Sands Casino and Former Manager Trade Accusations

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Firing an employee is always a delicate matter. Not only are wrongful termination lawsuits a possibility, but there's always the possibility that the employee has some information on the company which might be less than flattering. In a recent lawsuit, Steven Jacobs alleges he was wrongfully terminated by Sands China Ltd. as their chief executive officer. He also claims to be in possession of certain incriminating documents which Sands China might prefer not be revealed in a court of law.

The documents consist of about 40 gigabytes of information, which Sands says that Jacobs took "surreptitiously" when he was fired in 2010. The information includes three reports prepared by Steve Vickers of International Risk Ltd. The reports allegedly featured the investigation of "certain Macau government officials" and others, according to the letters sent by Sands's lawyers to Jacobs's lawyers, asking for the return of the documents.

Jacobs alleges that the reports were commissioned by Sands and include incriminating information "on foreign government officials, as well as individuals with whom they were doing business that were suspected of having ties to Chinese organized crime."

Jacobs alleges that his employment with Sands was wrongfully terminated after he had disagreements with Adelson, Sands's majority owner and chairman. The disputes include arguments over what Jacobs alleges were illegal demands that secret investigations be conducted of Macau government officials for information which Sands could then use as leverage against unfavorable regulations.

After Jacobs made these allegations, the U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission opened investigations to determine if Adelson's company violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This Act bars any company with operations in the U.S. from making improper payments to foreign officials in order to win or maintain business.

Although Sands denies Jacobs's allegations, it did admit a few months ago that it had found likely violations of the books, records, and internal provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Around the same time, Adelson said in a declaration that the investigation had been commissioned by Jacobs, not by the company. Adelson claims that he knew nothing of the investigation until after Jacobs had been fired. In his declaration, Adelson states, "I never asked or authorized Jacobs to conduct a private investigation or 'create a dossier' on Macanese officials. ... We believe unequivocally that Jacobs initiated the investigation on his own for his own purposes."

Last year, Sands was sanctioned by Nevada District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez for failing to disclose the fact that it was sitting on a trove of documents in Nevada which Jacobs sought to use as evidence. The company, however, claimed that the documents could not be removed from Macau and that they are "privileged" and therefore exempt from disclosure. Gonzalez disagreed however, and ruled that Jacobs could legally use the documents as evidence.

Currently, the case has reached a standstill. Sands is now appealing three other rulings by the lower court to the Nevada Supreme Court and, most recently, it has won a postponement hearing on whether Sands China, being a Chinese company, can be tried in Nevada.

Jacobs claimed that this is nothing more than stalling the case in order to keep the incriminating documents against Sands hidden. Sands called these accusations "baseless".

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Judge Dismisses Libel Claim By Former NBC Reporter Who Intends to Appeal

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The old cliché of a journalist who will do anything for a story might not be too far from the truth if the claims in this case which caused this CBS reporter are in fact true. Such appeared to be the case for Amy Jacobsen when cameras caught her in a bikini at the house of a person of interest in a major case.

In April 2007, Lisa Stebic disappeared. She and her husband, Craig Stebic, were in the process of getting divorced when Lisa failed to show up to pick up her children, then 10 and 12 years old, from school. After she disappeared, friends and neighbors claimed that Lisa had been inquiring about a domestic violence shelter. She reportedly told one friend, "If anything ever happened to me, look towards Craig."

After Lisa disappeared, neighbors of Craig Stebic's house were told by a media consultant to have video cameras aimed at the house at all times in case they should catch anything suspicious. It was one of these neighbors who turned the video of Jacobsen and her children in bathing suits at Craig's house.

According to Jacobsen, she was driving to the local swim club with her two sons on July 6, 2007, when she got a call from Jill Webb, Craig's sister. Webb reportedly said she was upset about some of the network coverage of the case and asked Jacobsen if she would talk about the case with her at Craig's home. Jacobsen said she agreed after Webb told her she could bring her children with her.

A few days later, CBS aired footage of Jacobsen and her children enjoying what looked like a pool party at Craig Stebic's house. On July 12, Stebic was named a person of interest in his wife's disappearance.

If Jacobsen is the type of reporter who will do anything for a scoop -- a claim she denies in her libel suit --, it appears to have worked. She is one of only two reporters that Craig talked to during the investigation.

After the footage aired, Jacobsen was fired from her position as a reporter at NBC. One year later, Jacobsen filed a libel lawsuit seeking more than $1 million from CBS and the neighbor who shot the video of her at Stebic's house.

In February 2009, a Cook County judge allowed four counts of defamation to be considered by the courts. Judge Elizabeth Budzinski determined that "the CBS newscaster presented the footage with statement made in the form of insinuations and questions regarding Jacobsen's activities while at the Stebic home". Such insinuations and questions, Budzinski wrote in her ruling, "suggest that Jacobsen used improper methods in cultivating sources and obtaining stories."

A different judge however, Judge Jeffrey Lawrence, has recently dismissed the lawsuit, saying that the parts of the CBS report that Jacobsen complained about are "constitutionally protected expressions of opinion." Additionally, Lawrence argued that Jacobsen and her attorneys did not provide sufficient evidence that the content in the CBS report was fabricated.

