By Joseph Schuman
Fired lawyer claimed he was told to bill 3,000 hours a
If you think 3,000 billable hours a year seems a lot to ask
of just one attorney, California lawyer Richard Unitan would
agree with you.
Unitan is now suing the firm he accuses of demanding such
an unrealistic workload and firing him when he couldn't do
The ABA Journal, in sharing the story with us, notes the
3,000-hour mandate would require a lawyer to work more than
eight hours a day every day for a year, and that most firms
don't ask for more than 2,100 annual billable hours. But
according to Unitan, that was what Los Angles-based
worker-compensation firm Adelson, Testan, Brundo & Jimenez
wanted. Unitan says he was told to bill for "thinking time"
and to charge clients for every six-minute increment he spent
on a task, no matter how quickly it went. "For example, if a
lawyer receives and reads an e-mail, he or she may bill .1
hours; and if that same lawyer then responds to the e-mail,
that may be another .1 hours," Unitan says in the suit filed in
Los Angeles Superior Court.
Still, to meet the quota, he adds, he would have needed to
commit billing fraud.
The firm denies it. In an interview with the
subscription-only Los Angeles Daily Journal, Adelson Testan's
Darrin Meyer says he was "truly shocked" when he heard Unitan's
claims. "It is completely false, and it is, I think, a
desperate fabrication," Meyer says.
"Nobody here commits billing fraud. The allegations are
ICC wants U.N. to deal with country that ignored arrest
The International Criminal Court is apparently tired of
countries ignoring its international arrest warrant for Omar Al
Bashir, the Sudanese leader who has been jetting around Africa
despite his indictment for war crimes and genocide. Now, the
ICC is asking the United Nations Security Council to lean on
scofflaws, starting with Malawi.
The small southeast African nation played host to Al Bashir
in October, and the ICC later called for an explanation. Last
month Malawian officials sent a note saying the country
wouldn't consider turning over an indicted head of state
because it is following a "position adopted by the African
Union": that such indictments are trumped by the typical
immunity granted to visiting presidents and prime ministers.
This argument didn't sit well with the judges at the ICC.
First of all, they noted, Malawi didn't provide any
documents spelling out the African Union's position. And as it
turns out, there' actually no official AU policy on the matter.
Moreover, the judges say they have already ruled that ICC
jurisdiction isn't limited by international laws that otherwise
grant immunity to heads of state. They point to previous
war-crime tribunals' indictments of Slobodan Milosevic and
Charles Taylor, as well as the ICC indictments of Moammar
Gadhaffi and Laurent Gbagbo - the former Ivorian leader
currently sitting in an ICC cell at the Hague. "The Judges
noted that immunity for heads of state before international
courts has been rejected time and time again dating all the way
back to World War I," the ICC explained.
But the ICC didn't offer what seems to be an important
element of the story and an area of international law
government as much by politics as anything else: what the
judges expect the Security Council to do with the Malawi
Former congressman says bribery convictions inappropriately
covered nonofficial acts
Ex-Congressman William Jefferson doesn't deny committing
the acts that led to his conviction on corruption charges. He
just doesn't think those acts should be considered official
congressional actions. And that, he is arguing on appeal,
should make the difference between a crime and, well, a
Jefferson, a Democrat, had represented his New Orleans
district for 15 years when federal agents raided his offices in
2006 looking for evidence that he helped businesses get
contracts with foreign governments, as Roll Call recounts. He
was subsequently indicted on 16 corruption charges and was put
on trial in 2009. Prosecutors said that during official trips
to Cameroon, Nigeria and other countries, Jefferson contacted
foreign officials on behalf of American businesses, which then
sent cash or stock to companies controlled by the congressman.
The jury agreed, convicting Jefferson on 11 charges, and he was
sentenced to 13 years in prison.
But on Friday, Jefferson's lawyers argued to a panel of the
federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that he met with the
foreign government representatives on his own time, and that he
therefore shouldn't have been tried on bribery charges that
cover "official acts." Since the meetings weren't related to
his formal legislative duties, he shouldn't have been charged
in the first place, his lawyers said. That argument over what
counts as an official act is, as legal experts tell Roll Call,
a somewhat "novel" legal theory.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle responded by saying that
if Jefferson's conviction is reversed, current bribery laws
wouldn't cover many fraudulent acts that lawmakers can commit.
"Congressman Jefferson asks this court to do something that no
other court has done before. He asks this Court to find that a
significant part of the job of a Member of Congress should be
excluded from the reach of the federal bribery statute," Lytle
said. The judges of the Fourth Circuit, who expressed some
skepticism of Jefferson's arguments, are expected to issue a
ruling in the case in about two months.
