Law and Daily Life: June 2010 Archives
Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

June 2010 Archives

Home Buyer Tax Credit Extension 2010 On the Way?

Reports have been on-going regarding home buyers concerned that they won't be able to close in time to take advantage of the tax credit for new home buyers slated to expire today, June 30. Help may be on the way for the stressed and financially strapped home buyer. Last night, the House of Representatives voted 409-5 on the home buyer tax credit extension 2010, slated to last until September 30.

The Senate has now joined the effort on the tax credit extension. According to HousingWire, Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Max Baucus (D-MT) have introduced the Senate version of the bill. "[W]e're trying to extend the closing deadline for home buyers in Nevada and across the country who have already qualified for the first-time home buyer tax credit and need some extra time to close on their new home and experience the American Dream of homeownership," Reid said in a statement. Nevada was one of the states hit hardest by the collapse of the housing market.

Mexico Files Brief in AZ Immigration Case

Mexico has now weighed in on SB 1070, Arizona's controversial immigration law set to take effect July 29.  Mexico filed an Amicus Curiae brief arguing that the measure is not only unconstitutional, but that it will also create a substantial strain between US and Mexican government relations. SB 1070, which we have discussed here on multiple occasions, is a new law that makes it a violation of Arizona law to be in the state illegally.

Critics of the law say that it will lead to racial profiling and it improperly attempts to usurp federal authority. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the law and has vocally supported it, disagrees. She argues SB 1070 simply mirrors federal law which requires immigrants to carry immigration papers and does not believe that the law will lead to racial profiling.

Mass. School Won't Allow Pledge of Allegiance

Just in time for the holiday, a traditional American fight over a traditional American symbol: our flag and the pledge of allegiance we say, or in this case, don't say to it. In Massachusetts, rugged individualist Sean Harrington was alarmed to find as a freshman at Arlington High School that there were no flags in the classrooms and no allegiance pledged.

FOXNews reports that Harrington has made it the cause of his young life to get the flags and pledge re-instated in his high school. Three years later, he has succeed in getting the flags back in the classroom, but no pledge yet. Harrington gave the school authorities a petition in support of the pledge with the signatures of 700 people, and including letters of support from members of Congress such as Sen. John Kerry, (D-Mass.), and Sen. Joe Lieberman, (I-Conn.).

SEC Settles Wrongful Termination Suit for $755k

The SEC is settling a wrongful termination suit filed by an employee who was fired after he went public with allegations of favoritism and improper behavior at the Commission. The Government Accountability Project, who represented fired staffer Gary Aguirre, said the settlement would include a payment for back pay and attorney's fees amounting to a total of $755,000. This may be the largest settlement of this kind.

According to the Associated Press, Aguirre's troubles with his former employers began when he was fired in 2005. In 2006, he took allegations public that SEC officials improperly interfered with an investigation of Pequot Capital Management. The allegations touched off an investigation by Republican staff of the Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees.

AZ Immigration Law Headed to Supreme Court

As Arizona's controversial new immigration law continues to draw headlines and legal challenges, a different Arizona immigration law is now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court for review. The Court agreed on Monday to hear a legal challenge brought by several groups including civil rights organizations, immigration groups and businesses.

The law in question involves a 2007 Arizona state law, called the Legal Arizona Workers Act, which punishes employers if they knowingly hire illegal immigrants. It was initially challenged by the Chamber of Commerce, the America Civil Liberties Union and several other organizations. It has already survived legal challenges before a federal judge and a U.S. appeals court. The case was last heard by a three-judge panel of the 9th circuit U.S. Court of Appeals which upheld the law unanimously.

Michael Douglas' Ex Claims Cut from Wall Street 2

Community property, the sequel. Diandra Douglas, ex-wife of Wall Street star Michael Douglas, is back in court for a repeat performance. The first Mrs. Douglas is asking the judge for her 50% share of Michael's profits from his repeat performance in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, the sequel to the iconic Oliver Stone film, Wall Street.

