Blogs > The Law Blogger

The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Casey Anthony's Lawyers Are Breaking Bad

San Diego Attorney
Todd Macaluso
I recall putting on my shirt and tie for court while watching GMA two years ago and seeing one of my law school acquaintances, Todd Macaluso, being interviewed as the newest member of Casey Anthony's so-called "dream team" of defense lawyers.  The interview in Florida was surprising to me, as I thought Todd was a product liability lawyer in California.  Hey, headlines are headlines, right.

Todd comes from a wealthy family out east and he married well; very well.  Not interested in Harvard, NYU, or any of the tony east coast law schools, Todd collected his sheepskin right here in the "D" from the University of Detroit School of Law; class of 1987.

Before his graduation ceremony was even concluded, Macaluso was probably on a private jet to San Diego, where he hung his shingle and hasn't looked back.  And apparently he has not stopped playing around with private aircraft either, from the way the headlines read this week.

Although forced to quit the Casey Anthony case due to a serious attorney discipline conviction and imminent disbarment in California, Todd is right back in the cockpit, just in time to seize the spotlight, allegedly ferrying Ms. Anthony about the country on his private Pilatus PC-12 turbo-prop aircraft.

The national media, led by Nancy Grace, is in an absolute frenzy over Anthony's location.  Knowing Todd, he is loving every minute that he is able to steal the show by flying the infamous "Tot Mom" hither and yon.  Hopefully, his 15-minutes will expire by month's end.

Macaluso is a poster child for the adage: "image is everything".  He is acknowledged, among dozens of others, in United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's book, Making Your Case.  A mutual friend who's been to Macaluso's home says there is a photo of Todd on his yacht with Justice Scalia, apparently a friend of the extended Macaluso family.

In 2007, Macaluso received the President's Award from the UDM School of Law.  In presenting this award, UDM acknowledged Todd's lobby efforts in Congress to regulate pharmaceutical sales over the Internet. Nothing was mentioned, however, about the opportunistic nature of his burgeoning criminal defense practice.

With the benefit of hindsight, I just have to wonder if my alma mater would have bestowed its President's Award on a graduate who soon would be disbarred for misspending client trust funds; or whether Justice Scalia would acknowledge an attorney that has not only joined forces with a most infamous client, but has positively delighted in concealing her location, while she prepares with her lawyers to fleece all of us.

Only in America folks; only in America.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Cooley Law School Files Defamation Lawsuit Against Internet Foes

What is it about Cooley Law School's reputation that makes the folks over there so hyper-sensitive about how that veritable lawyer factory is portrayed?  Cooley just cannot seem to avoid repeatedly shooting itself in the foot on the Internet.

Yesterday, Cooley Law School President Don Leduc announced defamation lawsuits against a New York City law firm and several John Doe bloggers.  The lawsuits are splashed all over the law school's website.

The complaint against the bloggers (apparently a disparate group of highly dissatisfied former students) alleges the unknown defendants published false statements that Cooley law school representatives were committing fraud and other criminal acts in order to induce prospective students to attend the law school; that the business purpose of the school is to create, then transfer "securities" out of the robust stream of student loans coming into the school; and that the law school is under investigation by an undercover government task force for Title IV violations.

The complaint against the law firm alleges that Kurzon Strauss, a small New York City law firm, published false information relative to the law school's post-graduation employment rate and the school's student loan default rate in an apparent effort to attract litigants for a planned class action law suit against Cooley and other law schools.  This complaint sets out a series of business torts including defamation, interference with the law school's business relations, breach of contract, and "false light".

There is no doubt Cooley is taking this litigation seriously, hiring Michigan's premire "biglaw" firm: Miller Canfield.  The complaints were filed in the Ingham County Circuit Court on the basis Cooley's business injuries occurred in Lansing, MI, where the school is located.

Cooley apparently operates under the ancient Hollywood adage, "there is no such thing as bad publicity."  This blog wryly noted when Cooley purchased the rights to name a minor league baseball park (the former Oldsmobile Stadium; now known as Cooley Law School Stadium) and when the school's website shamelessly touted itself as the #2 law school in the country; second only to Harvard Law School.

These marketing gaffs come straight from the top of the law school's administration.  They do not advance the legitimate goals of Michigan's fifth law school, nor do they serve the interests of the legions of Cooley law graduates that have passed bar exams across the nation at historically higher than average rates.

Stay tuned for interesting developments on this one.  After Miller Canfield has earned about a half million in fees to conduct plenty of discovery, one of the sides will be filing dispositive motions sometime in 2013.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Five Red Flags that Your Divorce Attorney is on the Wrong Road

Divorce lawyers are expensive; far too expensive for what most families need in a divorce proceeding.  If you are involved in a divorce, here are some warning signs to help you determine whether you are getting your money's worth for this important service.

1.  Lack of Communication.  A breakdown in communication is the number one cause of client dissatisfaction with their divorce attorney.  If a lawyer does not return your call within a reasonable time, she is either too busy or does not care about your case.

We all know in this era of smart phones that our lawyers get our calls, emails, and text messages within minutes of pushing the send button.  Has your lawyer provided a cell phone contact; do you have access to her staff?  If not, then you are not a priority in their office.

2.  Does not know your case.  Any engaged lawyer will have several cases going at one time.  Every family is different.  But a good lawyer will be sharp enough to master the basic facts and dynamics of your family.  The next time you have a status meeting with your lawyer, listen carefully to the lawyer to determine whether he speaks in general terms; or whether he has a specific plan that applies to the facts of your case; your family.

3.  Excessive Billings.  Do you get sticker shock each month when you examine your divorce attorney's invoice?  More troubling: do you even get a monthly invoice?  Although many lawyers will have you believe that family law is "rocket science", it is not.  If you are being billed more than $250 per hour for non-court related tasks such as preparing "summaries", checklists, or budgets, you are getting fleeced.

