Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Goldman: Sorkin Gets It Right on the Facts and the Issue

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Regardless of one's stance (normatively speaking) on the the Goldman Sachs civil suit, it's tough to find reporting or commentary that gets the nuanced facts right.  And because everything depends on the metaphor (see Erik Gerding's recent post - oh, and by the way, isn't cool to see how the way our minds categorize and analogize makes such a difference in the real world?), seeing that entire industry as a kind of casino makes a difference in things like duty and materiality.  So kudos today to Andrew Ross Sorkin in the New York Times for getting it right.  (Erik is also quoted extensively.)

Moreover, Sorkin frames what I think is the real issue:  is there a social value to this kind of derivative trading?  That's a question whose answer I don't know.  I know there is social value, for example, in currency derivatives.  It allows companies that want to be conservative lock in their profits against currency devaluation, while foregoing the possibility of speculative currency gains.  It does mean, however, that the conservative company either needs to have a counter-bettor that is either another company with a similar but reversed conservative position, or a pure speculator.  So that's the question:  what, if any, is the conservative strategy to lock in non-casino gains that products like synthetic CDOs serve? 

April 20, 2010 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics, Law & Business | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Goldman: Law Professors Have a Field Day!

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Well, gosh, I haven't had this much fun reading the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times on a Monday morning in a long time.   First of all, I want to note that while I use the first rate Choi & Pritchard, Securities Regulation 2d (great teacher's manual!), as the casebook for my class, I disagree with the idea of teaching Rule 10b-5 litigation before teaching the 1933 Act stuff on public offerings.  So I teach the book out of order.  The benefit is that we are moving into the elements of Rule 10b-5 in the next two weeks, and I'm thinking about scrapping my prepared materials in favor of this case.  (A more devious me would use it as a question on the final exam.)  I just want it to be noted that my syllabus is evidence I predicted this crisis, and now am in a position to benefit from it.

Second, I can't help being amused by some of the public commentary.  The Wall Street Journal carries a headline referring to a statement by Gordon Brown (the British Prime Minister) that Goldman was "morally bankrupt."  Oh, come on.  That puts Goldman in the class of all other occupations that make money on the churn, like real estate brokers, executive recruiters, Las Vegas casinos, every state that conducts a lottery or allows parimutuel betting on horses, car dealers, and advertising agencies.

Third, in the past I advocated a standard of conduct in which one ought not to engage in conduct that one would be embarrassed to see highlighted on the front page of the Journal or the Times.  I think I need to amend that to include that one ought not to be in a business in which one cannot explain the products being sold if they were to appear on the front page of the Journal or the Times.  Let me give a breaking news example.  My friend Erik Gerding has run a series of very helpful commentaries over at Conglomerate.  I am pretty sure I disagree with a number of his conclusions (perhaps because having done deals in the real world for a long time I am more jaundiced about the number of times anybody actually gets led down the primrose path, and particularly in the never-never land of financial products).  But that's what makes betting on horse races or synthetic CDOs.  I've commented on one of his more interesting insights, but I decided to bring it out of the hinterlands of the way comments work over there.  (I am grateful to Erik for having found the article and opened the debate on this aspect!)

Images-5 Erik highlights this morning a paper by Arora et al., entitled "Computational Complexity and Information Asymmetry in Financial Products" to the effect that it really was material to the synthetic CDO investors that Mr. Paulson selected the Reference Portfolio.  The gist of the paper is that it's very easy to create a computationally complex system from simple factors, but almost impossible to work the other way and select the factors that gave rise to the resulting system.  Hence, conclude the authors, if an arranger of CDOs wants to hide "lemon" assets among the good ones, it's an intractable computational problem to find the lemons.  See this blog post to which Erik links for another good explanation.) Thus, if Paulson had a hand in selecting the Reference Portfolio he really did have an advantage over those poor victims at IDK Deutsche Industriebank and ABN Amro. 

