poor demeanor, however, are not the only reason for an increase in judicial discipline. In 2012, sanctions that range from public admonition to removal from the bench went up by 5.7 percent compared with 2011, according to numbers from the American Judicature Society Center for Judicial Ethics.

Maryland’s Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which investigates complaints of judicial misconduct and imposes discipline when it finds that judges have acted improperly, has experienced a small increase in the number of complaints in recent years, according to their annual reports. The commission received 132 written complaints in 2012, in contrast to the 108 in 2006.

So what say you, On the Record readers? Have you seen a judge lose his or her cool or commit other acts of misconduct?

Legal news roundup

Happy (rainy) Friday to all! It’s been a while since I last posted but I am back and rearing to go. So without further delay, here is your Friday legal news roundup:

– South Dakota has become the first state to offers lawyers an annual subsidy to live and work in rural areas.

– A well-known Nashville attorney has been temporarily suspended from practicing law after it was discovered that he paid himself $50,440 from the estate of a ward in a nursing home without a judge’s approval.

- Here is a list of the 20 law schools that had the highest percentage of their 2012 class who were still looking for jobs and still had not secured employment nine months after graduating.

- Conversely, here are the 20 law schools that have the highest rate of placing graduates in government and public interest jobs.

Parent appeals suspension of 7-year-old who made pastry into shape of gun

Bethesda-based attorney and noted basketball heckler Robin Ficker seems to be building quite a nice niche for himself.

Ficker is representing the father of a 7-year-old who was suspended from his Anne Arundel County school for transforming his breakfast pastry into the shape a gun.

The father filed a formal appeal Thursday, requesting that the second-grader’s school record not reflect the offense.

“The chewed pastry was not capable of harming anybody, even if thrown,” said the appeal, which was addressed to Anne Arundel Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell and Park Elementary School Principal Sandy Blondell. “It could not fire any missile whatsoever.”

William “B.J.” Welch’s son was suspended March 1 for two days after eating his breakfast pastry, which was similar to a Pop-Tart, and yelling, “Look I made a gun,” according to the appeal. He pointed the gun-shaped pastry at students in a hallway and at kids at nearby desks, the appeal also states.

“It was harmless,” Welch told The Washington Post. “It was a danish.”

After the suspension, Welch requested that his son’s record be cleared of words such as “gun” but school officials rejected the request.

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General Assembly takes up bill to allow illegal immigants to get driver’s licenses

Maryland’s legislature is debating a bill that would overturn the state’s law prohibiting illegal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses.

Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s County, is sponsoring the measure. He says the granting of licenses to illegal immigrants is a “necessity” because it would “allow people to drive to work, to get insurance.” He also said the bill would offer more protections and generate millions of dollars in new revenue.

Under federal law, the licenses would be only for driving.

“You cannot use it to get on an airplane,” Ramirez told WTOP-AM. “You cannot use it for federal purposes.”

That fact would be specifically indicated on the license itself.

The bill has strong support from fellow Democrats. But opponents, such as Del. Kelly Schulz, R-Frederick, say the measure could take away incentive to become legal.

“When you give someone a state ID, it is an agreement for them to be here,” she told WTOP.

Maryland made it illegal to give licenses to illegal immigrants in 2009. Washington state, New Mexico and Illinois all permit illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

Summer associate hiring down last year amid sluggish legal market

Alas, it looks like 2012 was not the best year for law firm summer associate hirings.

The median and average numbers of summer associate offers to 2Ls dipped a little bit according to NALP (formerly the National Association for Law Placement). Also down: the percentage of interviews resulting in the offer of a summer associate position.

“We have seen some faltering in recruiting volumes this past fall, and that reflects the continuing faltering in the larger legal economy,” NALP executive director Jim Leipold told The National Law Journal. “If you read the client advisories coming from some of the private banks that are involved in law firm financing, it’s clear that 2013 is not likely to be dramatically better.”

Leipold predicted that law firms will remain cautious about hiring summer associates in 2013.

Last year was also the fourth consecutive year law firms pulled back on filling entry-level positions. The lowest point for summer associate hiring remains 2009, when just 36 percent of 2L interviews led to offers. But those numbers have been inching back up and reached 46 percent in 2011. And last fall, 44 percent of callback interviews led to employment offers.

The hiring outlook also remained grim for 3Ls. A mere 19 percent of law firm offices said they considered 3Ls last fall, and only 280 callback interviews given to 3Ls led to just 82 job offers. Not surprisingly, 90 percent of 2012 summer associates got jobs from the firms for which they’d worked. That did, however, represent a 1 percent drop from 2011.

So Maryland law students: how is your summer associate job hunt going? And lawyers: Are your firms offering more summer associate positions this year? Comment below or hit me up ( or on twitter (@TDRBeth).