One trick unethical lawyers employ is to bill your file at the end of the proceeding, after you cut your deal, and after they see what's available for their fees.  Often in such cases, a premium is baked into the final fee.  Get your fee agreement in writing at the beginning of the process and insist on monthly invoices.  When you receive the invoices, open them immediately as you would any other bill and examine them for accuracy.  If you do not agree with items on the invoice, call the lawyer to discuss it right away; it is more difficult to raise fee issues several months down the road.

4.  Arrogant and Antagonistic.  The "old-school" image of a classic lawyer is that she holds herself above everyone else; is smarter than everyone and not afraid to prove it over and over again.  These lawyers carry themselves with a certian touch of, er, arrogance.

In the trenches of family law, however, the real trick is to find a reasonable solution to your specific issues that works for everyone, particularly if there are young children.  Arrogance is not a trait that gets this done.  Does your lawyer show condescension toward you or does he repeatedly become antagonistic toward opposing counsel?  If so, this is a sign of weakness, not strength.  You may want to consider changing counsel.

5.  Too Many Excuses.  If your divorce lawyer lacks candor, fire him immediately.  Unless he can effectively communicate with you on time regarding your specific issues; unless she follows through and does what she says, delivering service in your case on time, you have a big problem.

We hope these tips help you identify whether you are on the right road with your divorce attorney.  After all, your life is in their hands.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Jury Rules Could Sway Trial Verdicts

Photo: Reuters
Many comparisons have been drawn between the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the early 1990s and Casey Anthony's infanticide trial from this summer. 

Like the Simpson trial, the Anthony jury's verdict left most Americans scratching their heads, wondering about the state of the criminal justice system in America, and in their local community.  Unlike the Simpson case, however, the Orlando, FL trial was placed on the fast-track and, fortunately for everyone, the judge delivered.

In the Anthony case, the accused mother was acquitted of all murder charges, but convicted on four counts of lying to the police.  She has been incarcerated for about two years; she could get maxed-out on Thursday to 4-years (a year for each count), with credit for time served.  Her out date could be weeks, or even days away.

Tuning-in to the trial while grinding around town tending to my own clients, I was first struck by the possibility of an acquittal when the prosecutor's case in chief was taking two days to clear a so-called "expert" on foul odors; apparently captured in special containers for later sampling.  They had experts on top of experts.

The jury, filled with non-Orlando out-of-towners, made the prosecution pay.  When she earns a 7-figure income next year, Ms. Anthony will be sticking it in all our faces.

Meanwhile, in September, Michigan begins a probationary period for a series of innovative new court rules.  These rules, designed to encourage more detailed juror involvement and participation in a case, may have changed the Anthony verdict.  Click here for a detailed discussion of the specific changes.

One of the primary innovations is the ability of jurors to discuss the case among themselves and to ask their own questions of the witnesses, as the proofs are going in.  In a huge case like Casey Anthony, you have to wonder if the new rules would make a difference in the outcome if the case was to be tried here in Michigan.

If I had to guess, I would think most Casey Anthony jurors would attest to their frustration spending half the summer listening to a parade of junk scientists. Jurors have fine antennae for junk science.

In the end, all the junk scientists in the world could not overcome the fatal flaws in this case: lack of a cause of death; and the all-in gamble of a first degree murder theory.

Here is a great take on this trial by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

New Court Rules Expand Jury's Role in Michigan Trials

This week, the Michigan Supreme Court integrated one of its pilot projects, involving the specific tasks of trial jurors, into the Michigan Rules of Court.  The significant changes take effect September 1st.

The MSC order, with only Justice Diane Hathaway dissenting, essentially revolutionizes the role of the jury.  Trial lawyers will note a sea change under the new rules. 

Some of us have already utilized these rules by conducting trials in Oakland Circuit Judge Potts' courtroom.

The new rules are significant in that, for the first time, standard jury instructions will be supplemented with legal theories of the issues, submitted to the court by the opposing lawyers, distilled by the judge, then supplied to the jury.  A trial judge thus retains all "editorial" powers relative to the theories and issues submitted by the lawyers, and consequently has great control over the content of each case as it goes in.  Under the old rules, in addition to a reading of a series of standard instructions, the parties requested various "special instructions" applicable to their specific case.

Here are the other significant changes:
  • In addition to the standard opening statement, parties may now request making an "interim commentary" as the evidence is going in.  This creates the possibility of editorializing the content of the evidence as it is entered into the record; the old rules limited all pre-evidence commentary to the opening statement. 
  • Also, a distinct possibility of in-trial interactive dialogue with a jury is possible given the new provisions allowing jurors to submit their own questions to witnesses.
  • Where appropriate, litigants will submit trial notebooks to jurors containing witness lists and relevant documents.
  • In civil cases, where depositions will be read into the record at trial, the parties must submit joint deposition summaries to the jury.
  • In cases utilizing expert testimony, one party's expert will be allowed to hear the testimony of the other party's expert, rather than sitting in the hallway of the courtroom under the usual sequestration order.
  • Perhaps most significant, jurors will be permitted to discuss the case amongst themselves during regularly scheduled breaks in the trial rather than waiting until formal deliberation when the proofs are completed.
In her dissent, Justice Hathaway commented that the rules allowing for interim jury questions, interim deliberations, and the submission of deposition summaries, will poison the trial process with unnecessary complications.

We here at the Law Blogger must admit that, with lawyers being, er, lawyers, the new rules do have fantastic potential to complicate the trial process.  On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog applauds these developments to the extent that they treat jurors as thinking adults; not a bunch of kindergartners.

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