It is not time for CBS to relax yet, though. Jacobsen is intent on an appeal. Her attorney, Kathleen Zellner, said that they "had always figured there would be an appeal before this went to trial because there are too many issues." Zellner went on to say that the appeal will rest on her argument that Jacobsen was not a public figure at the time that CBS aired the story and that Judge Lawrence's explanation contradicts a ruling that a prior judge made earlier in the case.

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Milwaukee Time Warner Customers File Class Action For Losing Channel 4

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Illinois Appellate Court Limits Use of of Non-Compete Agreements

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Many states have been cracking down on employee non-compete agreements lately. California has recently decided that workers who are already employed by a company cannot sign a valid non-compete agreement with that company without some sort of additional compensation. Signature of a non-compete agreement as a condition of getting hired, however, is common practice in the business world. The Illinois Appellate Court though, has just made a new ruling which changes all that.

The case is Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services and it involves an employee who worked for a subsidiary of a company which spun off of the parent company and was acquired by another firm. The employee lost his job as a result of the sale, but was then offered a job if he signed an agreement stating that he would not work for a competitor for two years after leaving the company. Within a few months of accepting the job, the employee quit and went to work for a rival company.

The decision reached by the Illinois Appellate Court was related to precedents in Illinois law that govern what happens when an existing employee is required to sign a non-compete agreement. These precedents state that, in such a situation, a worker who has been employed by the company for at least two years is considered to have received sufficient compensation for entering into a non-compete agreement.

Tony Valiulis, a partner at the Chicago law firm, Much Shelist P.C., which represented the plaintiffs, Eric Fifield and his new employer, Enterprise Financial Group, Inc., successfully argued that the same precedents should apply to newly hired employees.

Despite the fact that states across the country have been growing increasingly strict when it comes to worker non-compete agreements, the new Illinois rule has elements which go beyond what has so far been seen in other states. According to the new rule, even though the non-compete agreement was a condition of getting hired and the employee quit, a minimum of two years of employment is still required in order for the non-compete agreement to be enforceable.
The unanimous decision reached by the Illinois Appellate Court is going to mean a lot of changes to labor law in the state. Many labor lawyers have begun advising their clients to reassess their work agreements and to pay some sort of bonus or additional compensation to prevent their employees going to work for rival companies. "Employers will have to get creative with what they do," said one Chicago labor attorney. "It can be a signing bonus, a year-end bonus" or another form of compensation.

Many are convinced that such restrictions are harmful to Illinois employers. Joel Rice, a partner at a Chicago law firm, said, "It isn't a business-friendly rule."

Others disagree, arguing that non-compete agreements might not be as beneficial for companies as they are commonly believed to be, particularly in sectors which are growing quickly. Massachusetts legislators are currently trying to restrict the use of non-compete agreements. According to P. Andrew Torrez, an attorney in Washington, this is because "tech startups will come to an area with an educated, mobile workforce and having people in that industry tied down makes it less desirable." It seems that companies fail to consider what they have to gain by the removal of non-compete agreements, rather than what they have to lose.

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Appellate Court Affirms Grant of Summary Judgment in Reverse Discrimination Case Holding that Fighting at Work Justifies Termination -- Our Chicago Business Trial Attorneys Represent Employers and Employees in Discrimination and Overtime Lawsuits

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Johnson, an African-American woman, was employed at Koppers’ plant from 1995 until her termination in 2008. She had been disciplined for sleeping at her desk in the laboratory, for smoking in the lunch room, for not punching out on the time clock, for fighting with a security guard, and for an altercation with a white male co-worker, O’Connell. Without interviewing Johnson, the plant manager determined that both O’Connell and Johnson were at fault and decided that Johnson should be punished more severely because of her disciplinary history and O’Connell’s allegations of racial harassment. The plant manager warned Johnson that future incidents would lead to termination. O’Connell received a less severe warning letter. The Union filed a grievance on Johnson’s behalf and Johnson’s warning was reduced to a memo that summarized her work obligations and employment status. Johnson was fired after another altercation with O’Connell. A witness indicated that Johnson shoved O’Connell, who filed a police report.

Johnson filed suit, alleging discrimination on the basis of her race and gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, and 42 U.S.C. 1983. Johnson argued that her claim should succeed under the cat’s paw theory because her co-worker, O’Connell, harbored discriminatory animus against her race and gender. As O’Connell had no power to terminate Johnson himself, Johnson argued that O’Connell falsely reported that she called
him racial and gender-based slurs on one occasion and pushed him following a separate verbal altercation, in order to induce the plant manager to terminate Johnson’s employment at
Koppers.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the the employer, Koppers and reject Johnson's claims holding a false report by O’Connell, standing alone, is insufficient to establish discriminatory animus. While it is clear from the record that O’Connell and Johnson did not like each other, Johnson has provided no evidence to indicate that O’Connell’s animosity was motivated by discriminatory bias against her race or gender.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Koppers. In affirming the trial court, the Seventh Circuit held:

In order to succeed under the cat’s paw theory, Johnson needs to show that O’Connell, motivated by discriminatory animus, concocted a false story about Johnson, and that O’Connell’s story was the proximate cause of Johnson’s termination. See Jajeh v. Cook County, 678 F.3d 560, 572 (7th Cir. 2012). That simply is not the case here. The proximate cause of Johnson’s termination was actually the April 2008 physical altercation between Johnson and O’Connell that was witnessed by an independent third party. ... Johnson’s claim fails because she cannot prove that she met Koppers’ legitimate job expectations, or that Koppers’ non-discriminatory reason for termination was pretextual. While Johnson correctly points out that there is no evidence to suggest that she had not been adequately performing her duties as a lab technician, her termination stemmed from a specific incident of insubordination, not a failure to perform her daily tasks. Johnson’s insubordination—pushing a co-coworker—clearly does not meet Koppers’ legitimate job expectations, even if she was an otherwise satisfactory lab technician.