According to a report by E!Online, the settlement from the pair's divorce entitled the ex-Mrs. D to one half of Mr. D's take from any residuals, merchandising, or spin-offs of movies made while they were married. Claiming the second Wall Street outing falls into this category, Diandra Douglas is suing for her share of the take. Greed is good.

With a Bang: Supreme Court Targets Gun Bans

As widely reported, and discussed on FindLaw's Decided blog, on June 28, the Supreme Court further widened its application of the Second Amendment right to bear arms in its decision in McDonald v. Chicago. Expanding its earlier decision in District of Columbia v. Heller which found the federal laws governing the District of Columbia could not prohibit the purchase of a gun for home protection, the Court has now overturned a lower court's ruling that the Chicago city laws banning handguns was constitutional. That court must now reconsider its decision.

However, no matter how far reaching this decision seems, the rights of individuals to arm themselves have not become unlimited. Despite decisions by the more conservative majority of the Supreme Court expanding (or perhaps just clarifying) their reading of the Second Amendment, the top has not been entirely blown off the powder keg just yet.

How To Annul A Marriage

Annulling a marriage. This is not a legal procedure only for nutty celebrities who go crazy in Vegas one weekend. This is a valid civil legal procedure that nullifies a marriage. An annulment is different than a divorce. A divorce dissolves a valid marriage; an annulment says that no valid marriage ever occurred. Some people choose to annul a marriage for religious reasons so they may have the chance to re-marry under the laws of their church. For others, it is a good way to void a marriage of short duration, with some states requiring that the marriage be less than four years.

Assuming you are not a nutty celebrity, what are the basic reasons to annul a marriage? The law views marriage as a contract, therefore the basic legal reasons why any other contract would be cancelled by a court often also apply to annulments. Of course there are a few others added in, because marriage is a unique relationship as well as a contract.

Dwyane Wade, Siohvaughn Wade Divorce Finalized

Divorce is painful for everyone, even the rich and famous. Well, no kidding. Maybe it is even more painful for the rich and famous because the nastiness that accompanies so many marital break-ups goes very, very public. If everyone from the HuffingtonPost to BlackSportsOnline is reporting on your divorce hearing, you know you have problems beyond that of the common man. Or woman.

As noted on the aforementioned online press outlets, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade received an order from the court on June 26, finalizing his contentious divorce from high school sweetheart, Siohvaughn Wade. According to a report by the AP, Cook County Judge Marya Nega announced her expected decision finalizing the divorce.

Play it Again: Jobless Benefits Extension Stalled

As of yesterday, June 24, the same old song was playing on the floor of Congress. Yet again, hundreds of thousands of out of work Americans wait with bated breath to see if Congress can, yet again, find a compromise and extend jobless benefits, yet again. The Republicans and one aisle-crossing Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson, (D-Neb) managed to filibuster the procedural bill on Thursday.

According to The New York Times, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev) was noticeably angered, but moved on to other business as there was no way around the procedural road block at that time. The vote was 57-41, with the Democrats falling three short of the 60 votes needed to move forward on the legislation.

A California License Plate With Electronic Ads?

Desperate times call for desperate advertising. In light of a $19 billion deficit, the California Senate is considering creating digital license plates and selling advertising space on the plates. Sen. Curren Price, a Democrat from the Los Angeles area, sponsored Senate Bill 1453 which would authorize the development and evaluation of a digital electronic license plates. The bill passed the California Senate by unanimous vote. It heads to the California Assembly's Transportation Committee next week.

The bill would authorize the department to contract with a private vendor for the purposes of researching, reporting, developing, acquiring, and exploring digital electronic license plates. The bill would require a report on the prospect of the program by 2013.

