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LegalZoom says Bar’s delays, not new law, is reason for lawsuit  (access required)

LegalZoom sued the N.C. State Bar one day before a new law went into effect that allows a new cause of action against unauthorized practitioners. But the company says that was coincidence – not the impetus for the suit. LegalZoom general counsel Chas Rampenthal (pictured) said the new cause of action doesn’t apply to LegalZoom because the company is not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The company sued the Bar, he said, because the agency refused to withdraw a public cease-and-desist letter it sent LegalZoom three years ago and because it refuses to register the company’s prepaid legal service plans. In its suit, LegalZoom alleged that the impression that it engages in the unauthorized practice of law was fostered, at least in part, by the Bar’s May 5, 2008 cease-and-desist letter. That letter, LegalZoom alleged, has disparaged its name and caused it “incalculable” economic harm.

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Failure to provide title to plane leads to $8.7 million verdict  (access required)

A jury in Buncombe County, N.C. awarded Venezuelan native Wilson Aponte and his company $8.7 million after finding that Dove Air Inc. and its president breached a contract with Aponte for the purchase of a Cessna jet. The jury awarded Aponte $2,922,353. The damages were trebled because the jury found that Aponte was damaged by the fraud of Dove Air and Joseph W. Duncan, the company’s owner and president. The 2009 deal, negotiated by an intermediary, was for Aponte to pay Dove Air $2.2 million in exchange for a Cessna Citation III. Aponte paid in full, but Dove Air hedged on giving over the plane. When it finally did, the plane came with an unexpected hitch: a $2.3 million lien in favor of Cessna Finance Corporation. That wasn’t part of the deal. The contract provided that the plane would be transferred free of any liens or charges.

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Jury doesn’t buy that fender bender caused injuries (access required)

A jury at the Greenville County Court of Common Pleas decided last month that a driver involved in a fender bender was not to blame for a second motorist’s alleged injuries after hearing evidence that he’d been hurt at work. The defendant’s Greenville attorney, Marcus K. McGarr, argued that the plaintiff and his medical experts had wrongly connected the crash to existing injuries the plaintiff suffered during an on-the-job injury, for which he collected workers’ compensation. The plaintiff’s attorneys, Gary W. Poliakoff and Raymond P. Mullman Jr. of Poliakoff & Associates in Spartanburg, have filed post-trial motions arguing that Judge Letitia H. Verdin made erroneous rulings during the trial. They are gearing up for an appeal.

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Mother’s attempt at a deed do-over rejected by appeals court (access required)

A family battle over a Beaufort, N.C. “home place” (pictured) may have ground to a halt after the N.C. Court of Appeals found that a mother was not mistaken when she signed a deed granting her son an interest in her property. The mother, Janice Willis, sought to reform the deed when her son, Edward Willis, died and the interest in the property passed to his two children. Janice Willis argued unsuccessfully that she never intended that result.

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Simple lease dispute requires high court’s attention (access required)

A simple commercial lease involving a simple mistake led to a simple disagreement. That led all the way to the S.C. Supreme Court in Atlantic Coast Builders and Contractors v. Lewis, where the high court’s justices disagreed over simple appellate procedural rules that ended the case, for now. In a Sept. 26 opinion, the high court majority, applying the “two issue” and “law of the case” rules, upheld Beaufort County Circuit Court Judge Curtis L. Coltrane’s ruling in favor of Atlantic Coast Builders and Contractors in its dispute with landlord Laura Lewis. The issue in Atlantic came down to who – landlord or tenant – was responsible for checking applicable zoning regulations before entering into a lease agreement. Atlantic sued Lewis after a zoning officer told the company it needed zoning permits to use the property for a building and construction office. Columbia attorney Hemphill Pride II (pictured) represented Lewis.

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Chief justice wants to rein in ‘win at all costs’ approach in court (access required)

COLUMBIA (AP) — State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal suggested last week that the appeal of a man on death row for raping and strangling a Clemson University student could be used as a warning to South Carolina prosecutors who ignore fairness and take what she called a “win at all costs” approach. Jerry Buck Inman is appealing his conviction and sentence, saying the man who prosecuted his case should have been removed because he intentionally intimidated a witness testifying on his behalf. The 40-year-old convicted sex offender confessed to killing 20-year-old Tiffany Souers in 2006 and pleaded guilty to murder. A judge then heard evidence about whether Inman should get a life sentence or the death penalty.

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Developer’s counterclaim against SunTrust nets $2.1 million (access required)

A Winston-Salem, N.C. developer has been awarded $2.1 million by a Forsyth County jury after asserting counterclaims against SunTrust Bank in a lawsuit brought by the bank on a promissory note. Donald H. Sutphin wasn’t any stranger to the construction business and he wasn’t any stranger to SunTrust Bank. Sutphin had been involved in residential construction and development for 30 years and had a 15-year relationship with SunTrust. He was surprised, then, when he received a call in October 2009 from a SunTrust banker notifying him that a hold was being placed on $365,000 Sutphin had in deposit accounts at the bank. Sutphin had taken out numerous loans from SunTrust to finance development of properties in the Winston-Salem area. But SunTrust had decided to exit the residential construction loan business as problems in the real estate market multiplied, according to J. Scott Hale, who represented Sutphin.

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Have license, will travel  (access required)

They might not be fleeing dust-smothered farmland in rusty jalopies, limping down dirt roads in search of the next odd job, but a growing subculture of lawyers across the country is living out a modern-day “Grapes of Wrath” scenario. Instead of heading west to find fruit-picking work, these lawyers are scouring the land for document review projects. Not all have hungry children in tow, but many stand in the shadows of six-figure law school loans. Document review lawyers move from one job to the next like migrant workers. Most places require them to have a law license, though it doesn’t have to be issued by the state where they happen to be working. Not knowing how long the job will last, they live out of suitcases, bouncing from city to city and sleeping in strange beds.

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Medicare rules on settlements unite litigators in frustration  (access required)

BOSTON, MA — A looming deadline that will require reporting of personal injury settlements to Medicare has united trial lawyers who are normally adversaries in personal injury cases. Under rules designed to protect Medicare’s lien on medical bills recovered by a personal injury plaintiff, liability insurers must begin collecting data on cases that settle on or after Oct. 1 for reporting to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that is starting Jan. 1, 2012. The deadline has been moved several times in the past three years, purportedly to give CMS more time to create guidelines and to help personal injury cases settle faster.

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Study aims to alter the way police conduct lineups  (access required)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new study says those lineups you see on television crime dramas and often used in real-life police departments are going about it all wrong. The study released last week by the American Judicature Society is part of a growing body of research during the past 35 years that questions the reliability of eyewitness identifications under certain circumstances. That research has been taken more seriously in recent years with the evolution of DNA evidence clearing innocent people of crimes they were convicted of committing, often based on eyewitness testimony.

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