Friday legal news roundup

Happy Friday! Without further ado, here is your Friday legal news round up:

- A former lawyer for Drew Peterson is suing his current attorney, alleging that the current attorney is to blame for the suburban Chicago police officer’s murder conviction.

- A Michigan lawyer is giving someone a free divorce on Valentine’s Day.

- A  high profile Palm Beach land use lawyer has decided not to try to get his felony conviction overturned.

- A former Boy Scout explains his decision to legally challenge the Boy Scout’s anti-gay policy.

Buying kosher wine online? L’chaim!

manischewitz wineJust in time for Shabbos, we bring you news that Maryland Jews may soon be able to purchase kosher wine online.

Del. Sam Arora, D-Montgomery County, said Friday that he has been approached by a number of Jewish constituents who have expressed frustration at not being able to purchase a variety of kosher wine at local wine stores.

“If you go to your local beer or wine store, they only have so much room,” he said. “If they have kosher wine, it’s going to be the cheaper stuff.”

Under a state law passed in two years ago, residents can purchase wine online only from wineries in the country. But most kosher wines are made in Israel and France and, according to a story in the Washington Examiner, no Maryland wineries produce kosher wine.

Arora said he is trying to explore whether the legislature can find a religious accommodation to the law.

“We are going to figure out whether there is a way to create a narrow exception,” Arora said. “It’s about trying to find a way to create religious accommodations so that Jews can live out their faith.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, who sponsored the current law permitting the online purchasing of wine from wineries, said he would be in favor of creating such an accommodation.

“I think our liquor laws are unduly restrictive in general, so anything that opens it up I am in favor,” Raskin said. “This is a reasonable accommodation for a religious group. I certainly hope we pass this.”

So, readers, will you be breaking out the Manischewitz to celebrate?

(Photo: Jeremy Parzen)

Six-year-old’s suspension for making gun gesture overturned

RRoscoe Nix Elementary Schoolobin Ficker, a Bethesda-based attorney who may be best known for his heckling at basketball games, is in the news again.

Ficker successfully represented a Silver Spring family whose six-year-old son was suspended from school for making a gun gesture and pointing at another student. Montgomery County officials rescinded the suspension Friday.

Ficker argued that school officials overreacted to the pretend gesture and said the boy, who attends Roscoe R. Nix Elementary School, is too young to comprehend in any meaningful way the significance of his actions.

“He doesn’t understand,” Ficker said. “The law says he is not old enough to form intent.”

The boy made the universal sign for a gun one week after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Ficker said the school was ”looking at the worst possible interpretation of a young, naive six-year-old.” He also argued that school officials should have discussed the situation with the boy’s mom and considered the implications of the suspension.

“They could have called the mother in. They didn’t do that,” Ficker told The Washington Examiner. “They just said, ‘You’re suspended.’ Five years from now, when someone in to Montgomery County looks at his permanent record, they’re going to see that he threatened to shoot another student.”

If the name hasn’t yet rang a bell, Ficker became well known heckling opponents of the Washington Bullets from his seat behind the visiting team’s bench at USAir Arena in Landover. When the team moved to the MCI Center (now Verizon Center) in downtown Washington, it reseated Ficker far away from the court, prompting him to give up his seats in protest.

His antics became so well known that the Phoenix Suns’ Charles Barkley flew him to Phoenix and gave him a seat behind the Chicago Bulls’ bench during the 1993 NBA Finals. He was so over the top, however, that he was removed by security during the first quarter.

The Maryland Court of Appeals suspended Ficker’s law license in June 2007 in response to complaints of poor client representation. His license was reinstated later that year.

Same-sex marriage faces opposition in St. Mary’s County and elsewhere in Md.

When the Maryland law legalizing same-sex marriage goes into effect next week, couples wishing to tie the knot in St. Mary’s County may face some resistance by local officials.

Some St. Mary’s County Circuit Court employees will stop performing marriages, insteading asking others to perform the duty, the Washington Examiner reports.

“There are some [deputy clerks] that have voiced some opposition to doing it — [they have] religious feelings about it … so it’s basically my idea that they won’t do any marriage at all,” said Joan Williams, clerk of the St. Mary’s County Circuit Court. “Some people are just very against same-sex marriages, and I have to respect their reasons and their decisions.”

John Zito, president of the Maryland Wedding Professionals Association, said he is aware of one wedding photographer (who he would not identify) who “didn’t feel comfortable” taking same-sex couples’ photos because he was not used to posing two grooms or two brides together.

And one trolley operator in Annapolis has gotten out of the wedding business altogether in order to avoid discriminating against same-sex couples. His decision has emboldened opponants  to lobby for a loophole to the law that would allow for a conscience clause to allow for commercial vendors to not provide services to same-sex couples.