A bigger role for housing agency's top cop
There's a new sheriff in town, and his name is Steve
Linick. Oh yeah, and he's a housing regulator.
It is a telling detail of this post-housing-meltdown era
that the inspector general of the Federal Housing Financing
Agency has the power to issue subpoenas and commands officers
who carry badges and guns, as we learn from the Wall Street Journal's description of Linick. The former assistant U.S.
attorney and senior Justice Department official was appointed
to the new role by President George W. Bush and reappointed by
President Barack Obama. But he was only confirmed by the Senate
in late 2010 and took charge of policing parts of federal
housing this year. Since then, Linick has expanded his
jurisdiction -- to the chagrin, perhaps, of his FHFA superiors
-- beyond the agency to the entities it oversees: Fannie Mae,
Freddie Mac and the $5 trillion in mortgages they guarantee.
To that end, Linick also plans to expand his staff of 100
people with an additional 50 next year - to police an agency
that is only 520-people strong. That compares with just 26
people working for the inspector general overseeing the 3,900
employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission. And it
looks like some or many of those new employees could be
tackling the kind of white-collar crimes and fraud that were
Linick's bread-and-butter work at the DOJ. He recently sent
federal agents to search the homes of Fannie employees as part
of an inquiry into defaulted commercial mortgages, one of 48
investigations he now has under way. Another subject he's
examining is how Fannie and Freddie negotiated legal
settlements. Today we could learn more about those probes and
his future legal plans when Linick briefs Congress on what he
Poll finds little respect for lawyers' honesty and
Maybe your mother was right: You shoulda been a
While Americans consider doctors and nurses among the most
honest and ethical professions, lawyers get little respect,
according to Gallup's annual honesty and ethics survey. Only 19
percent of Americans rated lawyers' ethics and honesty as high
or very high, while 37 percent rated them low or very low,
according to the telephone poll of more than 1,000 adults. That
put lawyers well above the ethics ratings given to members of
Congress -- who fell to a historic low as well as lobbyists,
car salespeople and telemarketers. But attorneys were
considered less honest than bankers and real estate agents, and
only on ranking better than business executives.
Still, that 19 percent positive rating for lawyers was the
highest it has been in at least 15 years, to judge by Gallup's
Last year only 17 percent has a positive view of lawyerly
honesty, and in 2009 such respect for lawyers fell to a
historic low of 13 percent.
But don't expect the general view of lawyers to improve. A
separate Gallup survey taken in August indicated only 29
percent of Americans have a positive view of the legal field.
And that number hasn't changed in the decade that Gallup has
been conducting the survey.
Appellate court reverses conviction by prosecutors who
Last week, we told you about Michael Mermel, the Illinois
prosecutor who was forced to retire after offending his bosses
with remarks that denigrated DNA evidence in the New York
Times. Late Friday, an Illinois appellate court reversed a
murder and rape conviction secured by Mermel's office and
slammed prosecutors for how they had tried the case.
Mermel, the Times now reports, was the lead prosecutor in
the most recent trial of Juan Rivera for the 1992 death of an
11-year-old girl in a Chicago suburb. The most damning evidence
was a confession Rivera gave to police after four days of
questioning. That confession, prosecutors said, included facts
only the murderer would know. Yet there was no physical
evidence tying him to the murder, and a DNA test in 2005 found
that sperm in the dead girl's body wasn't from Rivera. The Lake
County prosecutors tried to explain that away by saying the
sperm sample could have been contaminated, or the girl might
have been sexually active.
Now, 19 years after Rivera first went to prison, the
appellate court said no rational jury should have bought those
arguments. Police, the court said, essentially used leading
questions and "psychological suggestion" to feed him the
incriminating facts during the interrogation, making the
confession dubious. And while the DNA evidence doesn't
necessarily exonerate Rivera, it "embedded reasonable doubt
deep into the state's theory," the court said. Prosecutors'
theories "distort to an absurd degree the real and undisputed
testimony that the sperm was deposited shortly before the
victim died," the appellate judges added. "The most reasonable
explanation, therefore, of who murdered the victim is not the
defendant but rather someone who, unfortunately, has not yet
been identified." And Rivera, they said, "has suffered the
nightmare of wrongful incarceration."
Summary Judgments for Dec. 9
Summary Judgments for Dec. 8
Summary Judgments for Dec. 7
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