T-shirt satirist, NSA nearing settlement?

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Dan McCall’s parody of the National Security Agency seal, above, was pulled off a printer’s website due to a cease-and-desist letter it received from the agency. (Courtesy of Paul Alan Levy)

Dan McCall soon might not have reason to sell his “Censored by the NSA” and “Censored by the DHS” T-shirts anymore.

Back in October, McCall, a Minnesota activist, sued the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security for violating his First Amendment rights when they issued cease-and-desist letters against his merchandise.

McCall is the proprietor of LibertyManiacs.com, which sells T-shirts, mugs and posters, many with satirical images he creates. One of his creations, from earlier this year, placed a slogan below the NSA’s official seal: “The only part of the government that actually listens.”

Now, both sides “are currently in discussion to resolve the case,” according to a court filing Friday by the government agencies. The agencies have asked for the deadline to respond to the complaint be moved to the middle of February. McCall’s lawyer agreed Tuesday to extend the deadline, according to the filing.

The agencies’ response was supposed to be due Jan. 6.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Marvin J. Garbis had not made a decision on the motion as of Friday afternoon.

Spare a square, lose your purse?

bathroom-stalls1Thursday night, while using the restroom during our Leading Women event, I got to thinking about male urinal usage strategy. (If you’re not familiar, here’s the world’s leading expert on the subject.)

This got me to thinking about female stall usage strategy. So, I gave several women in the office this hypothetical — you enter a public bathroom and someone is in one of the stalls. Which one do you use?

The women that didn’t immediately call our HR department gave me a few answers: the cleanest stall; the farthest one away from the stall in use; and the first stall, which many say is the cleanest stall.

All of which brings us to Thursday’s sentencing of Crystal Barner in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Barner received more than four years in prison and must pay more than $140,000 in restitution for her role in a scheme to steal wallets from women’s purses and using the credit cards to make purchases at nearby stores.

How did the group pull off the heists? According to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, the spare-a-square strategy:

Specifically, the leader of the scheme, Ida Mae Weathers, an experienced pickpocket, would linger in women’s restrooms and steal the wallets from purses hung on the hooks in the stalls. Often, Barner or one of the other co-conspirators would create a distraction in an adjacent stall, such as asking for toilet paper, so that the victim would be looking away from her purse. Barner and other conspirators also sometimes served as a “lookout” for Weathers. Often Weathers was able to remove cash and credit cards and return the wallet to the victim’s purse without the victim seeing or suspecting the theft.

(Weathers was sentenced to more than 21 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $150,000 in restitution.)

So there you have it, one more reason to be wary while using a public restroom. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to take this call from our corporate office.

Sparrows Point countersues in wastewater dispute with city

Before shutting down last year, RG Steel’s plant at Sparrows Point employed 2,000 steelworkers. At its height, the Bethlehem Steel operation employed more than 30,000.

Aerial view of Sparrows Point (File Photo)

When we last waded into the dispute between Baltimore and Sparrows Point over the flow of treated wastewater, a federal judge agreed to allow the city’s effluent to pass through pipelines at the former steel mill through the middle of December. Lawyers on both sides also wrote in court filings they were “actively engaged” in settlement negotiations.

All of this was over a temporary restraining order requested by the city. But the city also filed a complaint at the same time, asking for an injunction against Sparrows Point to allow the wastewater to continue to flow.

So Sparrows Point filed an answer to the complaint earlier this month with a counterclaim against the city. The counterclaim reiterates many of the points Sparrows Point made in filings about the temporary restraining order, chiefly that the city breached the parties’ contract for use of the pipelines by not paying the $80,000 monthly fee on time.

The counterclaim seeks a declaratory judgment that the city breached its contract and that the contract is no longer in effect, along with damages caused by complying with the temporary restraining order.

The city filed Tuesday its response to Sparrows Point’s counterclaim, reiterating its argument that it never breached the contract.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Dec. 12 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Would you like fries with your getaway car?