Granted that blogging often is to research what journalism is to literature; nevertheless we don't always believe what we read in the newspaper and we need to be careful in assessing real-time commentary.  The gist of my comment over at Conglomerate is that I think there's a flaw in Erik's move from applying the "Intractability Theory" in cash CDOs to a justification for a conclusion that who selected the Reference Portfolio in a synthetic CDO is material.  In a cash CDO, there is only a long position - that is, the arranger has no interest other than in having investors believe that the underlying assets and the collateral are all good.  The lemons in that case are the underlying mortgage assets.  (Indeed, much of the math in the Arora paper is beyond me, but I believe that the authors argue the computational complexity increases the farther you get from the actual lemons, say by creating CDOs out of the CDOs.)   Part of the problem may be terminology:  the cash CDOs themselves are "derivatives" because their value derives from the value of the underlying assets.  The point is that if the arranger-seller did slip in some lemons, the buyer would never be able to discover it.

How does that carry over to somebody who isn't actually compiling a portfolio of mortgages to package in a CDO to sell to investors, but instead is selecting the securities on which to bet in a synthetic CDO?  Let's assume Paulson did select the synthetic portfolio.   He doesn't want to slip a lemon asset in among the good assets.  He wants ALL the assets to be lemons, not because he's trying to hide a pig in a poke (as if he were the actual arranger of a CDO), but because he wants to bet against the whole portfolio. He doesn't accomplish his goal at all if he gets IKB and ABN Amro to bet on really good assets with a lemon hidden among them. He ought to be worried that there are GOOD assets baked in there that he can't find!  

Even assuming that Arona et al. have a point, I suspect Paulson doesn't qualify as the arranger who had the information advantage.  The Reference Portfolio consisted of fewer than 100 already assembled CDO securities, each with a notional value of $22,222,222, and each being made up of many, many underlying mortgages (indeed, the flip book refers to the CDO security as "midprime" if the average weighted FICO score was above 625, and as "subprime" if the equivalent number was below 625).  To put it more simply, if you are the bettor looking from the outside at a synthetic CDO portfolio, looking either to be long like IKB or ABN Amro or short like Paulson, and not the actual arranger of the cherries, peaches, plums, and lemons that went into the portfolio, you are no better off, informationally speaking, in trying to gauge whether you want to bet for it or against it.

April 19, 2010 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics, Law & Business | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

More on Goldman as Bookie: What About "Bespeaks Caution?"

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

It's certainly not my goal to defend Goldman Sachs any more than it is to defend bookies.  And I acknowledge that as to materiality, it's entirely possible that you get to the trier of fact on the question whether the actual selector of the Reference Portfolio was something for which there is a substantial likelihood that a reasonable investor would find that the information significantly altered the total mix.  (That's the legal standard.)  But, as we teach our students, the mere materiality of undisclosed information doesn't create liability for its omission; as opposed to a misrepresentation, the culpability of an omission depends first on a duty to disclose. 

So here's a quote from the Goldman Sachs flip book under "Risk Factors."  And remember this thing wasn't going to Mom and Pop up in Lowell; it was going to IKB Deutsche IndustrieBank and ABN Amro:

  • Goldman Sachs may, by virtue of its status as an underwriter, advisor or otherwise, possess or have access to non-publicly available information relating to the Reference Obligations, the Reference Entities and/or other obligations of the Reference Entities and has not undertaken, and does not intend, to disclose, such status or non-public information in connection with the Transaction. Accordingly, this presentation may not contain all information that would be material to the evaluation of the merits and risks of purchasing the Notes.
  • Goldman Sachs does not make any representation, recommendation or warranty, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, adequacy, reasonableness or completeness of the information contained herein or in any further information, notice or other document which may at any time be supplied in connection with the Transaction and accepts no responsibility or liability therefore. Goldman Sachs is currently and may be from time to time in the future an active participant on both sides of the market and have long or short positions in, or buy and sell, securities, commodities, futures, options or other derivatives identical or related to those mentioned herein. Goldman Sachs may have potential conflicts of interest due to present or future relationships between Goldman Sachs and any Collateral, the issuer thereof, any Reference Entity or any obligation of any Reference Entity.

Isn't there a real question whether Goldman owed a legal duty that would make the omission actionable?  Didn't Goldman tell the Investors in the flip book that it might well have non-public information relating to the Reference Portfolio?  Didn't it say that it might have "short positions in . . . other derivatives identical or related to those mentioned here"?  This is the "bespeaks caution" doctrine:  optimistic forecasts or projections in a prospectus aren't actionable if they are accompanied by meaningful disclaimers or warnings of the risk involved.