You can view the Seventh Circuit opinion here
.

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Cicero Settles Another Sex Harassment Case Against the Town President -- Our Chicago Employment Attorneys Represent Employers and Employees in Employment and Overtime Suits

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Cicero Town President Larry Dominick claims he knows how to avoid sex harassment: “You’re not supposed to touch ‘em, talk dirty, all kinds of stuff like that.”

However, Cicero has agreed to pay very large settlement of $675,000 to settle a sexual harassment case against Dominick. This is not the first such settlement.

Dominick allegedly requested that a former cop and another woman engage in a threesome. Dominick denies he ever harassed the former cop.

In his deposition in the case, Dominick says learned how to avoid harassing women employees: “You’re not supposed to touch ‘em, talk dirty, all kinds of stuff like that, you know, general things that most people should understand.”

In her lawsuit, the former cop, Lujano says Dominick “on a constant basis” made sexually explicit comments, including calling Lujano’s breasts “gazangas.” She claims Dominick reached out and touched her breasts.

She also claims Dominick whispered in her ear that "he wanted to have a threesome with her and another woman.” She alleges he offered to take her to the sexy getaway "Sybaris and, if not her, then her mother ... because he liked her mother too.”

This is not the only time Cicero has had to pay up for alleged sex harassment by Dominick.

In 2011, Cicero paid the former head of the town animal shelter $500,000.

In that case, Sharon Starzyk claimed that Dominick groped her. She claimed on one occasion, when she and Dominick were in a car together, he allegedly passed gas and then groped her. Starzyk also alleged that Dominick sent her emails requesting a threesome with two of Dominick’s friends.

You can view part of Dominick's deposition below.

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Rapper Ordered to pay $1 Million Plus Reward Allegedly Tries to Evade Judgment

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While an offer of reward might not be viewed as a contract (much less a reward offered via social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube), such an offer can still be considered binding. That is the claim made by Armin Augstein who found and returned the laptop belonging to the "Diamond Girl" singer, Ryan Leslie.

The laptop went missing in October 2010 from the back of a Mercedes S350 that was briefly left unattended when Leslie was escorted by security into a nightclub in Cologne, Germany. The bag containing the laptop also held $10,000 in cash and Leslie's passport. But it was the computer and the hard drive, which contained the rapper's music, that Leslie was anxious to have returned to him. He initially offered a $20,000 reward for the return of the MacBook. Then he took to Twitter and YouTube to announce that the reward had been increased to $1 million.

52-year-old German Armin Augstein said he found the laptop on a park bench while walking is dog in Stommelerbusch, Germany, about a month after the laptop went missing. The rapper allegedly reneged on his promise of the $1 million reward, claiming he couldn't retrieve his recording sessions from the hard drive. Augstein then sued the Harlem-based musician for backing out of his promise of a reward to whomever should return the laptop. Michael Fischman, Augstein's U.S.-based attorney, was quoted at the time as saying that it was "unfortunate that my client has to go to such lengths to recover the reward." The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan and sought the $1 million reward, plus interest and listed Ryan Leslie and his company, NextSelection, as defendants.

A New York federal jury ruled in favor of Augstein's claim for the reward in 2012 and ordered Leslie and NextSelection to pay Augstein $1.18 million. Leslie has still refused to pay up though, and Augstein is now accusing the R&B artist of hiding funds in order to avoid paying him the court-ordered reward. Augstein has recently asked state judges to order Leslie to pay the promised reward from funds held by Les is More, the corporation that pays all of Leslie's personal bills. The lawsuit, which was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, alleges that "Les is More was formed to replace NextSelection and thereby shield (Leslie's) assets."

While many people insist on having certain promises made in writing for fear that, otherwise, there will be no way to make sure the person making the promise comes through on their end of the deal, such lengths are not always necessary. Many courts recognize verbal contracts and, in a scenario such as this one, where there is a digital record of the promise, a case can easily be made that a contract was entered into. Leslie's tweet and YouTube video led Augstein to reasonably believe that he would receive a substantial reward in return for returning the musician's MacBook and hard drive, regardless of whether anything could be retrieved from them.

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Fight Over Borghese Trademarks -- Our Chicago Business Attorneys Represent Families in Closely Held Business Disputes

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Despite all of the patents and trademarks out there, one might assume that, at the very least, one's own family history would be safe. However, according to Georgette Mosbacher, the owner of Borghese Inc., that is not the case.

The Borghese family is a noble Italian family, which has included royalty, rulers, philosophers, and a pope. In the 1950s, Borghese Inc. was started by Princess Marcella Borghese and Revlon and has since been developed into a well-known cosmetics brand. In 1976, Revlon bought the rights, title, and interest to the Borghese cosmetics brand. According to the court papers, this included "the words BORGHESE, MARCELLA BORGHESE", and "PRINCESS MARCELLA BORGHESE".

