Monday, August 25, 2008

The Jewish Clause

I saw in the Chicago Tribune this morning that a Chicago dentist named Max Feinberg expressed in his will his wish to disinherit any descendant "who married outside the Jewish faith." Following litigation initiated by one of his grandchildren, the Illinois Appellate Court noted that it would be "contrary to public policy" to honor Max Feinberg's wish.

I need some help here. I am not an estate planner. I did take Trusts and Estates about six or seven years ago, but I think I sold that text for pizza money about two days after the final. First of all, this wasn't the public's money. It was Max Feinberg's money. So how can the court overrule his wishes based on public policy considerations. Three judges think they can dictate how this guy can divy up the money that he spent seventy years saving. That's ridiculous. I don't think this has any public policy implications whatsoever. He didn't say "My descendants must marry Jews." He said "You can marry whoever you want, but if you want my money, you must marry a Jew." How are these kids automatically entitled to any of his money??? He built his own fortune. He should be able to do with it as he chooses.

Of course, I haven't read the court's opinion. I'm just giving you my initial reaction after reading this article today. There are probably arguments expressed by the Appellate Court of which I am not smart enough to come up with on my own as I sit here typing this off the top of my head.

I would be thrilled to hear from some estate planners out there. What are your thoughts on this case and its implications for your practice.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Affair with former client's wife costs attorney $1.5 million


A Mississippi attorney must pay $1.5 million for having an affair with a former client's wife.

Affirming a jury verdict in Rankin County Circuit Court, the Supreme Court of Mississippi found Ronald Henry Pierce liable to his former client, Ernest Allan Cook, who, along with his wife Kathleen Shorkey Cook, had hired Pierce to represent them and their son in a medical malpractice action. The appellate court found Pierce, a solo practitioner, liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract and alienation of affection.

Pierce began having an affair with Kathleen Cook in September 2000 after her husband had moved to California to pursue a film career. Ernest Cook discovered the affair and hired a private investigator. The Cooks terminated Pierce as their attorney in the medical malpractice action in December 2000 and were divorced in June 2002 on the grounds of Kathleen Cook's uncondoned adultery. Ernest Cook then filed a lawsuit against Pierce.

In June 2006, a jury granted Ernest Cook $300,000 for alienation of affection, $200,000 for breach of contract and $1 million for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Mississippi Supreme Court on Aug. 14 rejected Pierce's argument that the statute of limitations had expired on the alienation and emotional distress claims and his argument that the breach of contract claim was actually a legal malpractice claim requiring an expert witness.

Reached by phone, Pierce said he expected an unfavorable outcome because the Supreme Court had denied his bid to present oral argument on appeal. "I knew I was going to get screwed," he said.

Pierce said that he planned to file a motion to reconsider.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Felony conviction overturned because prosecutor's law license was suspended

The Aurora Beacon Newspaper reports that a felony conviction out of Kendall County has been overturned by the 2nd District because one of the Assistant State's Attorneys who tried the case had had her license temporarily suspended for failing to answer the question on the renewal form asking whether or not she maintained malpractice insurance.

The article states that the defendant's lawyer was simply checking how to spell the prosecutor's name on the ARDC website for purposes of the appellate brief when he discovered that the prosecutor's license was suspended six days before his client's trial. That had to be a good feeling. I bet the brief sure took a different tone after that discovery.

I know the ASA involved in that case. She was actually decent to work with, which I cannot say for the majority of prosecutors that I come across in my practice. She no longer works for Kendall County, but now works in the Kane County State's Attorney's office. Her license was only suspended for ten days. It just so happens that during that period of time she tried a felony case that she won and that the defendant decided to appeal. That was unfortunate for her, but like I said, that must have been a good feeling for the defense lawyer when he first made his discovery.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

NCAA Class Action Settlement

A federal judge has approved a class action settlement between the NCAA and Division 1 football and men's basketball players arising out of a lawsuit in which the athletes alleged that the organization limited the amount of financial aid available to them as college students.

As part of the settlement, the NCAA has agreed to provide an additional $218 million in financial aid for student athletes to NCAA Division 1 member institutions during academic years beginning in 2007-08 through 2012-13, according to a press release issued by Houston's Susman Godfrey, the law firm representing the plaintiffs.

Class members could receive up to $2,500 per year for three years of expenses incurred while they were obtaining an undergraduate, graduate or professional degree or were enrolled in a professional certification program. They also could receive a $500 payment toward career development programs. Also in the settlement, the NCAA agreed to provide health insurance to student athletes in Division 1 schools, arrange for accident insurance for injuries of student athletes at Division 1 schools and look into offering student athletes scholarships through graduation.

The attorneys will be paid $8.6 million, plus interest.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Ya, that sounds about right.

This article from is not for the weak of heart. It is titled "Mid-Level Associates: The Paycheck Report." The first sentence says "Finally, everyone's being paid like a New York lawyer." Wait...what? Everyone?

The article goes on to explain how New York associates' salaries are leveling out while the rest of the country's associates' salaries are rising. A survey of nearly 7,500 associate attorneys showed that the average salary has climbed to $185,000 for third-years, $210,000 for fourth-years and $230,000 for fifth-years.

Wow. Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Civil liability for retail theft

I don't really have the time to pull the statute now, but I remember defending several retail theft cases in the past where my clients always received demand letters from law firms demanding a settlement fee (usually less than $500) to prevent it from filing suit on behalf of the retailer. In my opinion, this was completely within the law and I always advise my clients to pay. I know the statute provides for civil liability up to a certain amount including attorney's fees. The only issue I ever had with these demand letters is that they always seemed to be from out of state law firms. I always advised my clients that even if this particular law firm couldn't sue them in Illinois, the retailer would just hire a law firm that could.

Now it seems that one of these collection firms is being sued in federal court for mail and wire fraud for these collection tactics. Here is an article from the ABA Journal. I don't know if there is any merit to this case, at least in Illinois, because I know our statute provides for liability.

Any experience in the past with clients not paying these demand letters?