I'd like to be a fly on the wall when the sophisticated investor representatives get deposed on this issue.

Q:  "Did you read the flip book?"

A:  "Well, parts of it."

Q:  "Which parts?"

A:  "The parts that talked about the Reference Portfolio."

Q:  "Did you read the disclaimer about 'non-public information' that Goldman might have?"

A:  "I don't recall at this time."

Q:  "You don't disagree that the disclaimer is there, do you?"

A:  "No."

Q:  "Did you ask Goldman to reveal to you the undisclosed information?"

A:  "I don't recall at this time."

Q:  "Did you read the risk factor that said Goldman might be shorting the identical reference portfolio?"

A:  "I don't recall at this time."

Q:  "Did you actually ask Goldman if it was shorting the identical reference portfolio?"

A:  "I don't recall at this time."

Q:  "Remind me again how long you've been in this business."

I find myself in a funny position, intellectually speaking.  The lawyer in me, applying a legal model to what I've seen so far, is saying this case is a real stretch.  The business ethicist in me is saying, "ugh, what a squirrelly business to be in.  You must have to take a scalding shower when you get home every night to play it that close to the vest."  The sociologist-psychologist-philosopher-Tina Turner in me is saying:  "Well, of course, Jeff, what's law got to do with it?"  The cognitive scientist in me is saying, "It all depends on the metaphor.  If you think of Goldman as the bookie, and ABN Amro as a high roller, you reach one result.  If you think of Goldman as your doctor or lawyer, you reach another one."

April 18, 2010 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics, Law & Business | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Goldman as Bookie: Inspector Renault Assesses Synthetic CDOs

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

I really think this should have been the epigram on the SEC's complaint against Goldman Sachs:  "I'm shocked, shocked to find gambling is going on in here!"  I've spent a little time in the last couple days digging past the allegations to the structure of the deal, and conclude that blaming Goldman Sachs for this is about as sensible as blaming the Race & Sports Book at Caesars Palace for taking bets on both sides of the game.

Seriously.  Bookies don't gamble.  They facilitate gambling.  They set odds to equalize the betting on both sides.  When the game or the race is over, they gather up what the losing side lost, pay what the winning side won, and skim a little bit for themselves.  You know when you place a bet with a bookie that it's the nature of the system that the bookie HAS to have a counter-bet to offset your own.  Now imagine that you'd like to bet against the Pakistani badminton team in its upcoming match against Indonesia because you think there are a lot of crazed Pakistani badminton fans who will bet the farm on their team.  There aren't any bookies who take badminton action.  So here is what you do.  You find a reputable bookie and ask him to set odds on the match for no other reason than you see those Pakistanis as suckers just waiting to be taken. You'll even pay the overhead to set up the line.  Caesars posts a line on the match; you bet Indonesia; the Pakistanis bet Pakistan; Indonesia creams Pakistan; Caesars collects the Pakistani bets, pays you off, and makes a little money in the process.

Then, horror of horrors!  The bettors on the Pakistani team sue Caesars because it didn't disclose that it set the badminton line and took the action because somebody wanted to bet on Indonesia!  Ludicrous, you'd say.

But as far as I can tell that's exactly what Goldman did here.  What made the deal work for Goldman was that it was the purchaser from ABACUS of credit default swap bets on the reference portfolio and the seller of matching credit swap bets to Paulson on the same portfolio.  I'm afraid that what's going on is that the deal is indeed so complex in its structure and terminology that even the sophisticated public is flummoxed.  SYNTHETIC CDOS WERE NOTHING BUT GAMBLES ON THE DIRECTION OF THE HOUSING AND SUBPRIME MARKET.  Like all derivatives, they might well have served as a conservative strategy if one had an underlying business that was exposed, and wanted to hedge away losses at the cost of additional speculative gains, either going long or short on the market.  If ABN Amro and IDK Deutsche Bank wanted to bet on the subprime market, they had to have a bookie with counter action to create an opportunity for the bet!

At first I thought this case was odd for its secondary actor liability issues.  Now I think it's just as interesting on issues of materiality, reliance, and causation.