In 1992, Revlon sold Borghese Inc. to Ms. Mosbacher, who then became its chief executive. She then reached an agreement with the family regarding final payments, although those have also been disputed.

Since then, Princess Marcella's descendants have made their own mark on the beauty industry. Her son, Francesco, started his own line of beauty products in the early 1980s under names such as Orlane, Perlier, and Elariia. Beginning in the 1990s, the family (including Francesco, his wife, Amanda, and their son, Lorenzo) started making appearances on the home shopping channel QVC and, after that, HSN.

While none of the products are sold under the Borghese name, their marketing does include the noble lineage of the Borghese family. However, Borghese Inc. argues that that heritage is no longer theirs to capitalize on.

According to Mark N. Mutterperl, the attorney representing Borghese Inc., the lawsuit "is not different than if any other brand name with a surname like Lauder, McDonald, Heinz, Gallo, Ferragamo were to take steps as they do to stop others from using their intellectual property rights".

Mark Evens, the attorney for the Borghese family, argues that Borghese Inc. "has suffered no harm. No dilution of their mark. No counterfeiting. No palming off."

For decades, the Borghese family coexisted peacefully with Borghese Inc. It wasn't until 2006, when Lorenzo entered into discussions with ABC to possibly appear on "The Bachelor" that things started to get heated. It was then that ABC mentioned Lorenzo's grandmother as the woman who "started the famed self-named cosmetics line, Borghese Inc." Although there is nothing factually incorrect about this assertion, Ms. Mosbacher nevertheless appeared to feel that her toes were being stepped on. She wrote to Mr. Borghese to warn him not to "cause any false impression in the marketplace that there is a connection or relationship between yourself and Borghese Inc. and our cosmetics products."

In 2008, Lorenzo applied for a federal trademark for a line of pet shampoos and conditioners called "La Dolce Vita by Prince Lorenzo Borghese" for PetSmart. Borghese Inc. contested the trademark and, as the trademark approached approval in 2010, Borghese Inc. filed a lawsuit against the family.

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Video -- How to Protect Your Business From Lawsuits -- Our Chicago Business Attorneys Defend and Prosecute Lawsuits for Chicago Businesses

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Literary Agent Sued for Allegedly Stealing Rights for "To Kill a Mocking Bird" From Harper Lee

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Many people will try to take advantage of the sick and elderly by having them sign away their rights when they are vulnerable. However, when someone in a compromised position signs a legal document, a court of law may choose not to find that document to be binding.

Such is allegedly the case with Harper Lee, the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird", in signing her copyright over to her agent. Eugene Winick represented Lee for more than 40 years. When Winick fell ill in 2002, his son-in-law, Samuel Pinkus, took over many of Winick's clients. Lee has recently filed a lawsuit in Manhattan to regain control of her copyright.

According to the lawsuit, in 2007, Pinkus "engaged in a scheme to dupe" the then 80-year-old Lee into signing over her copyright for "To Kill a Mockingbird" without payment. At the time, Lee was recovering from a stroke in an assisted-living facility. The complaint alleges that, "Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see". Lee says she has no memory of agreeing to sign over her copyright.

The transfer allegedly secured for Pinkus "irrevocable" interest in the income derived from her book. It also helped him to avoid paying legal obligations to his father-in-law's company for royalties that Pinkus misappropriated.

Although the copyright was reassigned to Lee last year as a result of a separate legal action, Pinkus was allegedly still receiving royalties from the novel as of this year, the complaint alleges. The current lawsuit is asking that any commissions Pinkus has received since 2007 be returned to Lee.

The lawsuit also claims that Pinkus has failed to provide royalty statements in recent years to explain money earned by the book. Additionally, Pinkus allegedly failed to respond to offers by HarperCollins to discuss licensing e-book rights and did not respond to the publisher's request for assistance related to the book's 50th anniversary.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" was published in 1960 and is Lee's only published book. It is considered a classic and has sold more than 30 million copies.

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Does Facebook "Like" Button Give Rise to First Amendment Rights? Federal Appellate Court Set to Decide the Issue.

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Many of us use Facebook "likes" every day to express our feelings and opinions on the internet. In fact, according to Facebook, around 3 billions "likes" and comments are made on the social network site on a daily basis. However, it is still a relatively new form of expression and, as such, might not get the protection of the American Constitution's first amendment.

The issue has been brought before a judge in Hampton, Virginia where a deputy, Daniel Ray Carter, was fired by his sheriff. Carter sued for violation of the First Amendment after he was fired, alleging that he was let go as a result of "liking" the Facebook page of his boss' political opponent during the town's 2009 sheriff election. According to the lawsuit, Hampton sheriff B.J. Roberts said to Carter, "You made your bed, now you're going to lie in it - after the election, you're gone." About five months after Roberts's re-election, Carter was fired, along with five other employees who either supported Carter's opponent or did not actively campaign for Carter during the election.

U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson dismissed the suit, saying that the U.S. Constitution does not protect clicking the thumbs-up button on a Facebook page. According to Judge Jackson, the "like" button is not substantial enough of a statement to be considered free speech. In his decision, he wrote, "Merely 'liking' on a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection."

