The Court of Special Appeals’ decision to reverse much of a $150 million jury verdict against Exxon Mobil kicks off the list of the most-read law stories of the week. Also making the list is Maryland’s decision to join the national foreclosure settlement and the story of a lawyer-turned-chef. The Top 5 are:
1. Appeals court slashes damages for Jacksonville Exxon leak — by Danny Jacobs and Steve Lash
A divided Court of Special Appeals has struck down a large part of the $150 million in damages awarded to 88 Jacksonville households in their lawsuits against Exxon Mobil Corp. stemming from a massive 2006 gasoline leak.
The court left intact about $60 million in property damage claims, reversing the award to just one household.
However, a majority of the nine judges found the jury instruction on emotional distress damages was faulty and ordered a new trial on that count in Baltimore County Circuit Court for most plaintiffs.
2. Bid-rigging lawyer disbarred — by Daily Record Staff
Nearly two years after he pleaded guilty to a federal bid-rigging charge for colluding at tax-lien auctions, Harvey M. Nusbaum was disbarred Tuesday by the Court of Appeals.
The court’s one-page order said the disbarment would take effect immediately “for reasons to be stated in an opinion later to be filed.” The decision came just one day after the court heard argument on the Attorney Grievance Commission’s petition for sanctions.
Carl Vahl was just shy of his 25th anniversary as a lawyer when he had an epiphany: he didn’t want to practice law anymore. Instead, he wanted to open a restaurant and become a professional chef.
Vahl just celebrated his first month in business as the proprietor of Calle’s Cucina in Baltimore’s Charles Village. The 40-seat, linen tablecloth Italian restaurant features a host of regional offerings with a focus on seafood dishes. It’s the first time Vahl has worked anywhere other than a law firm since being admitted to the New York State Bar in 1985.
4. Maryland joins pending multibillion-dollar foreclosure settlement — by Steve Lash
Maryland stands to receive between $895 million and $959 million in benefits under a pending multibillion-dollar nationwide settlement with the five largest mortgage lenders over alleged foreclosure abuses, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said Wednesday.
“How do you walk away from [nearly] a billion dollars?” he said of Maryland’s share.
5. Stephens guilty of first-degree murder; sentencing starts Monday — by Ben Mook
Lee E. Stephens was convicted Thursday of the first-degree murder of a corrections officer at the now-closed Maryland House of Correction in Jessup. He faces the death penalty when sentencing begins next week.
An Anne Arundel County jury deliberated for nearly 40 hours over whether Stephens killed Cpl. David McGuinn in an ambush attack in 2006. It was the lengthiest deliberation in the county in decades, said one court observer who spoke on condition of anonymity because a gag order is still in place pending sentencing.
Stephens, 32, is due back in court Monday at 9 a.m., when he is expected to say that he wants the jury to decide his sentence. The jury has already decided that there is an aggravating factor — the victim’s status as a law enforcement officer — which makes Stephens eligible for the death penalty.