April 17, 2010 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics, Law & Business | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Support For Immigration Clients "Fraught With Danger"

The District of Columbia Bar Legal Ethics Committee has recently opined on the practice by immigration attorneys of executing affidavits of support for their clients. The conclusion:

Lawyers in immigration matters may not execute an Affidavit of Support (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Form I-864) on the immigrant’s behalf as a joint–sponsor while continuing to represent the immigrant in the matter. Typically, a person who signs an Affidavit of Support agrees to support the immigrant at an annual income that is not less than 125% of the federal poverty level so that the immigrant will not become a public charge. The ensuing contractual obligations continue for years after the immigrant is admitted on the basis of the Affidavit of Support. The Affidavit of Support is a guarantee of financial assistance to a client. Such guarantees are generally prohibited by Rule 1.8(d). Because the obligations continue long after the completion of the immigration proceeding, the undertaking does not fit within the narrow safe harbor of Rule 1.8(d)(2), which allows, but does not require, financial support strictly necessary to sustain the client during a proceeding. An Affidavit of Support undertaking by a lawyer to a client is also fraught with peril under Rule 1.7(b)(4) (conflicts of interest). Thus, a lawyer who wishes to serve as a joint sponsor for an immigration client by executing an Affidavit of Support on the immigrant’s behalf must withdraw from the representation of that client before doing so.

(Mike Frisch)

April 5, 2010 in Clients, Economics, Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Friending" And Florida Ethics

The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has now weighed in on a series of questions concerning "friending. " Judicial assistants may friend so long as they do so in conformance with this opinion:

Several opinions clearly hold that judicial assistants are not subject to the Code of JudicialaConduct. See JEAC Op. 95-12 (where a majority of the Committee believed that the Code of Judicial Conduct did not apply to judicial assistants for seeking donations and fund-raising activities outside the courthouse and outside their administrative duties); Op. 93-45 (law clerks not bound by Code of Judicial Conduct when engaged in partisan political activity during their personal time).

While the Code may not apply directly to judicial assistants, it may indirectly impact them and their duties.   In JEAC Op. 00-08, the Committee recommended that the judge direct its court employees, including judicial assistants, to not accept gifts.  The Committee explained that “the acceptance of such gifts places the fidelity and the integrity of the court into serious question.” JEAC Op. 00-08; see also Canon 3C(2), Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct.  Furthermore, in Op. 06-32, the Committee opined that a judicial assistant should not accept employment cleaning offices of attorneys who have appeared or were likely to appear before the judge.  That conduct, coupled with the monetary implications, “gives an appearance of impropriety and has an adverse impact on the public perception of the integrity of the court system.” JEAC Op. 06-32; see also Canon 2B, Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct.

In JEAC Op. 09-20, the Committee recommended that a judge not add lawyers who may appear before the judge as “friends” on a social networking site, nor allow lawyers to add the judge as their “friend.”  The Committee believed “that listing lawyers who may appear before the judge as ‘friends’ on a judge’s social networking page reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer ‘friends’ are in a special position to influence the judge.” Canon 2B.

The concern presented in this inquiry is whether a judicial assistant adding a lawyer as a “friend” on a social networking site indirectly conveys the message that the attorney, who may appear before the judge, has a special position to influence the judge.  The mere fact that personal information is being disseminated between the judicial assistant and a lawyer on the social networking site does not adversely impact the public perception nor compromise the integrity of the court system.  Prohibiting the judicial assistant from expressing himself/herself outside the courthouse infringes upon his/her First Amendment freedoms.  This form of expression by judicial assistants is not contemplated in our Canons and therefore not a violation of Canon 2B. 

As long as a judicial assistant utilizes the social networking site outside of the judicial assistant’s administrative responsibilities and independent of the judge, thereby making no reference to the judge or the judge’s office, this Committee believes that there is no prohibition for a judicial assistant to add lawyers who may appear before the judge as “friends” on a social networking site.

However, a judge would continue to have the responsibility under Canon 3C(2) to “require staff, court officials, and others subject to the judge’s direction and control to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge. . . .”  Therefore, in the unlikely event that a lawyer attempts an ex-parte communication through the social networking site, the judge should direct the judicial assistant to immediately “de-friend” the lawyer and to immediately report it to the judge.

The committee also opines that a candidate for an elected judgeship and lawyers who may appear before the judge if elected may "friend' each other.

