Law blog roundup

Good morning. Here are some law links for you on this balmy Monday:

  • The Washington Post goes over the same-sex marriage vote in Maryland’s House through the eyes of Speaker Michael E. Busch.
  • NPR takes us back to 1980, when then-attorney general Ben Civiletti (at left) wrote the legal opinion that Congress must say yes to the federal budget to avoid a government shutdown.
  • Local-ish lawyers in love.
  • For ef’s sake sounds about right.
  • The moral of the story? Don’t put suggestive screen savers on your coworker’s computer, and, whatever you do, don’t put feminine products on her keyring.
  • Another name emerges in the legal insider-trading scheme that has rocked D.C. and New York firms.

Shirvell fired; lawsuit next?

If you’ve never heard of Andrew Shirvell, I’ll let Anderson Cooper tell you about him in the video below.

(If you’d like Shirvell with a side of snark, check out this Daily Show story from last week.)

Shirvell was fired Monday from his position as an assistant attorney general in Michigan. His lawyer says Shirvell was exercising his First Amendment rights, but Attorney General Mike Cox said Shirvell’s conduct was “unbecoming for a state employee, especially an assistant attorney general.”

“Shirvell repeatedly violated office policies, engaged in borderline stalking behavior and inappropriately used state resources, our investigation showed,” Cox said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Philip Thomas, Shirvell’s lawyer, said Shirvell has received excellent performance reviews and said the firing “smelled political.”

“There’s been a tremendous piling on against Andrew,” Thomas told the Free Press. “The liberal media started this tempest in a teapot.”

Sounds like this kettle might be boiling for the foreseeable future.

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Law blog roundup

Welcome back! Time to catch up on some law-related tidbits:

  • In a rough divorce, who gets to keep the friends?
  • Even good doctors make mistakes — and doctors who do work on superstar athletes are not immune from malpractice lawsuits.
  • Consumers struggling with payments really have to be on the lookout these days for scammers,  but some in Erie, Penn. have been duped beyond the norm. A debt collection company there set up a FAKE courtroom, complete with faux judges and sheriffs. This one’s a doozy.
  • An insurer is suing the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority for $8 million because its water lines are so leaky that firefighters could not get enough pressure to put out a fire in the home of Peggy Cooper-Cafritz, a collector of fine art.
  • Voters in Iowa ousted three judges from the state’s Supreme Court last week. The three were part of the unanimous decision to allow same-sex marriage in 2009.
  • Lamebook v. Facebook
  • The University of Missouri, Kansas City has launched a small firm and solo attorney incubator for recent grads.

With foreclosures, it’s ‘buyer be insured’

During the foreclosure crisis, much of the attention has focused on the people who have lost their homes.

But what about the purchasers of the foreclosed properties faced with what 50 state attorneys general – including Maryland’s Douglas F. Gansler — say is the real possibility that those foreclosures contained paperwork errors?

The situation illustrates why buyers should always insist on having their own title insurance coverage, rather than relying on the title policy the lenders insist they purchase, says real-estate attorney Lawrence S. Conn, of Baxter, Baker, Sidle, Conn & Jones PA in Baltimore.

“This is exactly the type of title defect that title insurance is designed to protect,” Conn said of paperwork errors in the foreclosure process.

The lender’s title policy, though, protects only the lender. Anything beyond that, such as the buyer’s down payment, would require an owners’ title policy, which is only marginally more expensive.

A buyer neglects this added coverage at his or her own peril, Conn added.

“Make sure that in this climate, [purchasers] certainly have title insurance,” he said.

Law blog roundup: Back-to-school edition

The kids are back to school and you’re at work. Take a minute to check out some law links to start the week.

  • Copyright laws might prevent public consumption of the Savory collection — a treasure trove of jazz recordings from the 1930s and 1940s.
  • Two couples with ties to the Maryland legal community made the New York Times Weddings/Celebrations page.
  • Virginia’s AG says the state can further regulate abortion clinics.
  • The Maryland Injury Law Blog is supporting sitting judges Laura Kiessling and Ronald Jarashow in the race for Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge — even though they say only 11 people could make an informed decision in that race.
  • Lots of students on other career tracks work for free in summer internships, but law schools in Florida are refusing to post requests seeking summer associates who will work for free because of labor laws.
  • More and more are leaving big law behind.
  • The Huffington Post has a Q&A with Pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Will the governor come calling?

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler might soon be getting a call from Gov. Martin O’Malley, if he hasn’t already received one, seeking a campaign donation.

