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Federal civil trials teeter on the edge of extinction  (access required)

In the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2010, only one civil jury trial took place in federal court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. That wasn’t because of a lack of cases. In fact, there were plenty — 1,780 cases were pending during that time period. The Middle District fared a little better, with four civil jury trials. The Western District saw nine civil jury trials in that period. South Carolina thrived, in relative terms, with 46 civil jury trials.

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New direction, same old fighting spirit (access required)

After spending the past several years as the founding executive director of the N. C. Institute for Constitutional Law, former Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr is returning to private practice, joining Raleigh’s Poyner Spruill. It’s the next step in the career of a man who shows little interest in retiring and little inclination to retreat from the issues that fuel his passion. And one who, throughout his career, has defied labels and expectations. Although a Republican, Orr opposes the use of economic incentives to lure businesses to the state, and wrote the dissent in the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the use of such incentives, Maready v. Winston-Salem. When he left the bench, Orr took that fight to the Institute for Constitutional Law.

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SC bar swept up in a literary wave  (access required)

After a long day practicing law, Wilmot B. Irvin likes to escape to the world of fiction writing. He might still be staring into the glow of a computer screen and click-clacking away on another keyboard, but this is nothing like work. “It’s using the other half of my brain, that creative half that I don’t use so much in legal writing and analysis,” said Irvin, a solo practitioner in Columbia who has published six novels. “It’s clearing everything else away and creating characters and a story and watching it write itself as the book progresses.” Irvin is among a growing population of bar members who are finding the time to write for fun. He and about a dozen other South Carolina lawyers and judges who have published fiction and non-fiction will gather for the first time to sell their works during the South Carolina Bar Convention on Jan. 19-22 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

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ADA claimants find courts less friendly these days (access required)

It’s bad enough for Charlotte’s commercial real estate industry. Lenders aren’t lending. Vacancies are still high. And then there’s the ongoing problem of lawsuits alleging that shopping centers, office buildings and industrial parks are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. “The way the (federal) statute was set up it was meant to provide a method where it would be easy for plaintiffs to bring these lawsuits,” said John Bowers, a lawyer for Charlotte law firm Horack Talley. “They can sue to have these changes to the properties.” Bowers (pictured) is among attorneys who have been hired to defend two clients in the Charlotte area dealing with ADA lawsuits.

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Abuse victim gets second shot at justice   (access required)

When Kelly Waldron Bowles, 27, finally decided in 2002 to report years of sexual abuse at the hands of her former stepfather, a Dorchester County grand jury indicted Donald A. Baxter with second degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and committing a lewd act upon a child. Baxter eventually pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of aggravated assault and battery by taking indecent liberties with a minor, and was sentenced to six years in prison, reduced to two years probation. He did no jail time. But in the civil suit that followed eight years later, it took Berkeley County Court of Common Pleas Judge Stephanie McDonald just one day to find for the victim. On November 15, McDonald awarded Bowles $14 million in damages on her claims of sexual assault, sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and gross negligence. “The award cannot replace the childhood and innocence that Kelly lost,” said her attorney, Joseph P. Griffith Jr. of Charleston (pictured).

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The Achilles heel of e-records   (access required)

In a decision likely to add to the legal woes of beleaguered brokerage firm Morgan Keegan, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by the state’s Business Court that the firm had failed to establish the existence of an investor’s arbitration agreement. As a result, and barring a reversal on further appeal, the case will proceed to a jury trial. The decision in Capps v. Blondeau is significant for other Morgan Keegan investors, who have largely had to confine their claims to arbitration before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), with mixed results. It may also have larger implications as it calls into question Morgan Keegan’s record-keeping and document retention practices – which may be common at other brokerage firms.

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North Carolina-based institute to take leadership role in forensics technology  (access required)

Help is on the way as North Carolina’s embattled state crime lab seeks to put more science into its forensic science. Under scrutiny for forensic errors and misconduct, the state crime lab is under new leadership and is overhauling its policies and procedures, and undergoing legal and scientific reviews. By 2012, the lab should gain two accreditations that are recognized by the academic community and most of its forensic scientists should have their skills tested and externally certified, said George McLeod, who as head of the State Bureau of Investigations oversees the crime lab.

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Occupy movement a practice run for next year’s Dem convention (access required)

From the SWAT team raid on protesters in Chapel Hill, N.C., to the sudden crackdown at the State House grounds in Columbia, S.C., to violent riots in California and the clearing of campers at the epicenter of the movement in New York City, the Occupy protest and the government’s pushback is intensifying. Some believe the protests are a preseason tune-up for next year’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte and the Republican National Convention in Tampa. They expect the already-heated Occupy action to be replicated on a much larger scale during the conventions.

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Family Dollar chain hopes to benefit from Wal-Mart ruling (access required)

A class-action gender discrimination lawsuit against the Carolina-based Family Dollar chain of discount stores has been lingering in the U.S. District Court in Charlotte since 2008, but the case will reach a crossroads this week. At issue is whether the plaintiffs in Scott v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc. should be allowed to change their original complaint in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling earlier this year in Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. will hear arguments Nov. 22 on the plaintiffs’ motion to amend and the defense’s motion to dismiss the class action. The fate of the case essentially hangs in the balance of Cogburn’s ruling.

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Many questions, few answers in home lawsuit (access required)

Ignorance of the law is no defense. But how about the facts? How long, for example, can a lender feign ignorance of the facts and collect on a mortgage loan after the underlying debt has been satisfied by a deed in lieu of foreclosure? The answer: As long as the borrower continues to pay, U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Anderson Jr. held recently in Martin v. American General Finance Inc., a case that aptly depicts the confusion resulting when a note and mortgage go their separate ways. In 1993, Melinda Martin and her husband bought a three-bedroom house in Winnsboro at a foreclosure sale. In 1996, they took out a mortgage with First Family Financial Services. In 1999 they executed a deed in lieu of foreclosure to First Family, which First Family then filed with the county clerk.

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