Finally, there is this opinion:

(1) Whether the Code of Judicial Conduct requires a judge who is a member of a voluntary bar association to “de-friend” lawyers who are also members on that organization’s Facebook page and who use Facebook to communicate among themselves about that organization and other non-legal matters.

ANSWER: No.

(2) Whether a judge may allow an attorney access to the judge’s personal social networking page as a “friend” if the judge sends a communication to all attorney “friends” or posts a permanent, prominent disclaimer on the judge’s Facebook profile page that the term “friend” should be interpreted to simply mean that the person is an acquaintance of the judge, not a “friend” in the traditional sense.

ANSWER: No.

(3) If a judge accepts as “friends” all attorneys who request to be included or all persons whose names the judge recognizes, and others whose names the judge does not recognize but who share a number of common friends, whether attorneys who may appear before the judge may be accepted by the judge as “friends” on the judge’s Facebook page.

ANSWER: No.

(Mike Frisch)

March 31, 2010 in Hot Topics, Law & Society | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

13 Year Old Climbing Everest? More Than Just Bad Parental Judgment?

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

In the gym today, I was reading an article in Outside that reminds me of a Law & Order plot's back story.  I don't know anything about family law, but I do write about judgment, and while I'm generally loathe to second-guess reasonable ones, and have a fairly strong libertarian streak, this one seems to call out for - well, if not the Department of Social Services, then maybe some friends' intervention?  If that's possible.

Images The story is about 13 year old Jordan Romero, who with his somewhat wacko sounding father, and his father's more grounded sounding partner, has climbed five of the Seven Summits - the highest peaks on each continent - and is planning an Everest expedition this May from the Tibet side, and without professional guides.  (Some of the exchanges with the kid and his parents reminded me of that L&O episode with the totally dominating father who controls everybody in the family.)  As far as I could tell, not a single mountaineering professional thought this was a good idea - but it sounds like "hockey parents" gone mad.  (I may be influenced by the fact that I am not a climber but I am a climbing story aficionado, likely brought on by the fact that one of my former law partners, Lou Kasischke, was a participant and minor character in the tragic 1996 Everest climb that Jon Krakauer wrote about in Into Thin Air.)

I don't know diddly about family law, or how the state goes about protecting children from really dumb parents, so I don't know how much leeway is given, or whether this is even controversial from a legal standpoint.  I invite comments.  But I'm willing to take a stand and say, even if the young man returns safely, this is really stupid!  If he wants to climb Everest when he's 21, more power to him!  But there is no reason that a child needs to be doing this, and you can't persuade me that he's made the decision to do it as a knowing and consenting adult.

March 24, 2010 in Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

American Bar Foundation: Call for Visitors, 2010-11

[Posted by Bill Henderson]

The American Bar Foundation invites scholars to join the intellectual community of the ABF for the 2010-2011 academic year (8/31/10 to 6/30/11).

For visitors, the ABF offers an office, phone, and computer but no stipend. The ABF encourages national and international scholars on leave or sabbatical to take advantage of the ABF's diverse intellectual community and excellent facilities.

Preference will be given to visitors whose scholarship coincides with the research agenda of the ABF and who will be in residence fulltime. Visitors will participate in the intellectual life of the ABF, including participation in seminars.

If you have an interest in this opportunity, please send an email to Robert Nelson  at rnelson@abfn.org, subject line: Visiting Scholars Program, which states (1) the topic on which you are working, (2) the preferred dates for residence, and (3) the days each week you would expect to be at the ABF, (4) attach a CV. Applications should be received by April 1, 2010 though later applications will be considered as space allows. The ABF Appointments Committee will review applications and prospective visitors will be notified in late Spring 2010.

March 16, 2010 in Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bubbles and Earthquakes

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

My article on financial bubbles and earthquakes, The Epistemology of the Financial Crisis, is due out any moment in the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal.   In it, I suggest there are parallels Images-2 between the science of earthquakes and the science of financial booms and busts and the epistemological crises that I claim ensued when the workings of the world managed to burst the bubble of faith in predictive sciences with respect to each of them.  What interested me as a lawyer in particular, as discussed in the piece, is the lawyerly equation of causation with blame.  I had a friendly debate a few weeks ago with one of my faculty colleagues who said she did assess this last bubble correctly before it burst.  I have no doubt she's right, but proving it's anything more than luck is far more difficult because of the counter-factuality problem - otherwise known as 20-20 hindsight - in historical causation.