An appeal by Carter and his former co-workers is being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The American Civil Liberties Union has also filed an amicus brief supporting the effort to overturn Judge Jackson's ruling. To demonstrate the power that a single click can have these days, the ACLU cited re-tweeting, signing a petition, and donating to a campaign online as examples. If the appeals court rules against Carter, the ACLU argues that all of these actions will be ineligible for protection under the Constitution's first amendment. Rebecca K. Glenberg, the legal director of the ACLU of Virginia, told the Washington Post that "Pressing a 'like' button is analogous to other forms of speech, such as putting a button on your shirt with a candidate's name on it." The ACLU argues that, as the technological world grows, we must protect the news ways of communication which will inevitably develop.

Facebook has also come forward in support of Carter and the ACLU, saying that a Facebook "like" is the modern equivalent of putting up a front-yard campaign sign. Facebook will get a chance to argue their side of the case before a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The social media company will be allowed three minutes of oral argument when the panel hears the case.

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Public Citizen Defends Consumers' First Amendment Rights to Criticize a Business On Yelp

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Our law firm is devoted to protecting consumers' First Amendment rights to truthfully and accurate criticize businesses particularly businesses who advertise heavily on the internet. Consumers should be able to vigorously voice their opinions about car dealers and other businesses who engage in fraudulent advertising and other unfair business practices. Most big consumer businesses now force consumers to agree to secret binding arbitration of disputes in arbitration fora that often are stacked in favor of business or which business funds pay for. This makes online criticism more important as long as the critic attempts to be truthful and honest and isn't acting a business in reckless disregard of the truth. In that regard with we were very interested to see a new posting by Public Citizen on the subject of protecting online criticism.

Paul Alan Levy reports about Public Citizen's recent efforts in a defamation suit allegedly designed to stop citizens from criticizing a carpet cleaning business on Yelp:

You can’t live in the DC area and not encounter the pervasive advertising for Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, from mailed coupons and display advertising in the Washington Post that promise unbelievably low prices, to classic rock broadcast from the “Hadeed.com Studios” and advertising during Washington Capitals games. But regular users of pages about Hadeed on the Yelp web site quickly learn Hadeed’s dirty secret — more than thirty of the eighty-odd reviews posted there complain that the advertised prices are routinely not honored.

Even one of Hadeed’s Yelp admirers, who gave Hadeed four of five stars for the quality of its work, ridiculed the complainers in these terms: “I can give a life lesson to the people who only wanted the $99 special, there is no such thing! Every wall to wall cleaning company uses that as a way to lure you in but no one will charge you $99.” She also gives her secret about how to protect against unannounced price increases from Hadeed: pay in advance!
Apparently hoping to deter further criticism, Hadeed has singled out seven anonymous reviewers as defendants in a defamation lawsuit. It does not deny that its service staff routinely demand higher-than-advertised prices when they show up to do the work, but instead claims that it suspects, based on a mysterious review of some customer database, that these seven reviews were really posted by some unnamed competitor. Unlike some other ISP’s lately, Yelp is standing up for its users’ privacy, and so refused to comply with a Virginia subpoena because (among other reasons) Hadeed never provided any evidence that the gist of the reviews was false. Hadeed moved to compel compliance, and the trial judge, refusing to apply the otherwise-broadly-accepted Dendrite test, ordered compliance because it felt that it was enough for Hadeed to show that the statements “may be tortious.” And when Yelp refused to comply – because Virginia requires non-party discovery recipients to commit contempt of court to get the right to appeal — the court found it in contempt.

In an appellate brief that we have filed today on behalf of Yelp, we make two basic points. First, Virginia should agree with other states that demand both a legal and a factual showing that the lawsuit has merit. In that regard, read carefully, Hadeed’s defamation claim asserts only that the individual reviewers were not really customers, and Hadeed is not defamed by false statements about whether a given defendant was a customer. Nor, indeed, has Hadeed offered any reason to credit its supposition that the seven reviewers were not customers; what evidence there is in the record points in the other direction.

We also argue that a California company like Yelp should not be subject to a Virginia subpoena just because its web site is accessible in Virginia and because Virginia companies like Hadeed advertise on the web site. When AOL was based in Virginia, litigants in other states had to get Virginia subpoenas to demand identifying information about AOL users; by the same token, Hadeed should have to use the normal interstate discovery procedures when it wants identifying information about Yelp users from ISP's in other states.

The work of Public Citizen to protect consumers' free speech rights is commendable. If you cannot obtain a free legal defense to defamation suits, consumers must turn to a private attorney. Often times consumers home owners' insurance provides coverage for defense costs when the consumer is sued for online reviews. We defend consumers in those suits and help them arrange for the defense costs to be covered by their insurance carriers.

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New Kickback Lawsuit Brought Against Novartis

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A kickback by any other name is still a kickback. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. has already paid the price for allegedly giving kickbacks but it allegedly appears not to have learned its lesson yet. After having settled fraud charges based on kickbacks less than three years ago, Novartis is now facing another lawsuit from the government for allegedly giving kickbacks to pharmacies that transferred kidney transplant patients from competitors' drugs to its own.

