Law blog roundup

Happy Monday. Here are some law links to get you going:

  • A lawyer for State Sen. Ulysses Currie says the lawmaker was being treated for cancer at the time of the FBI investigation into his consulting job with a grocery store chain. Prosecutors allege he used his influence to benefit the chain. Jury selection begins today.
  • Another Prince George’s County lawmaker is catching heat over her alleged shady dealings. Tiffany Alston is accused of writing herself checks to cover her wedding — from her campaign funds.
  • Montgomery County Police are reaching out to Hispanics who are afraid to report crimes.
  • Legal Services Corp. prepares its defenses.
  • The Duke lacrosse players are back in court, asking a federal appeals court to let elements of their case against Durham go forward.
  • Think before you speak — Paul Mark Sandler advises lawyers on how to talk to the media.
  • Would uniformity in Maryland’s voir dire process help?

Law blog roundup

You may be back on the job this Monday, but at least 1,000 legal types lost their jobs in May. So much for all that optimism in April. With that, let’s check out some law links, shall we?

  • Prince George’s County lawyer and power broker Peter O’Malley III died last week. O’Malley, who was not a relative of the governor, paved the way for sports complexes built by the late Abe Pollin and was heavily involved in Democratic politics.
  • Are Baltimore City’s towing companies too aggressive?
  • David Ball, the “dean of damages” says there’s only one surefire tool to use when cross-examining experts.
  • New male partners outnumbered new female partners 2-to-1 this year.
  • Make sure you get your fair say in court.
  • A former assistant football coach at USC says the NCAA defamed him and destroyed his career in its investigation into Reggie Bush.

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.

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?

Law blog roundup

If you didn’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the news over the weekend, you may have missed a little happening in Prince George’s County, involving the arrest of County Executive Jack Johnson. Now, some are pushing for a law to help remove elected officials from office prior to conviction. More arrests are apparently on the way.

Here are some other things you may have missed:

Foreclosure filings follow-up

In my story Monday about Baltimore County Circuit Court, I mentioned that foreclosure filings have inundated clerks’ offices at courthouses around the state, and that Prince George’s County has led the state in foreclosures for at least two years.

Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain foreclosure statistics from the clerk’s office in Prince George’s County by my deadline. But I received the data yesterday, and it’s startling.

In 2006, the clerk’s office received 4,148 filings. (That’s more than Baltimore County has ever received.)

In 2007, the clerk’s office in Prince George’s received 7,019 foreclosure filings.

In 2008, the clerk’s office received 8,237 filings.

This year, through Sept. 30, the clerk’s office has received 9,389 filings – and they are projecting 12,000 for the entire calendar.

Obviously, on an individual and family level the increase in foreclosure filings is bad news. But what does it say about the economy as a whole? Are we flushing out all of the toxic mortgages on the road to recovery? Or has news of the recession’s demise been greatly exaggerated?

No (Judicial) Notice Given

Prince George’s County officials argued in vain to U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis that alcohol and exotic dancers shouldn’t mix. The combination leads to gun violence and other crimes, the county said.

Garbis on Wednesday struck down as unconstitutional a law calling for the revocation of liquor licenses to bars that feature exotic dancing. The judge, who sits in Baltimore, said the broadly worded law effectively banned the controversial dancing and infringed on the First Amendment freedom of expression.

County officials tried to defend the law as “narrowly tailored” to achieve the “substantial” governmental goal of preventing criminal activity that they said exotic dancing — mixed with alcohol — attracts. But Garbis rejected the argument, stating in his opinion that the county had failed to provide sufficient evidence of these alleged “harmful secondary effects” of what used to be called gentlemen’s clubs.

Meanwhile, the county this year has endured violence near bars, some which feature exotic dancing and some that do not.

Bernard Irvin was stabbed to death Jan. 31 at the Legend Night Club in Temple Mills, which has the dancing and successfully challenged the law, Gazette.Net reported.

On Tuesday night, a day before Garbis’ decision, a vigil was held near the Tradewinds nightclub. Family and friends of Darryl Robinson II gathered across the street from the Temple Mills establishment, near where the 28-year-old was shot and killed on Jan. 31, Gazette.Net added.

According to Gazette.Net:

Robinson’s death was among several in recent years near county entertainment hotspots. In March 2007, nine nightclubs were shut down after 11 people were killed in only 11 days. Former Police Chief Melvin High was granted the authority to shut down any venues he saw as an “imminent danger.”

The article also mentions the March death of a Bowie man at The Sideline Bar and Grill, the Largo sports bar owned by former Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington.

In light of these deaths, should Garbis have taken judicial notice of the county’s asserted link among alcohol, exotic dancing and violence and upheld the law as a justified restriction on the First Amendment?

Plumbing for churches

It seems religious folks in Prince George’s County are having a hell of a time getting public plumbing for their churches.

When I read my colleague Steve Lash’s piece about a federal judge siding with Seventh Day Adventist Reaching Hearts International Inc. against the county, I was immediately reminded of another church in that area whose expansion efforts had been stymied by the same water and sewer stumbling blocks.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone. The lawyer for Bethel World Outreach Ministries, Roman P. Storzer, who regularly litigates on behalf of religious groups, saw the decision (PDF) in the Reaching Hearts case and fired off a letter (PDF) to the judge in his case, alerting him to its “extremely similar” facts.

Storzer said the Reaching Hearts case provides “strong reason” to deny a pending motion to dismiss his case.

WWJ (the judge, that is) D?

BRENDAN KEARNEY, Legal Affairs Writer

Law blog round-up

Happy Monday! Here are a few law links for you:

  • The Prince George’s County state’s attorney’s office has a new unit focused on foreclosure fraud. The county has become a magnet for real estate scam artists. Says Del. Doyle Niemann, who is also a prosecutor in PG, “We even have people coming in to teach seminars to others on how to rip people off.” For more on real estate investment seminars, check out a package of stories I wrote earlier this year. (You can get to all three stories from this page.)
  • A state delegate violated a law he voted for, a judge says. Del. Tony McConkey of Severna Park ran afoul of the Protection of Homeowners in Foreclosure Act when he, acting as a “foreclosure consultant,” bought the home of a woman for whom he was “consulting,” the judge ruled.
  • The Drug and Device Law blog has positive reviews for this month’s Gourdine v. Crews decision (PDF), in which the Court of Appeals, as my colleague Christina Doran wrote, “refused to impose liability on Eli Lilly and Co. for the 2002 death of former Prince George’s County Councilman Isaac J. “Ike” Gourdine, who was killed after driver Ellen Crews suffered an adverse reaction to diabetes medication.” Drug and Device Law says a decision that Lilly could be held liable would have been “too awful to contemplate.”

CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer

Proposed bill would heavily tax “tobacco” accessories

Sen. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County) proposed a bill today that would add a $20 tax to “tobacco paraphernalia” such as bongs and water pipes.

“Bongs are not used for cigarette smoking,” Muse said. “They’re used for illegal drugs. I think people recognize immediately what they’re used for.”

The law would require people to be at least 18 before buying a bong and would apply a $20 tax to their purchase.

Apparently, Muse feels an extra $20 would act as a deterrent for young people who smoke pot.

Here’s the bill.

(Wonder what effect, if any, this could have on hookah bars?)

JACKIE SAUTER, Web Editor