It turns out I'm not the only person who has a dual interest in bubbles and earthquakes.  The Wall Street Journal has an article this morning about Professor Didier Sornette, the director of the Financial Crisis Observatory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.  As a geophysics professor at UCLA, he has studied earthquakes, which he concludes are more difficult to predict than anything else.  As a professor of finance, he tries to predict market bubbles, having now made several predictions and locked them away in encrypted files.

Once again, the counter-factuality problem raises its ugly head.  Even if it turns out he's right, it won't prove much.  Sporadic evidence confirming a theory doesn't carry much weight, even if we accord a lot of weight to theories (like quantum mechanics) that haven't been falsified, but have been confirmed in thousands of experiments and applications.  Nor will being wrong, I suspect, damage his career, the case in point being Ed Yardeni, who made his name for several years predicting the collapse of the world because of the Y2K problem.

March 13, 2010 in Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 5, 2010

No To Husson Law Again

The Maine Supreme Court has again denied Husson University's request for permission to allow its future Juris Doctor graduates to sit for the bar examination. The court found that the renewed request detailed "a program largely identical to that proposed in its [denied] 2007 submisions." The court had conducted a hearing and received statements from a variety of groups including its Board of Bar Examiners.

The renewed request had sought the court's "preliminary approval of a blueprint of its proposed law school program" rather than blanket approval for its graduates. The court expressed concern that the University has apparently decided not to apply for ABA accreditation and has not yet begun operations:

Like any other nascent law school, and in the absence of any other existing accrediting body, Husson may apply to the ABA for provisional accreditation after it has been in operation for one year...It could then demonstrate its compliance with all the other ABA standards while the ABA is reviewing its position on the issue of tenure. If, at the conclusion of the evaluative processes, Husson has met all of the other criteria, and the ABA decides not to change its standards on tenure, Husson must then decide whether to revisit its own policy on tenure.

Husson's faculty had voted to eradicate the faculty tenure system more than 15 years ago. (Mike Frisch)

March 5, 2010 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Void On Public Policy Grounds

The New Jersey Appellate Division has held that an agreement between an attorney and three defendants (two individuals and a corporation) that the attorney would not represent parties in litigation adverse to the defendants was void.

The agreement was entered into while the attorney was negotiating with defendants on behalf of clients and also was tied to a provision by which the defendants waived conflict of interest claims against the attorney. The attorney had previously provided legal services to an entity in which some of the defendants were principals.

The attorney then sought a court determination that the agreement violated New Jersey RPC 5.6(b)(restriction on right to practice) in order to bring suit against a corporation owned by the individual defendants.

The court here held the agreement void as a violation of public policy and refused to enforce it on grounds of equitable estoppel. The ethical provision exists for the benefit of the public and "that purpose would be thwarted if equitable estoppel principles allowed the [agreement] to stand." (Mike Frisch)

February 18, 2010 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Weirdest Political Ad Ever?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yo7HiQRM7BA&feature=player_embedded#

This is your political ad on drugs.  Any questions?

It gets even more bizarre at the end.

By the way, Jeff, that breed of sheep on the pedestal at about 22 seconds into it is a Suffolk.

--Alan Childress

February 6, 2010 in Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Who Dat" Say They Gonna Own This Putative Trademark Two-Word Question?

Posted by Alan Childress

And send cease and desist letters to Mom & Pop tshirt shops who for years have been selling clothing asking that two-word question?  Why, the NFL of course.  And the timing seems to be now because the Saints are in the Superbowl -- no one in the Front Office (wherever the NFL is) seemed to care when the team was just losers.

Never mind that the Who Dat phrase was actually invented for other local teams like St. Augustine High School and later borrowed for the Saints by fans.  And used in 1983 as associated with the Saints in a copyrighted recording, by players and Aaron Neville, who apparently are not getting any tshirt royalties out of all this (nor the Marx Brothers, who used the two words in a movie, borrowing from vaudeville).  And that the "Saints" name as a football team was used by lots of local high schools, including my son's St. Nfl_a_tshirt1_sw_300 Martin's Episcopal School, long before the NFL ever thought to place an awful franchise in the city.  Who stole from whom?