The civil health care fraud lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan and it seeks unspecified damages and civil penalties. According to the lawsuit, the kickback scheme goes back as far as 2005.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the company allegedly used the "lure of kickbacks disguised as rebates" to turn at least 20 pharmacies into a sales force for its own drug, Myfortic. According to the lawsuit, this illegal behavior cost the public tens of millions of dollars in drugs dispensed by pharmacists who had accepted Novartis's kickbacks in exchange for selling the more expensive drugs.

Novartis's system allegedly opposed the use of a cheaper, generic immunosuppressant drug. The lawsuit claims that the pharmaceutical company found that it was highly profitable to pay pharmacies kickbacks of up to as much as 10 or even 20 percent in exchange for switching patients to Myfortic.

According to the lawsuit, Novartis offered one Los Angeles pharmacist a "bonus" rebate of several hundred thousand dollars in order to get the pharmacist to "shoulder the burden" of switching between 700 and 1,000 transplant patients to Myfortic.

The arrangement violates the federal anti-kickback statute which prohibits the offer or payment of rebates and other inducements for the purchase of drugs or services covered by Medicare, Medicaid or other health program.

Novartis denies the claims and said in a statement that it will defend itself. It said that the investigation into the pharmaceutical company's interactions with specialty pharmacies relating to the handling of Myfortic had been previously disclosed.

The company said, "As a leading healthcare company, Novartis strives to achieve high performance with high integrity. [Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.] is committed to high standards of ethical business conduct and regulatory compliance in the sale and marketing of our products."

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Lawyers on Both Sides of a Lawsuit Removed From the Case By the Judge Due to Alleged Court Room Antics

The Chicago Tribune reports that in addition to allegations of name calling by both lawyers – including “little man”, “fat”, “bald”, and “short” as well as the alleged Brodsky favorites, “moron” and “liar” – there were allegations of physical threats and Mr. Meschino allegedly had to be escorted from the courtroom more than once by deputies.

Joel Brodsky filed a motion on Tuesday in which he claimed that Attorney Meschino was allegedly obsessed with Brodsky’s role in the high-profile Drew Peterson murder case, and reportedly recommended that Meschino undergo a mental evaluation.

As a result of these claims, the presiding Judge removed both lawyers from handling the case.

You can review a brief from the Drew Peterson trial regarding other claims regarding Brodsky here. Brodsky denies the claims and has sued for defamation.

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Former Illinois Governor Thompson Says That Recent Lawsuit Against the White Sox is Simply a Self-Serving Tirade

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Chicago has long been known for its corrupt politicians. A former executive of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA) claims that the IFSA is no exception in a recent lawsuit. The Authority denies those allegations.

Perri Imer, the former executive director of the ISFA, has filed a lawsuit against former Illinois governor Jim Thompson and the White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The lawsuit alleges that the two conspired to have Imer fired two years ago to stop her reforms at the public agency from going through. The complaint alleges that Reinsdorf and Thompson, who was chairman of the ISFA at the time, "sought to silence Perri Imer and to stifle her efforts to protect Illinois taxpayers from Reinsdorf's greed."

According to the lawsuit, Reinsdorf allegedly pressured Thompson to remove Imer because of her success in getting the White Sox to pay $1.2 million in yearly rent to the agency for the use of U.S. Cellular Field. According to the lawsuit, Reinsdorf allegedly had "undue influence" over former Governor Thompson and apparently over all the members of the ISFA Board of Directors who became complicit in allowing Reinsdorf to treat Cellular Field and the surrounding publicly owned lands as his personal fiefdom."

According to the complaint, the public agency used taxpayer money to build and renovate U.S. Cellular Field as well as to build the restaurant next door, Bacardi at the Park. However, most of the revenue from those two facilities has allegedly gone to the White Sox.

The lawsuit alleges that the "highly favorable terms granted to the White Sox in 1998 and intended to last until at least 2029 served to create a sense of entitlement on the part of White Sox Chairman Reinsdorf, who has repeatedly acted as though U.S. Cellular Field was a gift by the Illinois taxpayers to Reinsdorf and his team".

Thompson dismissed the lawsuit as a "self-serving tirade" and both he and a Reinsdorf spokesman denied the allegations.

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Apple Settles Breach of Warranty Class Action Over Alleged Misuse of Water Damage Claims

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Amidst the many legal and financial troubles it has been facing lately, Apple can scratch one class-action lawsuit off the list. The class-action combined a number of lawsuits that had been filed in San Francisco against the company and dealt with Apple's warranty policy for its iPhone and iPod touch.

According to the lawsuit, Apple allegedly refused to repair or replace merchandise still under one- or two-year warranty if a piece of white tape inside the device had changed color. The tape was supposed to turn pink or red when it came into contact with water. Since said water contact is known to damage electronic devices, Apple customer service personnel were instructed not to repair devices with tape that had changed color.

However, the tape manufacturer, 3M, allegedly said that humidity could potentially turn the tape at least pink. The customer service manual also states that "If a customer disputes whether an iPod with an activated [Liquid Contact Indicator] has been damaged by liquid contact and there are no external signs of damage from corrosion, then the iPod may still be eligible for warranty service."

Although the tech giant admits no wrongdoing, it has agreed to settle the case for $53 million. This has the potential to affect hundreds of thousands of iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS owners as well as customers who bought the first three generations of the iPod touch media player. Each member of the claim could get as much as $400 although, if there are enough people with claims, it could end up being less than half that much.