A San Francisco based startup, Smart Plate, is in the process of trying to develop such a plate. Those who wish to adverise on plates would eventually be able to contact the California DMV directly. The advertisements would only appear once the vehicle had been idle for four seconds. The plates could display public services announcements, Amber Alerts and paid advertisements.

What's In a Name? How to Legally Change Your Name

Just got married? Just got un-married? Just can't stand your given name? It is possible to change your legal name and it is not too difficult, although persistence will be required. Getting the court order and forms to record your name change is fairly simple. What might take some time and effort is ensuring all the necessary agencies, departments and record holders are notified and the all the forms they may require have been filled out. Then, you need to tell your family.

In all seriousness, a name change can be a fairly straightforward process. If you marry and wish to take your spouse's name, you only need to show a certified copy of your marriage certificate to change your identification papers such as driver's license, passport or Social Security card. If you are stepping outside the traditional boundaries and wish to hyphenate or combine names with your spouse, a court ordered name change may be necessary.

Homebuyer Tax Credit Fraud Hits $27M

This week there is bad news and some more bad news in the housing market. The first bad news: new-home sales plunged last month by 33 percent to the lowest level on record, thanks to the ending of the first-time homebuyer tax credit. Which brings us to the second bit of bad news. In a report out June 23, the IRS says almost 10 percent of claims for the first time homebuyer tax credit were denied due to erroneous or fraudulent filings.

According to Bloomberg, a report from the Treasury Department's Inspector General said nearly $1.22 billion of the $12.6 billion in tax credits claimed through February were denied or frozen after audits. The IRS believes that overall, about 1.8 million taxpayers claimed the tax benefit since it became available to homebuyers in April of 2008.

What is a Paternity Suit?

Porn actress Devon James has filed a paternity suit against Tiger Woods in Manatee County, Florida. James is one of hundreds of alleged mistresses of Tiger Woods and has asked a judge to determine the paternity of Austin Brinling, her 9 year old son. The handwritten lawsuit was filed under James' legal name, Melinda Jannette.

TMZ obtained the petition and several documents attached to it. The petition states that it is an action for paternity and to determine parental responsibility, time-sharing and/or child support.

LawBrain.com defines a "Paternity Suit" as civil action brought against an unwed father by an unmarried mother to obtain support for an illegitimate child and for payment of bills incident to the pregnancy and the birth. Paternity issues often arise in cases involving affairs, such as in Tiger Woods situation. General paternity actions involve questions of child support, adoption, inheritance, custody, visitation and health care.

Tesla Motor's Elon Musk Divorce Whoa's

Is all fair in love, war and electric cars? Maybe a little warfare is taking place in the divorce of Tesla Motors mogul Elon Musk. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur, venture capital golden boy and billionaire is broke. At least that is what the latest papers filed in his divorce proceedings with soon to be ex-wife, novelist Justine Musk, are reported to say.

According to Reuters, Musk claims to be out of cash. Somehow, one of the most successful businessmen in one of the most successful and competitive areas in the world, is living off loans from friends. Reports from many sources state that Musk has been living off those loans since October 2009 and "spending $200,000 a month while making far less."  Does it seem a bit odd that an accomplished entrepreneur would so cavalierly live in a cash flow negative manner, possibly jeopardizing the future of his business?

Jake and Vienna Split, So Who Keeps the Ring?

Oh, no they di'int. They split. The Romeo and Juliet of our generation split up. Who in the world could have seen this coming? Jake Pavelka and Vienna Girardi, a match made in reality TV hell, er, heaven, have gone their separate ways. They are asking for privacy at this difficult, difficult time.

To avoid a mere re-hash of the extensive media coverage of the sad end to the romance of the century, (sorry, Duke and Duchess of Windsor) let us focus upon the truly important economic and legal aspect of this event. Who gets to keep the ring? In this time of recession and still high unemployment, even perhaps for reality show stars, the division of property worth as much as a nearly 3.0 carat diamond ring is a matter for serious consideration. According to reliable source USMagazine.com, Vienna Girardi's little trinket was a Neil Lane princess cut diamond ring worth $50,000. This is worth holding onto, no?