The NFL is targeting designs without the Saints or NFL logo or name on them -- just 100px-Blason_France_moderne.svg
anything associated with the Saints and that two-word phrase. (Espn image right, from an AP photo.) And in this specific case that other emblem is simply the fleur de lis.

The fleur de lis?  THE FLEUR DE LIS?  The NFL makes claim to the FLEUR DE LIS?  That has been around as a symbol for New Orleans since, oh, like 1713???  Or for that matter the flags of Quebec, Nova Scotia, Louisville, Detroit, St. Louis, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette!  And Bosnia. And a city in Finland called Liljendal (ironically named since our Governor Bobby Jindal is now being asked to sue the NFL over this lily, the official state symbol).  And the Boy Scouts.

I hope that relatives of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville send a cease and desist letter to the NFL.  I just hate it when my neighbor borrows the antique family-heirloom lawnmower and then files an injunction to claim it was his all along.

January 31, 2010 in Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Orleans Never Needs An Excuse To Party

Posted by Alan Childress

The New Orleans Saints are going to the Superbowl on February 7.  Jury trial is scheduled for February 1.  It is basically the irresistible force versus the utterly movable object.  As my colleague Tania Tetlow wrote in sending this to us, "A wise decision from a local judge."

The judge ordered today:
The Court takes judicial notice that Saintsmania permeates the City of New Orleans. Many prospective jurors for the Parish of Orleans, several attorneys involved in this litigation and Court personnel plan on traveling to the promised land -- the Superbowl in Miami, Florida. The Court recognizes that this pilgrimage enhances the chances of the Who Dat Nation to acquire the long sought after Holy Grail -- the Vince Lombardi trophy.
With that, the jury trial scheduled for February 1 was re-set for February 9 (in pdf here: Download Order_Trial_Continued_Saints_to_Superbowl). And my son's school sent me a similar email canceling school on Monday, February 8.  All this in the middle of Carnival!

January 27, 2010 in Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Asides on The New Apple iPad

Posted by Alan Childress

A reader comment about this on the Houston Chronicle site: "Yao Ming wants his iPhone back." Tablet1

And a commenter at the Huffington Post worries that the upgraded version will be named the Max iPad.

But seriously it is not a Kindle killer -- I am a big fan of the Kindles and tout their advantages and tips elsewhere -- as long as the Apple pad uses backlit LCD, has relatively short battery life, and iBooks cost $15.

January 27, 2010 in Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Important Public Interest Fee Decision

The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld a trial court decision finding that parties to a discrimination case did not reach a settlement through a mediator. The court lifted a bar "placed on public interest attorneys and defendants from simultaneously negotiating merits and attorneys fees in Consumer Fraud Act cases." Such negotiations are now allowed. The defendants in such matters may not insist upon fee waivers or dictate to plaintiffs and their counsel  concerning the fee division between lawyer and client. The court concludes that a defendant "has no legitimate interest in how the plaintiff and attorney divvy up the settlement." The court adopted the approach suggested by Justice Brennan in his dissent in Evans v.  Jeff D.

Justice Albin authored the opinion for a unanimous court. (Mike Frisch)

January 21, 2010 in Clients, Current Affairs, Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 15, 2010

For The Sake Of The Children

An attorney was retained by a surviving spouse on her own behalf and on behalf of her two children to prosecute a wrongful death action. The complaint was not timely served and the case was dismissed. The client hired new counsel to sue for legal malpractice and that case was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.

The Nebraska Supreme Court held that the claims of the children were not time-barred, as the statute was tolled until they reach the age of majority. The court held that the privity requirement is not absolute in a legal malpractice action. Rather, the attorney had an independent duty to the children. (Mike Frisch)

January 15, 2010 in Clients, Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Solicitation Regulation Upheld

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment against an attorney-plaintiff who had challenged an act adopted by the City Council that made it unlawful for professionals (including lawyers) to solicit business within 21 days of a motor vehicle accident "with the intent to seek benefits under a contract of insurance or to assert a claim against an insured, a governmental entity, or an insurer on behalf of any person arising out of the accident." The court rejected the attorney's First Amendment challenge to the provision, applying the analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court's precedents. The court in particular relied on Florida Bar v. Went For It.