The governor, in his solicitation, might raise the following points:

  • Gansler is running unopposed for re-election; O’Malley is not.
  • Gansler has campaign money he need not spend on himself; O’Malley does not.
  • Gansler might want to run for governor in four years; O’Malley cannot if he wins re-election this fall against Republican challenger Robert Ehrlich and is term-limited out of office.
  • Gansler, if he plans a gubernatorial run, thus has a rooting interest in O’Malley’s victory this fall, as it is easier to win an open seat than one occupied by an incumbent (O’Malley’s win over then-Gov. Ehrlich in 2006 being an exception).

But cheers of “Go, Martin, Go” do not win re-election fights. Money does — and Gansler has plenty to spare.

The attorney general might also want to spread the wealth. Donating to many Democrats in tight races this fall could be an investment that pays dividends for Gansler in 2014 when he might seek gubernatorial-campaign support.

Gansler, fellow attorneys general send slick letter to BP

The missive Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and 10 of his East Coast colleagues sent Monday to embattled British Petroleum reads like the proverbial lawyer’s letter subtly threatening litigation if the Gulf of Mexico oil spill spreads to the Atlantic Ocean.

First, the letter from the 11 attorneys general contains the language of a legal claim for damages.

“Though the immediate area of impact from this catastrophe is in the Gulf region, portions of the East Coast are at foreseeable risk of substantial harm,” the letter states (emphasis added). “Even if our coast waters and communities are not directly impacted, there may well be significant harm to the migratory bird and fish species that form an important part of our natural resources and economy.” Continue reading

A different kind of family law

Call this a case of The Magnificent Seven meets All in the Family.

Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, the junior jurist on Maryland’s seven-member Court of Appeals, dissented this week from the panel’s decision that police lacked probable cause to search a drug suspect’s home despite having a warrant.

In her dissent, Barbera cited the Supreme Court’s 2003 Maryland v. Pringle decision for her proposition that the bar for probable cause belief is not “particularly high.”

In Pringle, the Supreme Court called probable case “a practical, not technical conception that deals with the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.” The court added that probable cause is “a fluid concept — turning on the assessment of probabilities in particular factual contexts — not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules.”

I know what you’re thinking: What’s the big deal? Judges quote from Supreme Court decisions all the time. It’s called citing precedent, stare decisis.

True. But how many judges have the opportunity to cite Supreme Court cases that were argued by their husband?

Gary E. Bair, then with the Maryland attorney general’s office, successfully argued in Pringle that police officers had probable cause to arrest the front-seat passenger after they found cocaine in the back armrest of the car during a traffic stop.

Bair is now an appellate-defense attorney at Bennett & Bair LLC in Greenbelt, and he and Barbera co-teach criminal-procedure courses at American University’s Washington College of Law. A main topic of the classes is, you guessed it, probable cause.

Dwyer Gives Gansler A Shake

Those expecting fireworks between Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Don H. Dwyer Jr., R-Anne Arundel, when the two met before a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday were sadly disappointed.

Dwyer, who said he plans to call for Gansler’s impeachment this month, extended his right hand and greeted the attorney general before the committee session. Gansler accepted the handshake and returned the greeting.

Gansler appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to testify in favor of a constitutional amendment to eliminate contested elections for circuit court judges. (Read all about it here.)

Dwyer, a member of the Judiciary Committee, wants to oust Gansler over the opinion he issued last month on same-sex marriage. The opinion supports Maryland’s recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions, even though such marriages are illegal here.

Dwyer says the opinion violates Gansler’s oath to uphold Maryland law, which defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Gansler counters that Maryland is required under the federal Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause to accept legally binding contracts — including marriage contracts — from other states.

Special Tuesday mini round-up

There’s just too much good law-related stuff out there this morning to tell you all about! Here’s a special, miniature (fun size, if you will) law round-up:

  • John Bratt of the Baltimore Injury Lawyer Blog says he’s glad he doesn’t work for Doug Gansler. Bratt noted my colleague Steve Lash’s report that assistant attorney general Brian Kleinbord is the attorney of record for Maryland v. Shatzer, which Gansler argued in the Supreme Court yesterday. “You know what that means?” Bratt writes. “It means that Kleinbord and the other lawyers wrote the briefs and did all the work. Now that it is time for argument, the guy at the top of the letterhead is swooping in to take advantage of all of the attention, and the glory if he wins.”
  • The guy who wants the military to combat proselytizing of soldiers and cadets is suing to get a former Navy chaplain to “stop asking Jesus to plunder my fields… seize my assets, kill me and my family then wipe away our descendants for 10 generations.” The former chaplain says he was just quoting Scripture and never incited violence against Mikey Weinstein, though he said he “pray[s] the Psalm that his days are few.”
  • This line from The National Law Journal’s account of the opening day of the Supreme Court term yesterday is hilarious: “Justices Breyer and Clarence Thomas spent several minutes during arguments peering at the marble friezes of lawgivers on the walls of the Court high above them, apparently noticing new features they hadn’t seen before from their earlier vantage points.” I really can’t add anything to that.