This is not the first time Apple has had to contend with complaints regarding its warranty policies. Recently, the CEO, Tim Cook, apologized to China after the state-run CCTV network and Chinese celebrities chastised the company on its replacement and repair policies in the more than 1 billion customer market.

The EU has also repeatedly castigated the firm over its warranty policies and Italy even threatened to close Apple's offices if a warranty concern wasn't addressed.

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Speedway Motors Litigation Continues

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While many consider an oral agreement to be as binding as a legal contract, not everyone chooses to see it that way. Bruton Smith, owner of Speedway Motors Inc. (SMI) and Charlotte Motor Speedway, discovered this for himself regarding an agreement he made with Cabarrus County in North Carolina.

According to the lawsuit, Smith agreed to build a drag strip and make more than $200 million in upgrades to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. In return, Concord and Cabarrus county officials offered $80 million in tax breaks. The deal was announced in November 2007 but was never put into writing until the day after the zMax Dragway officially opened in August 2008, three weeks before its first scheduled race.

The contract stipulated that SMI was to spend its millions in infrastructure improvements within three years, but would be reimbursed through property tax breaks as improvements increased the value of the drag strip. Smith rejected the contract and SMI and Charlotte Motor Speedway sued the city in September 2009. Concord was dropped from the case after agreeing to pay $2.8 million and getting land easements. It is a common method used by North Carolina governments to encourage company investment.

SMI's lawyers allege that local officials made a verbal promise in 2007 to provide $80 million in no more than six years. They also allege that the county had a financial motive and therefore cannot defend itself with a local law which protects municipalities from lawsuits.
Lawyers for Cabarrus County on the other hand, claim that the 2007 agreement was "an agreement to agree, which is not an agreement at all". They also said that the fact that SMI built the drag strip and made other improvements before the deal was finalized is not the fault of the county.

The county's lawyers further declare that it would be difficult for the county to come up with $80 million quickly because it is permitted to collect no more than $104 million in property taxes each year. According to the lawyers, that information is public knowledge and so SMI cannot claim that it was blindsided.

The dispute began when Smith gave the orders for workers to start grazing land on speedway property for the $60 million drag strip 20 miles north of Charlotte before obtaining the requisite permits to do so. When the area residents complained about the potential for increased noise, Smith dismissed the complaints. In a 2008 interview, he asked, "Do you have any friends that built a house close to a speedway that didn't know there was a speedway here? Can you imagine? All of you knew there was a speedway here, right?"

When local officials delayed in granting the permits, Smith threatened to build the drag strip elsewhere and move the speedway, which helps to foster a motorsports industry with an estimated worth of $6 billion a year in North Carolina.

It is not clear whether SMI - which owns the track and seven others in Georgia, Tennessee, California, Kentucky, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas - has yet received any of the $80 million it was allegedly promised.

A judge dismissed the lawsuit last year but Smith is now trying to resurrect it. A three-judge state Court of Appeals panel will hold a closed-door discussion to determine whether the lawsuit will be heard by a jury. They are expected to reach a decision within the next three months and, if they decide to allow the case to move forward, it could be appealed to the Supreme Court. If the lawsuit does not move forward, SMI may have to wait as long as 40 years to be reimbursed.

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Criminal Defense Lawyer in Drew Peterson Case Files Libel and Defamation Law Suit

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Far from solidarity in troubled times, the attorneys for Drew Peterson seemed to turn on each other as soon as their client was convicted. Each blames the other for the loss of the case and the dispute will now begin a legal battle of its own.

The plaintiff is Joel Brodsky, formerly the lead attorney for Drew Peterson in his murder trial, although he has since resigned from the legal team. Steven Greenberg, another member of the legal team who is still representing Peterson, is one of the defendants in the case. The lawsuit is the result of a 15-page letter, which Greenberg wrote and distributed. According to the lawsuit, the letter contains "false and misleading" statements which are allegedly an attempt to defame Brodsky as revenge for Brodsky attempting to fire Greenberg from Peterson's case.

Among other things, the letter calls Brodsky a liar and an incompetent lawyer. One section reads, "You wafted the greatest case by ignorance, obduracy and ineptitude, ... Your effort to blame me is suggestive of a six-year-old changing the rules of the game when he falls behind. ... You are nothing more than a bully." The letter also accuses Brodsky of "single-handedly" losing the trial and provides an unflattering description of his leadership, saying he insisted on the other lawyers calling him "coach".

Allegedly, Greenberg developed a grudge against Brodsky after Brodsky told him to stop appearing on national television during the trial. The lawsuit alleges that this grudge caused Greenberg "to ignore the best interest of Peterson and become irrationally fixated and obsessed with destroying Brodsky".

According to the lawsuit, the letter put Brodsky's law office "in a false light in the public eye" which caused him to lose profits.

Brodsky also named the Chicago Tribune, its parent Tribune Co., Tribune reporter Stacey St. Clair, AOL Patch Media Corp., and Patch editor Joseph Hosey as defendants for publishing the defamatory letter.