Jessie Lunderby: Model But Not Model Officer?

Even correctional officers need to get out and have a little fun every once in a while. But the type of fun Officer Jessie Lunderby had is not sitting well with her superiors at the Washington County Sheriff's Department in Arkansas. It seems in her spare time Officer Lunderby decided to pose, sans uniform, for the Playboy website. The sheriff's office has suspended the Playboy model/correctional officer with pay while it investigates whether or not she violated department policy by posing for the provocative site.

According to the Associated Press, Jessie Lunderby, model and jailer, is the subject of an internal investigation. The policies that may be found to prohibit off-duty activities such as nude modeling include "conduct unbecoming of an officer or employee of the department" or the requirement that officers receive permission for off-duty work. 

Fremont, NE Bans Renting to Illegal Immigrants

Last night, June 21, voters in the town of Fremont, Nebraska voted to approve a city ordinance banning the rental of property to illegal immigrants. Will this type of law make Nebraska the new Arizona? State and national reactions in the next few weeks will tell. One thing is already certain, the ACLU has promised to mount a legal challenge to the ordinance.

The Fremont law, according to the AP, will require potential renters to apply for a license from the city. City officials will then be required to refuse to issue a license to any applicants found to be in the country illegally. Employers will also be required to verify an employee's immigration status via the federal E-Verify database.

Obama Unveils New Fatherhood Program

President Obama unveiled a new fatherhood program designed raise awareness about responsible fatherhood and to re-engage absent fathers with their families. The program will include several facets, such a proposed "Fathering Re-Entry Court," to be created by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The Court would assist fathers leaving prison by offering mentors and assistance to secure jobs and services so they can begin the process of paying child support and getting back in touch and connecting with their families.

President Obama also urged Congress to pass a $500 million budget request for a Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund, which would provide grants for nonprofits promoting fathers and families.

Obama to File Suit Against AZ Immigration Law

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spilled the beans, and now Obama adminsitrion officials are confirming that a lawsuit will be filed against Arizona over it's new immigration law. Clinton alluded to a challenge of the law by Attorney General Eric Holder after she was asked about the law by an Ecuadorean TV station in an interview on June 8. "The Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act," Clinton said. Though Clinton may have made the statements prematurely, she was unapologetic about making the remarks when and where she did.

The move is politically risky, and Clinton's comments have already created a backlash in Arizona. "This is no way to treat the people of Arizona....To learn of this lawsuit through an Ecuadorean interview with the secretary of state is just outrageous. If our own government intends to sue our state to prevent illegal immigration enforcement, the least it can do is inform us before it informs the citizens of another nation," said Governor Jan Brewer to the New York Times. Republican Gov. Brewer says that SB 1070 is a legitimate, valid law and there is no need for a federal lawsuit to challenge it.

East Coast Pension Funds Slide on BP Oil Spill

Think the BP oil spill is the Gulf States' problem? Think again. Last week New York began considering a lawsuit against BP. Not for oil contaminating its beaches, but for the huge hit its state and city of New York pension funds have taken since the price of BP stock dove after the spill.

According to the New York Daily News the state pension funds lost $30 million due to the loss in value of BP shares since the explosion that created the spill on April 20. The state fund, a $133 billion concern, holds 17.5 million shares of BP. New York City's five pension funds are valued at about $100 billion. Those funds hold $110 million in BP stock, Sharon Lee, a spokeswoman for city Controller John Liu told the News.

Government Employees, Sexting and Privacy Rights

If you work for the government, do you have a right to privacy regarding text messages sent from your cell phone? 
 
Probably not, according to the 9-0 opinion issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in City of Ontario, California v. Quon. The court ruled that the 4th Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure did not protect against the interception of steaming text messages, or "sexting" by an Ontario, California police officer. 
 
