Law blog roundup

RockwellA happy soggy Monday to you on a week where many of the state’s lawyers will be heading “downy ocean” and we all celebrate Old Glory. Here are some law links to chew on:

– As online privacy dominates the news, Ron Miller of the Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog has details on a new Maryland Rule concerning personal information and court records.

– Why some lawsuits over Obamacare will come from the health care legislation’s supporters.

– “A Cuyahoga County prosecutor was fired this week after he admitted posing as a woman in a Facebook chat with an accused killer’s alibi witnesses in an attempt to persuade them to change their testimony.” (HT: Above the Law)

Steve Martin and his banjo (HT: Lowering the Bar)

Chewbacca and his light-saber cane

To blog or not to blog?

The blurry blogging line is even being tested by lawyers these days.

An ethics commission in Illinois has filed a complaint over an attorney’s blog that attacks the court’s probate system.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission said attorney Joanne Denison is “undermining the administration of justice and denigrating the legal profession” and takes issue with the attorney using the real names of court-appointed guardians in her posts, according to the National Law Journal.

The commission is claiming statements in the blog are false and that the attorney’s writings portray a reckless disregard for the truth.

Denison, however, is refusing to shut down her blog.

“I did not steal money, I have not neglected any client matters,” Denison wrote in her blog. “In fact, the allegations make it clear that the complaint has nothing whatsoever to do about my law practice. Essentially the ARDC is complaining I am a mouthy chick running a blog they just don’t happen to like and they want to censor it.”

In-House Interrogatory

Asked: Our weekly question to the In-House community

The general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board is under fire this week.

General counsel Lafe Solomon participated in talks on the board about Wal-Mart’s social media policy and its legality. The catch? Solomon also held stock in Wal-Mart at the time.

Though Solomon owned only about $18,000 in Wal-Mart stock, the agency’s inspector general is investigating the matter at the urging of Republican members of Congress.

“As a general counsel and career attorney, Mr. Solomon should know federal statute well enough to know when to recuse himself from a possible conflict of interest between his own finances and his work,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wrote in a news release.

Though Solomon sold the stock at the end of February, he participated in meetings on the Wal-Mart issue in January. Solomon’s defense argues that he received no financial benefit from these dealings.

So, here’s our question for you:

What action should the NLRB take against Solomon? How would your company deal with a situation in which a general counsel had a financial conflict of interest?

Leave a comment below or email me.

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Glass ceiling?

For many journalists, making the transition into a law career is an easy, if not common one.

That is, unless you are disgraced former reporter Stephen Glass.

Glass made waves in the media world in 1998 after it was discovered that 42 of the articles he had written for The New Republic in two years were fabricated or partially fabricated. (The saga is chronicled in the movie, “Shattered Glass,” starring Hayden Christensen in a role that portrays Glass as savvy and manipulative.)

Glass, however, turned to the law after being collectively shunned by the journalism world. Glass had been taking night classes at Georgetown Law while working for The New Republic and started day classes after the scandal broke. He later passed the New York bar exam, but when he applied for his law license he found out it would be rejected on moral grounds and withdrew.

Glass eventually moved to California and applied for his law license there in 2009. His request was denied, which he appealed in a closed trial. The judge ruled in favor of Glass and his opponents appealed to the California Supreme Court, where the case was opened in December. No hearing date has been set.

In the meantime, Glass found work at a California law firm, and Paul Zuckerman, the trial lawyer who hired Glass, wants to eventually make him a partner. Zuckerman, who has a history of substance abuse, said he wanted to give Glass a second chance.

According to an article on TheRecord.com, though, law professors are divided on whether Glass, with his reputation, should be able to become a lawyer.

“What grates me is the idea that he is not honorable enough for journalism, so let the lawyers have him,” a New York University law professor told the publication. “Why should the legal system bear the risk?”

With “friends” like that…

Hold it right there, all you social-media loving legal eagles. Before you go ahead and “friend” a represented party, you might want to take a gander at this ethics opinion from the San Diego County Bar Association.

According to the opinion, making a friend request of a represented party could be a violation of the county’s professional code of ethics and be grounds for discipline. Of course, bar association ethics opinions aren’t binding on the courts and should be used as professional guidelines.

Yes, it’s an ethics opinion from the left coast, but this could easily be considered in other places since lawyers are making wide use of the Internet for research.

A session at the MSBA conference in Ocean City this month recommended that lawyers use Facebook to review jurors and clients in litigation. Just be careful before you hit that “send friend request” button.