Burger-King-Chicken-SandwichWe posted a story earlier Tuesday about a Baltimore man sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for being the getaway driver in 22 armed robberies.

Rico Bias, 34, conspired with two other men to rob mostly convenience stores and fast-food restaurants between January and June 2012, according to the plea agreement signed in February.

In most of the robberies, Bias drove a Ford Windstar minivan. In at least one robbery, he rented a Zipcar.

And in another robbery, this one of a Burger King, Bias did more than drive, according to the plea agreement:

Prior to [co-defendant Hatratico] Smith entering the Burger King, the defendant entered and checked to make sure the robbery could occur. Bias purchased two chicken sandwiches while he checked for Smith to commit the robbery.

Hatratico Smith, who committed the robberies, pleaded guilty in September and faces life imprisonment when he is sentenced in January. (Smith used a gun to commit the robberies, in one incident wounding a convenience store customer.)

A third accomplice, Monzell Lee, was sentenced in May to nine years in prison.

Natural gas company calls fault on Turf Valley owner

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Turf Valley (File photo)

[UPDATED NOV. 21, 1:30 P.M. - After a conference call with both parties, a federal judge ordered Mangione Enterprises to stop building the tennis court until a Dec. 31 hearing on the matter.]

Earlier this year, we wrote about a natural gas company’s federal lawsuit alleging it could not perform necessary maintenance on pipelines because tennis courts and golf paths at Turf Valley Country Club encroached on its easements.

In August, a federal judge ruled club owner Mangione Enterprises of Turf Valley LP could not interfere with Columbia Gas Transmission LLC’s right to access its easements.

The ruling also allowed Columbia Gas to remove “structures and encroachments within the easements” – such as a tennis court, which it did.

Columbia Gas finished its work late last month and warned Turf Valley about the dangers of rebuilding the court on top of a natural gas pipeline.

Last week, however, Mangione informed Columbia Gas it would be rebuilding the tennis court, prompting Columbia Gas to file an emergency temporary restraining order Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

“The public will undoubtedly benefit from an order enjoining construction that has the potential to result in serious bodily injury or death should an explosion occur,” lawyers for Columbia Gas wrote.

Should the temporary restraining order not be granted, Columbia Gas says it has a right to condemn the area where Mangione wants to build the tennis court under the federal Natural Gas Act.

Attorneys’ fees now at issue in Leopold harassment lawsuit

leopoldA former assistant to former Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold settled her sexual harassment lawsuit against Leopold for $110,000 last month. But the legal battle in the case continues over attorneys’ fees.

John M. Singleton, the lawyer for Karla Hamner, is seeking more than $176,000 in attorney’s fees, according to a motion filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court. Singleton said he, an associate and a paralegal spent approximately 376 hours on the case, at $495 per hour for Singleton’s time.

Anne Arundel County’s response, filed Thursday? Not so fast. It calculates Singleton has only “proven allowable times” totaling about 28 hours.

“A review of the records suggests that they were not made contemporaneous with the reporting as required but, instead, have been cobbled together for the sole purpose of this petition,” wrote Jay H. Creech, a senior assistant county attorney.

The county also rejected Singleton’s argument of the case’s novelty, calling Hamner’s lawsuit a “de facto firing and a hostile work environment.”

Singleton called the case the “most contentious and controversial case” of his entire 30-plus year legal career and wrote it took a “tremendous toll” on his family and his employees.

“There are very few attorneys in the legal community who would have taken this case,” Singleton wrote.
Countered Creech: “There is no suggestion that this case was undesirable within the legal community other than counsel’s one line conclusion.”
As for his $495 hourly rate, Singleton pointed out the county paid $450 per hour to Linda Hitt Thatcher, a Greenbelt solo practitioner hired to represent Leopold.
“Comparing her total fees for the same period of time and dealing with the same legal issues, her bill to the county was manytimes more than that requested herein for essentially the same work,” Singleton wrote.