The case involved officer Jeffrey Quon, who sent steamy text messages from his work-issued two-way pager. The police audited the messages because so many officers were incurring overage charges. When they discovered that Quon was sending messages that were not work related, he was disciplined. He sued. 

Closing Arguments Heard over Cal Ban on Gay Marriage

The Proposition 8 trial on the California ban on gay marriage wrapped up on Wednesday with closing arguments from both sides. Experts believe the case is inevitably headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Depending upon how the decision is framed when District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker rules on the case this summer, it could have a major impact on same sex marriage nationwide.

Prop 8 was narrowly passed with 52% of the vote in 2008, revising the California Constitution to ban same sex marriage in the state. Opponents believed that California would defeat the measure and that it would turn the tide in favor of gay marriage. Instead, the measure passed and several other states passed similar measures banning same sex marriage. Only five states and the District of Columbia currently allow same sex marriage. 

Birthright Citizenship in AZ and the 14th Amendment

Arizona, not content to idle after the passage of its controversial immigration law, is pressing on. The state is now considering drafting a new law that would deny "birthright citizenship" to children born in the country to undocumented parents.

A new bill is being considered by Senator Russell Pearce, the architect of SB 1070 which gave Arizona police the ability to question the immigration status of anyone stopped for a valid reason. The new bill would create a law designed to block birthright citizenship and remove the incentive for parents to sneak into the country to have "anchor babies." Under Pearce's proposed law, Arizona would no longer issue birth certificates unless at least one parent can prove legal status.

Republican State Representative John Kavanagh supports the idea: "I think the time is right .... Federal inaction is unacceptable, so the states have to start the process," Kavangh said. 

Teacher Sues for Sex Based Discrimination

The case of Jarretta Hamilton against her former employers, like many others, is sex based. In other words, she has filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination due to her gender. But it is also sex based. That is correct; Ms. Hamilton claims she was fired for having sex three weeks before her wedding, and having the details of her after school activities broadcast to the staff and to parents of students at her former school, Southland Christian School in St. Could, Florida.

A Lot of Bread: Muffin Exec Stopped from Moving Jobs

Who would have guessed that it is such a cutthroat, hardball industry? After all, we are talking muffins here. But to former Thomas' English Muffins exec, Chris Botticella, it is down and dirty and threatening his new employment opportunity over at rival baking giant, Hostess.

According to the Associated Press, the intriguingly named Grupo Bimbo SAB, owners of the Thomas' English Muffins brand, sued Botticella to prevent him from taking his knowledge of a trade secret to a new position at a rival company. It appears that the famed "nooks and crannies" of the Thomas' English Muffins are such a closely guarded trade secret that only seven executives at the brand know the full three part formula behind them. Turns out, Botticella is one of those seven knowledgeable ones.

Debtors' Prisons Making a Comeback in America?

Pay up or go to jail.

That's the situation American debtors are increasing facing after debt collectors utilize local police to collect on debts. In some places, debt collectors can get a civil warrant for the debtor's arrest. Once arrested, debtors can spend the night, or even the weekend in jail, until they can be brought before a judge.

Another clever trick used by the debt collectors? Getting bail set at the amount of the debt they owe. "It's certainly an efficient way to collect debts, but it's also highly distasteful," Hennepin County District Judge Jack Nordby told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "The amount of bail should have nothing to do with the amount of the debt."

New Genes for College: Cal Wants Frosh DNA

You may have participated in the pre-college requirement that incoming freshmen all read the same book over the summer preceding their entry on campus, so they may discuss the common issues they then have in mind. The University of California, Berkeley, is taking that common cause one rather large step further. In their "Bring Your Genes to Cal" program, over 5,000 incoming freshmen and transfer students will be asked to donate a swab of their DNA for analysis.