Greenberg called the lawsuit "frivolous" and claims not to be worried by it because the "truth is a defense". Tribune Editor Gerould W. Kern released a written statement which said, "We stand behind our reporting and our reporters, and we intend to defend this suit vigorously.
Walter P. Maskym, a Chicago attorney representing Brodsky in the case, said he is confident that Brodsky will win the case and "that his good name will be cleared and his professional reputation restored."

In addition to defamation, the lawsuit is asserting claims for alleged false-light invasion of privacy and violation of the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

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Court Decertifies AriZona Ice Class Action Which Alleged All Natural Claims Were False

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Many food and beverage companies are labeling their products "Natural", "100% Natural" or "All Natural" in order to attract more health-conscious consumers. Two such consumers are Lauren Ries and Serena Algozer. Ms. Ries claims she bought an "All Natural Green Tea" at a gas station because she was thirsty and looking for a healthy alternative to soda. Ms. Algozer claims she purchased several AriZona ice teas over the years, but neither plaintiff has a receipt for any of these purchases, nor can they remember the prices.

They filed a class-action lawsuit against AriZona Ice Tea in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that the drinks contained ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and citric acid. According to the lawsuit, these ingredients are man-made products rather than the natural flavorings they claim to be, thereby making the "natural" labels misleading.

AriZona Ice Tea though, was able to provide testimony from expert witnesses that said otherwise. Dr. Thomas Montville, for example, a Rutgers University food scientist, maintained that both these ingredients are natural substances. The beverage company was also able to provide declarations from their suppliers that both citric acid and high fructose corn syrup are natural ingredients.

The plaintiffs' attorneys on the other hand, were unable to produce a single expert witness in the three years of the case, which had been scheduled to go to trial on May 13, 2013. They also failed to respond to contentions that the plaintiffs failed to support their claims for restitution or disgorgement. They pointed to the fact that patents existed for the production of high fructose corn syrup, but the judge refused to take "judicial notice" of the fact. The judge was also unconvinced by the deposition of Don Vultaggio, the owner of Hornell Brewing Company, which supported the plaintiffs' claim that consumers are likely to be confused and misled by the "natural" labels on the ice tea containers.

The lawsuit sought restitution, disgorgement of profits, injunctive relief, and attorneys' fees. They claimed these under California laws such as the False Advertising Law, the Unfair Competition Law, and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

Judge Richard Seeborg had partially certified the class for the injunction against the "natural" label, but had refused to certify a class for restitution. Recently, Judge Seeborg found in favor of the defendants and granted summary judgment against the plaintiffs. According to his 13-page order, the plaintiffs "offer not a scintilla of evidence from which a finder of fact could determine the amount of restitution or disgorgement to which plaintiffs might be entitled if this case were to proceed to trial".

The judge also determined that the plaintiffs' counsel could not adequately represent the class and, on those grounds, granted the request to decertify the class.

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Illinois Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Junk Fax Insurance Case

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The Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) makes it illegal to send unsolicited advertisements to fax machines. The Act provides that damages in these cases will be equal to the actual monetary loss suffered by the plaintiff or $500 per fax, whichever is greater. In the event that violation of the Act is found to be knowing and willful, the penalty is tripled.
In Standard Mutual Insurance Co. v. Lay, the defendant, a real estate agency, had hired a "fax broadcaster" which allegedly assured that only people who had agreed to receive advertisements would get its blast fax. This turned out not to be the case though, and the subsequent class-action litigation sought the triple penalty of $1,500 for each of the 3,478 faxes, which had reportedly been sent. The case settled for more than $1.7 million.

Meanwhile, the insurer filed a declaratory judgment action, seeking a declaration of no coverage. After the underlying action settled, the class representative became involved with the declaratory judgment action. The Circuit Court ruled in favor of the insurer and the Appellate Court upheld that ruling, stating that the TCPA penalties could not be insured as a matter of public policy, since they were punitive damages.

The attorney for Lay argued that it was the nature of the conduct, rather than the nature of the penalty, which should determine insurability. He explained that the insured's conduct was not willful or wanton and did not involve the type of intentional wrongdoing which public policy does not allow to be insured as it would encourage such conduct. The attorney argued that a point by point or "conduct by conduct" analysis is necessary when determining whether conduct is uninsurable as a matter of public policy because it involves willful and wanton misbehavior. The attorney argued that Valley Forge Insurance Co. v. Swiderski Electronics ruled that TCPA damages have the potential to be covered under an advertising injury policy, much like the one involved in the case currently before the Court and that no intentional wrongdoing was involved.

The attorney for the insurer argued that there was an issue of possible breaches by the insured of the policy. The insurer defended under a reservation of rights letter. About four months after the case was filed, the attorney that had been hired by the insurer was fired by the insured. A month or two later, the insured agreed to the $1.79 million settlement with a covenant not to execute against any of the insured's assets. The insurer's attorney thereby suggested that there were questions of a breach of the cooperation clause and a voluntary payment had been undertaken. Chief Justice Kilbride asked the attorney if the insurer knew about and objected to the insured's settlement. The attorney responded that the insurer had not been aware of the settlement.

The attorney for the class representative counter-argued that the insured had the right to settle under the circumstances and that the insurer had certainly known about the settlement.
The Illinois Supreme Court heard these arguments on the final day of the March term and is expected to make a decision in the fall. You can watch the oral argument before the Supreme Court by clicking here.

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