Creech was not convinced.

“The Plaintiff has not produced one iota of evidence as to the prevailing market rate in the Baltimore or Annapolis legal community for employment law cases,” he wrote.

Gov’t uncertainty forces cancellation of bench-bar conference

U.S. District Court GreenbeltThe government shutdown might be over but the collateral damage continues.

Friday was supposed to be the day of the 8th Biennial Bench-Bar Conference for the U.S. District Court in Maryland. But Tuesday, with the shutdown still ongoing, organizers announced the conference would be cancelled:

Although most of the conference is supported by the Attorney Admissions Fund, critical support is provided by government employees who are prohibited during a shutdown from performing nonessential functions. Unfortunately, because of the need to prepare,we could not wait any longer than Monday to advise the caterer and others whether the event would be held, so, reluctantly, we had to cancel.

Organizers added they hoped to reschedule the event soon.

The afternoon conference, held in conjunction with the Litigation Section Council of the Maryland State Bar Association and the Maryland Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, was to be held in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. Stephen S. Dunham, vice president and general counsel for Penn State, was scheduled to be the keynote speaker.

(Photo of U.S. District Court courtesy of Patch)

Settlement unlikely in wrongful death lawsuit against Tshamba

Gahiji Tshamba

Gahiji Tshamba

A $30 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a man killed outside a Baltimore nightclub by a former city police officer appears headed to trial.

A lawyer for Gahiji Tshamba, the ex-officer, wrote in a status report filed Tuesday in federal court that they “believe there is no prospect of settlement.”

Tshamba is serving a 15-year sentence in the shooting death of Tyrone Brown outside of a Baltimore nightclub in June 2010. Tshamba was off-duty at the time and shot Brown 12 times with a department-issued gun. The incident began when Brown slapped Tshamba’s female friend on the backside.

The lawsuit filed by Brown’s family in March 2011 seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages.

The Baltimore Police Department and City of Baltimore were also named as defendants in the suit but had claims against them bifurcated, meaning they will be heard separately from Tshamba’s.

In their status report filed last week, lawyers for police and the city said their clients want to participate in Tshamba’s trial as intervening parties on the issue of whether Tshamba acted “under the color of law,” meaning he was still acting in his official duties as a police officer.

Lawyers for Brown’s family in their status report said Monday they objected to police and the city intervening because there would be no chance for discovery from police and the city since the case was bifurcated.

A supplemental settlement conference is scheduled for Dec. 3, according to court documents.

Law blog roundup

Ally McBealHappy Monday to everyone and a special welcome back to the office to those who attended the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting. Here are some links to peruse while you rub aloe into your sunburn:

– The federal judge who ruled Microsoft was “a monopoly” died Saturday.

– The New York Times has a profile of the federal judge in the morning-after pill case.

– The problem with a new state law in Florida that speeds up the execution process.

– A Tennessee judge is reminding female lawyers of appropriate courtroom attire. (HT: Above the Law)

Prominent promotions for federal prosecutors

Three federal prosecutors involved in some of Maryland’s most recent high-profile cases are getting promoted.

Sujit Raman, Kathleen O. Gavin and Thomas F. Corcoran were given new appointments, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein announced this week.

Raman, who was involved in the corruption case against former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, will take over as the head of the office’s appellate section. He replaces Jonathan Biran, who left the U.S. Attorney’s office last month to start his own firm with another federal prosecutor, Ty Kelly.

Gavin was named chief of the fraud and corruption section. Gavin most recently prosecuted a case dealing with a towing extortion scheme by Baltimore police officers that resulted in 17 convictions, 15 of which were Baltimore City police officers.

Corcoran was named the deputy chief of the civil division. Corcoran has recently negotiated a number of large settlements for the office, including one for $95 million with Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals and a $25 million settlement with Novo Nordisk.