The court noted that the act contains several exemptions from the 21 day ban, including immediate solicitation of legal business through the mail. The court also noted that there was evidence that victims are inundated with solitications in the wake of an accident. The court also rejected the contention that the act interfered with its authority to regulate the practice of law. (Mike Frisch)

January 14, 2010 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics, Law & Business | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Montana Rules Proposed

The Montana Supreme Court has issued an order setting a 90-day period for comments on a petition filed by the State Bar Board of Trustees and the Ethics Committee to revise and amend three rules that deal with attorney advertising and solicitation. The proposed amendments would, according to the petition, clarify disciplinary jurisdiction over attorney advertising, specifically identify types of misleading communications and recognize that the state has no procedure to "qualify" a lawyer referral service. (Mike Frisch)

January 11, 2010 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics, Law & Business, Law & Society, The Practice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Claims Against Law Firm Dismissed

The dismissal of claims brought against a law firm was ordered by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department:

This case involves professional services surrounding the design and implementation of a tax driven, sophisticated, individual private pension plan costing millions of dollars. The parties had various professionals in the form of accountants and lawyers representing them. Plaintiff describes himself, not as a member of the consuming public, but as a sophisticated entity, to wit: "a commodities trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange" who "operated [his] business as a sole proprietor." Therefore, this transaction was "not the modest' type of transaction the statute was primarily intended to reach" (id. [internal citations omitted]). Plaintiff also recognizes that "the target market of the Pendulum Plan' was for businesses, (such as mine) with a stable cash flow and minimal number of ancillary employees" rather than the consuming public in general.

Moreover, as plaintiff admits in his affidavit, it was not the form of the Pendulum Plan in general that ran afoul of IRS regulations, but rather the operation of plaintiff's particular plan that used life insurance as a tax shelter "in amounts that greatly exceeded both IRS imposed limits and the terms of the plan document prepared by Bryan Cave and approved by the IRS." As it was the operation of plaintiff's particular plan that caused the problems with the IRS, this is essentially a private dispute among the parties relating to advice that plaintiff received and his particular plan structure, rather than conduct affecting the consuming public at large.

The court found that claims of unjust enrichment, legal malpractice and negligence were not established:

The allegations do not support the claims for unjust enrichment against Bryan Cave and Smith and Hartstein. Whatever benefits they may have received were too attenuated from the conduct alleged and from their relationships with plaintiff. The claim is also not viable as against Bankers, and Thornhill as Banker's agent, because the express terms of plaintiff's valid insurance contracts govern Bankers' obligations to plaintiff.

The motion court should have dismissed the legal malpractice claims against Bryan Cave and Smith because no attorney-client relationship existed in 2002. The motion court was correct that the tax opinion letter was insufficient to support an attorney- client relationship, considering the letter stated it was for ECI solely and contained disclaimers cautioning readers to procure tax advice tailored to their specific plan. The motion court was also correct that the limited power of attorney was insufficient to show an attorney-client relationship as that document could also have authorized nonattorneys to act on behalf of plaintiff. The limited power of attorney only authorized Bryan Cave to represent "Robert A. Dennenberg, a Sole Proprietorship Defined Benefit Pension Plan" before the IRS and only for "Form 5307," which was the application submitted to the IRS for it to determine whether to approve the Plan. Plaintiff does not contend that Bryan Cave was negligent in submitting the Form 5307.

However, the motion court improperly relied on plaintiff's entirely conclusory allegations that plaintiff retained the services of Bryan Cave in 2001 to support the legal malpractice claim. Plaintiff points to no communications with Bryan Cave for legal advice about implementation of the Plan. Plaintiff offers no objective facts or actions to show the existence of an attorney-client relationship or the parties' mutual agreement that Bryan Cave would perform ongoing legal services for plaintiff.

In a last ditch attempt to hold Bryan Cave responsible, plaintiff claims Bryan Cave was negligent in defending him during his 2004 audit before the IRS, until October 25, 2005 when plaintiff retained new counsel. However, plaintiff points to no damage relating to Bryan Cave's alleged negligence during the audit period. Rather, according to plaintiff's allegations, all of plaintiff's injury stems from the implementation of the Plan, not from any actions the attorneys took during the audit period. Accordingly, the court should have dismissed the cause of action for legal malpractice. (citations and headers omitted)

January 8, 2010 in Clients, Current Affairs, Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)