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Verdict upheld for Valley law firm suing over fees
Court Watch | 2008/03/12 21:35

A federal Appeals Court has upheld a nearly $3.3 million verdict obtained by a Valley law firm against another firm from Texas for unpaid legal fees.

In their unanimous ruling, the judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments by the attorney for John M. O'Quinn & Associates that the legal fees being charged by Brown & Bain were not reasonable. Neil McCabe said that put the Phoenix law firm in violation of ethical rules adopted by the Arizona Supreme Court.

But appellate Judge John Noonan, writing for the panel, said the O'Quinn firm had in fact agreed to pay Brown & Bain a certain amount once the case settled.

Potentially more significant for attorneys, the appellate judges said Ethical Rule 1.5, which bars fees that are "unreasonable," applies only to the dealings that lawyers have with their clients. It does not regulate what one law firm charges another.

The case involves a lawsuit filed by about 900 property owners in the Phoenix area who filed suit against Motorola contending that toxic chemicals from its plant caused environmental damage. The deal the property owners had was the O'Quinn law firm would get 40 percent of any recovery plus the cost of litigation.


Saddam Kickbacks Earn Oil Exec Prison
Court Watch | 2008/03/08 19:13

Texas oilman David Chalmers was sentenced to two years in prison on Friday after admitting to paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to Iraq in connection with the U.N. oil-for-food program.

Chalmers, 54, and his two corporations, Bayoil Supply and Trading Ltd. and Bayoil USA Inc., were sentenced in federal court in Manhattan. Chalmers and his companies were ordered to forfeit $9 million dollars.

He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in August, weeks before he was due to go on trial with Texas oil tycoon Oscar Wyatt. Wyatt was sentenced to a year in prison in November for his role in the oil-for-food scandal.

"I feel horribly remorseful for this," a sniffling Chalmers told U.S. District Judge Denny Chin. "Because others were doing it I thought it was OK. But I was wrong."

Chalmers' lawyer told Chin that Chalmers deserved a lighter sentence than Wyatt, who met directly with Saddam Hussein and became the most prominent figure jailed over the scandal.

Chin disagreed, saying Chalmers had agreed to buy many more barrels of oil than Wyatt that represented "money that should have gone to the Iraqi people."

Prosecutors said they could prove Wyatt paid at least $200,000 in kickbacks, compared to Chalmers, whom they said played a leading role in corrupting the program by agreeing to pay at least $9 million while other oil companies refused.


U.S. treasure firm ordered to identify disputed wreck
Court Watch | 2008/03/07 16:55

A U.S. judge ordered a Florida treasure-hunting company on Thursday to disclose the identity of a disputed shipwreck and dismissed some of its claims against Spain in a legal wrangle over a $500 million haul of silver and gold.

Odyssey Marine Exploration and Spain have been arguing over the treasure since the trove was found last year at an undisclosed location in the Atlantic Ocean.

U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday ruled on Thursday that Odyssey's lawsuit claiming rights to the treasure could go forward provided the company promptly identifies the wreck for Spain, or gives its "best available hypothesis" of the identity.

At a court hearing on Wednesday, the company's lawyers said Odyssey did not know for certain the name or nationality of the wreck, from which the company recovered some 17 tonnes of silver coins and gold.

"We want to know the identity of this vessel, and what this ruling is saying is 'It's not an answer to say we haven't decided for sure,'" said lawyer James Goold, who is representing Spain.

Merryday ruled that parts of Odyssey's lawsuit could go forward through the courts, including claims for possession and ownership of the wreck and the artifacts.

But he sided with Spain on several other elements of the suit, dismissing Odyssey's claims for monetary damages from Spain and a request for an injunction to "secure the integrity of the recovery operation against interference from a third party."

The two sides have been at odds since Odyssey announced last May that it had found half a million silver coins and other artifacts. It said the wreck, which it code-named "Black Swan," was discovered in the Atlantic Ocean outside any country's territorial waters.

The dispute turned ugly when Spanish warships twice intercepted the company's treasure hunting ships after they left the British territory of Gibraltar and escorted them to Spanish ports.



