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Supreme Court to Hear Indecency Case
Court Watch | 2008/03/19 17:59

The U.S. Supreme Court has stepped into one of the biggest free speech fights of the past three decades, but it's unclear how far the court will go when it rules on just how much trouble broadcasters can get into for a slip of the tongue.

On Monday, the court agreed to hear arguments over the Federal Communications Commission's policy regarding so-called "fleeting expletives" in a closely watched case that will decide whether the government can fine or revoke a broadcaster's license because someone says a bad word. The case will be argued late this year.

Both News Corp., the Fox Broadcasting parent that wanted its victory in a lower court to stand, and the FCC, which pushed the Bush administration to appeal the case, applauded the justices' decision.

"The commission, Congress and most importantly parents understand that protecting our children is our greatest responsibility," FCC chairman Kevin Martin said.

Solicitor general Paul Clement, the Bush administration's top lawyer, urged the court to take the case, arguing that the appeals court decision had placed "the commission in an untenable position," powerless to stop the airing of expletives even when children are watching.

Fox said the move would "give us the opportunity to argue that the FCC's expanded enforcement of the indecency law is unconstitutional in today's diverse media marketplace, where parents have access to a variety of tools to monitor their children's television viewing."

The case surrounds two incidents in which celebrities used profanity during the Billboard Music Awards. In 2002, Cher told the audience: "People have been telling me I'm on the way out every year? So f--- 'em." The next year, Nicole Richie said: "Have you ever tried to get cow s--- out of a Prada purse? It's not so f---ing simple."


Court Accepts Crime Lab Case
Court Watch | 2008/03/17 18:02

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether prosecutors can use crime lab reports as evidence without having the forensic analyst who prepared them testify at trial.

The reliability of crime labs has been questioned in several states and at the federal level in recent years.

State and federal courts have come to different conclusions about whether recent Supreme Court decisions affirming the constitutional right of a defendant to confront his accusers extend to lab reports that are used in many drug and other cases.

The case the justices accepted, and will consider in the fall, comes from Massachusetts. Luis Melendez-Diaz was convicted of trafficking in cocaine partly on the basis of a crime lab analysis that confirmed that cocaine was in plastic bags found in the car in which Melendez-Diaz was riding.

Rather than accept the report, however, Melendez-Diaz objected that he should be allowed to question the person who prepared it about testing methods, how the evidence was preserved and a host of other issues.



CNet to Appeal Court's Bylaw Ruling
Court Watch | 2008/03/17 18:02

CNet Networks Inc. said Monday that it will appeal a lower court's decision on bylaw provisions to the Delaware Supreme Court.

Last week the Delaware Chancery Court ruled that CNet's bylaws do not give it the ability to prevent a group of dissident shareholders led by an affiliate of hedge fund Jana Partners LLC from nominating directors to the company's board or proposing an increase to the board's size.

The court's decision "incorrectly calls into question the bylaws of a large number of companies with the same or similar bylaw provisions," CNet said in a release. The company said its stockholder-approved bylaws are "fully applicable" to the hedge fund.

A "costly and disruptive proxy contest" is not in the best interest of stockholders, and Jana should not be able to seek control of CNet without paying a premium, the company said.

In a letter to CNet Chief Executive Neil Ashe issued earlier Monday, Jana managing partner Barry Rosenstein questioned whether an appeal would benefit shareholders. "We believe it is time for fundamental strategic and operational change at CNet, and that the nominees we have proposed... have the collective experience and expertise to successfully implement this change," he wrote.

Jana had about a 10 percent stake in CNET as of Dec. 31.



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.


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