Hat tip: The Recorder on Law.com

Now entering their appearances…new Prince George’s corruption counsel!

A month and a half ago I wrote about the addition of a young but high-profile lawyer to the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s office, Leo J. Wise.

When U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein told me Wise, who policed Congressional ethics for the past couple of years, would prosecute white-collar crime as an AUSA, the bribery case against state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s) and a pair of Shoppers Food executives immediately came to mind.

Well, Wise entered his appearance in Maryland’s federal court for the first time this week, and, sure enough, one of the two (sets of) cases on his personal docket is the Currie-Shoppers prosecution.

Presumably, no one will disassemble the U.S. Attorney’s office (as certain members of Congress reportedly have suggested re: the OCE) before trial in the case next summer…

Of course, Rosenstein’s office’s other major political corruption prosecution (and ongoing investigation) also involves Prince George’s County, and there was attorney news in that cluster of cases, too, this week.

In case you’ve been asleep for the past month, County Executive Jack B. Johnson and his wife, Leslie, were arrested Nov. 12 after the FBI overheard the couple scrambling to hide nearly $80,000 in cash and a check for $100,000 in, um, various places.

Prominent defense attorney William R. “Billy” Martin, who has defended people like Michael Vick and the mayor of Atlanta, seemed an appropriate person to represent Jack Johnson, but few had heard of Leslie Johnson’s counsel, Owings Mills attorney Roland N. Patterson Jr.

Apparently the county councilwoman-elect decided she needed a little more heft to protect her from federal prosecutors because this week a big-firm attorney, whose office is in the Watergate building no less, entered her appearance on behalf of Mrs. Johnson. Perhaps not coincidentally, Shawn M. Wright is a partner at Martin’s old firm, Blank Rome LLP.

So, dear readers, do you think these these personnel moves will significantly impact the evolution and outcome of these cases or were these politicos’ looking at jail time regardless of any clever attorney’s maneuvering?

Top 5: Crystal balling the Md. state prosecutor pick

The reverberations from Jack Johnson’s witness- and evidence-tampering charges continued to be felt this week, both in Maryland and in the ranking of the top 5 most-read law stories at The Daily Record’s website. And in some good news, congrats to the 1,088 who passed the bar exam!

1. Tapes will complicate P.G. County exec. Johnsons’ defense

The defense attorneys representing Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson have their work cut out for them, say defense attorneys observing the case.

2. Md. board recommends 1,088 for admission to Bar

Their admittance is subject to approval of their character and fitness qualifications.

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The $10,000 phone call

In my story today about a collection dispute between two lawyers, I was unable to include some interesting expert witness testimony.

Leonard H. Shapiro, a longtime criminal defense lawyer in Owings Mills, testified for the defense about the $10,000 legal fee at the heart of the case. George Michael Perez paid that amount to T. Wray McCurdy up front to defend Perez against arson charges filed by prosecutors in June 2007.

The sides dispute whether the money was an engagement or retainer fee. Shapiro, who called it an engagement fee based on the contract, said that was a reasonable amount regardless of what type of fee it was because of the complex nature of arson cases.

“Almost always you’re dealing with expert testimony and lots of discovery,” he said. “They are circumstantial cases developed through evidence.”

Under cross-examination by Michael T. Wyatt, Shapiro said retainer fees are different in a criminal case than in a divorce case. A criminal retainer does not have to be earned, he said, and there are some cases where an entire fee is required up front.

Shapiro then hypothetically made himself a lawyer who received a $10,000 fee to defend a client against arson charges. Shapiro said that money would be a reasonable fee if he called the State’s Attorney’s office and pointed out the flaws in prosecutors’ case, which ultimately led to the charges being dropped.

“Is $10,000 for a phone call reasonable?” Wyatt asked.

“In certain circumstances, it could be,” Shapiro replied.

Thoughts from the peanut gallery?

Monday law blog round-up

Happy Monday!

  • Dawn Bowie touts the use of “parent coordinators” in custody cases.
  • If you (or, more precisely, Above the Law’s David Lat) eat the cookies from a hotel minibar, then replace them with the exact same cookies you bought down the street for less money, is that ethical?
  • Is this good advice for gay big-firm lawyers on coming out?
  • The federal government needs to stop letting the ABA accredit law schools and figure out how to control the number of lawyers flowing into a saturated market, a Washington lawyer writes. HT: Temporary Attorney.
  • Check out legal humor blog Lowering the Bar‘s nominees for lawsuit of the year, argument of the year, lawyer of the year and other “of the year”s. Lots of laughs here.