Court of Appeals weighs scope of extortion law
Court Watch | 2008/03/06 19:26

A lawyer for the state came under sharp attack from several Court of Appeals judges when he urged them to reinstate the extortion conviction of a man who sent expletive-laden letters to a former boss and his attorney, threatening to sue them unless they paid him $100,000.

Assistant Attorney General Brian S. Kleinbord said Scott L. Rendelman’s letters constituted extortion because the grounds for his threatened lawsuit were “baseless” and the written messages were a “threat to obtain something of value to which [he] is not otherwise entitled.”

A Montgomery County jury had convicted Rendelman of trying to extort money from William Elmhirst and attorney Kevin P. Fay, but the Court of Special Appeals threw out the conviction, saying that a threat to sue, unlike a threat of bodily harm, is not evidence of extortion.

Three of the seven judges hearing the matter on Thursday — retired Judges Alan M. Wilner, Lawrence F. Rodowsky and Dale R. Cathell — echoed that reasoning.

Click to download the Webcast of the State of Maryland v. Scott L. Rendelman

Extending the crime of extortion to include threats of litigation might discourage individuals and their lawyers from validly informing an opponent that they might file suit, lest they find themselves in criminal court, the judges said.

By contrast, all seven were largely silent as Rendelman’s lawyer, Karen C. Daly of Washington, said prosecutors go too far when they charge with extortion a person proclaiming his or her legal right to sue – even if vulgarly expressed.



Gault Pleads Guilty; Facing 50 Years In Prison
Court Watch | 2008/03/06 12:03

A former dog trainer who was accused of hiding a runaway girl in his West Harford home for nearly a year pleaded guilty Wednesday in Superior Court in Hartford to eight felony charges which are expected to net him a lengthy stay in prison.

Adam Gault, 41, entered guilty pleas to two counts of first-degree kidnapping, four counts of second-degree sexual assault, risk of injury to a minor and conspiracy to commit first-degree kidnapping.

Assistant State's Attorney David Zagaja said the state is recommending a 50-year prison term for Gault, which would be suspended after 30 years incarceration. He would then spend 20 years on probation.

Sentencing was set for May 19. If he had chosen to go to trial, he would have faced a maximum of 160 years.

Judge David Gold told the defendant he was considering imposing 50 years, suspended after 25 years, but that he would consider increasing the term at the time of sentencing after getting a pre-sentence report.

Gold gave Gault the option of accepting a higher sentence, or withdrawing his guilty plea at that time.

Gault was found competent to stand trial in February. He had faced nearly 40 charges. The bulk of the charges, including kidnapping, unlawful restraint, risk of injury to a minor, reckless endangerment and sexual assault, were in connection with the Bloomfield teenager who was found in his home. The girl, who was 14 when she disappeared is now 16.

A second complaint brought by a second woman was lodged subsequent to his arrest.

At Wednesday's 90-minute hearing, Gault appeared clean-shaven, with a short-cropped hair. On several occasions, when the judge asked him how he pleaded, he responded with "I'm guilty"

His other responses were limited to "Yes sir" or "no sir."

Marc Needelman, the attorney who represents the family of the 14-year-old, said he expected his clients to appear at Gault's sentencing and also make recommendations for appropriate sentences against his co-defendants, Ann Murphy and Kimberly Cray.

Gold said they would attempt to accommodate the family by having the two women appear that day.

Gault, who lived on Newington Road in West Hartford, was arrested last June when Bloomfield and West Hartford police discovered the teenager, who had been reported missing for almost a year, in a locked storage closet behind a dresser in his home.

Gault and the girl's mother and stepfather, who operate a dog day care and kennel in Bloomfield, knew each other professionally. The girl had worked for Gault in his dog training business.

The police were executing a search warrant for Gault's house and his DNA on June 6 when they came across the locked, hidden storage space and found the girl inside. At the time, investigators believed they were searching for evidence linking Gault to the girl's disappearance and possible demise.

According to court documents, DNA testing on a fetus that the victim aborted in May showed Gault impregnated the girl.



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