This program is both better and worse than it sounds. According to a repot in the Los Angeles Times, the DNA will be analyzed to give the incoming students useful information on gene variations that affect their reactions to three dietary substances: lactose, folic acid and alcohol. The students will be apprised of the results and then the samples will be destroyed. Promise.

New Study: What Really Happens to Employment Suits

Despite the glaring headlines over massive discrimination suits like the recent sex discrimination suit against retail giant Walmart, a new study finds most of these suits are brought by individuals, not classes, and do not always fare well in the justice system.

According to the ABA Law Journal, a new study from the American Bar Foundation announced June 9, found that most employment discrimination cases are filed by individuals who receive only modest settlements, if anything at all. According to one of the study's authors, "commentators claim that class action lawsuits are quite common. In reality, they make up less than 1 percent of the federal caseload."

More Teen Sexting Leads to More Child Porn Charges

Perhaps it is foolish for anyone to be surprised that the combination of the internet, cell phone cameras and teenage hormones leads to naked pictures being sent back and forth.

The legal system is still trying to figure out what to do when teenagers send nude pictures of themselves to each other. Some call it child pornography, while others call it harmless flirting.

Susquenita High School, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is currently dealing with this situation after eight students between the ages of 13 and 17 were accused of using their cell phones to transmit nude photos of each other, including one that depicted a sex act. The teenagers now face felony child pornography charges.

BofA Sued for Violation of Wage and Hour Laws

Bank of America is being sued by current and former employees, who allege that the bank withheld overtime and regular earned wages. The lawsuit was filed in federal court last Friday in Kansas City, Kansas.

According to George Hanson, attorney for the plaintiffs, the lawsuit seeks class-action status for as many as 180,000 workers, after consolidating 12 lawsuits filed by employees in other states including California, Florida and Texas. The bank has over 280,000 employees worldwide. The potential recovery for the plaintiffs is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Hanson.

Colorado Teacher Law Sparks Debate

Are performance based pay systems a smart way to raise the caliber of teachers? Or does it simply scapegoat teachers for problems that are beyond their control?

Colorado is currently working to sort out those questions after passing a new teacher law that will focus on student progress when evaluating teachers. Those teachers who fail to raise students' test scores will find themselves at risk of losing their jobs.

Debrahlee Lorenzana: Too Hot for Citibank?

In Kurt Vonnegut's short story Harrison Bergeron, he tells a tale of the year 2081, where everybody was finally equal. Not only before God and the law, they were actually equal in every way. Thanks to the United States Handicapper General, anyone with better than average intelligence, talent, strength or beauty was handicapped to bring them back to even. Gifted athletes wore large sacks filled with heavy weights and beautiful women wore hideous masks. 

Somehow that all seems relevant to the case of Debrahlee Lorenzana, who alleges that she was fired from her job as a Citibank banker because she was too beautiful. She claims that her bosses told her they couldn't concentrate on their work because her appearance was distracting. Not because she was wearing revealing, trashy wares. On the contrary, Ms. Lorenzana is quite the fashionista. She dressed for work in sophisticated, high end clothing.

FindLaw Survey: Can You Name the Supreme Court?

What do the following have in common? Alito, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kennedy ... If you said they are but four of the current nine justices of the United States Supreme Court, not only would you be correct, you would be one of only 35% of Americans who can name even one member of the sitting Court.

Mommy Dearest II: Verdict in Mom/Son Harassment Case

When last we left Denise New and her son Lane, Mother New had been charged by the local DA for harassment after hacking into her son's Facebook page and leaving comments which he at the time described as, "involv(ing) slander and personal facts about my life." On May 27, Denise New was convicted of misdemeanor harassment and ordered not to have further contact with her son.

EPA May to Take Over Texas Air Regulation

The Environmental Protection Agency says it may completely take over the job of air regulation in Texas if the state fails to clean up its act. EPA chief Al Armendariz made the statement about Texas air pollution after the federal government announced it would issue an operating permit for a single refinery in that state while taking over 39 other permits