New Jersey Bytes Archives
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Ridgefield, in Bergen County, is considering a measure that would make it the first town in the state to outlaw bullying and harassment on municipal property.
The borough council could give an initial review as early as Jan. 6 to the proposed ordinance, which would create a policy on how to address bullying and provide for public-employee training on dealing with the issue.
Mayor Anthony Suarez said the Tyler Clementi cyberbullying case moved him to propose the law. Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington on Sept. 22, 2010, after his Rutgers University roommate used a webcam to videostream his sexual encounter with a another man.
The ordinance will be based on New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, which was passed in 2010 and took effect in September of this year. The statute widens the definition of bullying; sets up mandatory procedures designed to detect and report incidents; and adds harassment, intimidation and bullying to the grounds for which a school may suspend or expel a pupil.
The ordinance would explain the steps parents need to take to report an incident and would spell out who is responsible for handling the matter. It would cover bullying in a wide range of settings, from recreation sports programs to the library.
Posted by Pamela Brownstein at 01:00 PM.
Monday, December 19, 2011
The U.S. Justice Department said today it recorded more than $3 billion in settlements and judgments in fraud cases against the government, pushing the total amount covered since January 2009 to $8.7 billion.
The bulk of the $3 billion recovered in fiscal year 2011 flowed from the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act, which allows private citizens to file suits on behalf of the federal government.
DOJ officials said $2.4 billion of the money recovered was rooted in fraud committed against federal health care programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.
“We are tremendously grateful to whistle blowers who have brought fraud allegations to the government’s attention and assisted us in this public-private partnership to fight fraud,” Assistant Attorney General Tony West of the Civil Division said in a statement.
The pharmaceutical industry, DOJ officials said, was the source of the largest recoveries. The department said it recovered about $2.2 billion in civil claims against the industry. GlaxoSmithKline paid $750 million to settle criminal and civil claims stemming from the manufacture and distribution of drugs from the company’s now-closed plant in Cidra, Puerto Rico, DOJ said.
DOJ said fiscal year 2011 marked the second year in a row the department eclipsed $3 billion in recovery under the False Claims Act. Since 1986, when law was amended, the department has recovered more than $30 billion.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sponsored the changes, said in a statement this afternoon that the False Claims Act "proves to be the most powerful tool in rooting out fraud against the federal treasury."
"Not only does the law help recover billions of taxpayer dollars, but it deters untold more, and is a real savior for taxpayers tired of Washington ways,” Grassley said. “The whistleblowers who bring these cases to light know the secrets hidden by those who are ripping of federal taxpayers."
Posted by Mike Scarcella at 02:35 PM.
Monday, December 5, 2011
An American Bar Association commission is considering recommending that nonlawyers be allowed to take an equity stake in law firms for which they work while urging that an existing ban be maintained on the kind of outside investment in U.S. firms that is now possible in the United Kingdom and Australia.
If the panel's recommendation moves forward, the move to let nonlawyers own a piece of firms that employ them would not become an ABA model rule for more than a year, and would still need to be adopted by individual states. While all 50 states currently ban such nonlawyer ownership of law firms, Washington, D.C., has allowed it for more than two decades.
At the same time, the ABA's Commission on Ethics 20/20 came out firmly against any move that would open the door to law firms becoming either publicly traded entities or multidisciplinary practices designed, for example, to serve as one-stop shops accounting and legal needs.
Formed in 2009 to address how technological advances and globalization are affecting the regulation of law firms and lawyers, the commission released a draft paper (PDF) Friday that lays out the panel's views and seeks input from members of the legal community. Any formal proposals that are adopted following the comment period will not go to the ABA's decision-making body until February 2013.
The commission's recommendations aren't going far enough for Thomas Gordon, legal and policy director for Responsive Law, a year-and-a-half-old nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that advocates on behalf of what the group cites as the 80 percent of Americans who have inadequate access to legal representation.
"There needs to be much more openness to outside involvement in the legal profession for consumers to benefit," says Gordon, who submitted comments to and testified before the commission earlier this year. "In any service industry, consumers will benefit where there's innovation."
Paul Paton, a professor at Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento who serves as reporter to the 20/20 commission, says the panel considered the entire spectrum of alternative business structures found elsewhere in the world, discussed at length in an issues paper (PDF) in April, but "decided there were certain practices mapped out ...that weren't appropriate for adoption in the U.S. at this time."
The ownership model suggested in the draft report would allow firms to give the nonlawyers they employ a financial interest in the firm and a share in its profits. Among the professionals cited as potentially qualifying to take such a stake: architects, engineers, social workers, or investigators who assist in such practice areas as, respectively, land use, intellectual property, family law, or personal injury.
The commission does suggest placing some conditions on opening law firm ownership to nonlawyers, including: requiring lawyers to investigate the professional reputation of anyone considered for an equity stake; ensuring that a firm's lawyers maintain a controlling financial interest and voting rights in the enterprise; and prohibiting nonlawyer owners from having their own clients or offering any services to firm clients outside of legal needs. In short, the panel recommends that law firms must remain focused exclusively on practicing law.
In a separate development, the commission submitted a proposal Monday under which it recommends two changes to its model rules of professional conduct related to how U.S. firms share fees with their own offices abroad or other law firms operating in jurisdictions that allow outside ownership.
The proposal—which is closer to gaining final approval than the draft on nonlawyer firm ownership—recommends allowing fees to be divided between firms even when those firms have differing rules on nonlawyer ownership. For law firms with some offices that allow nonlawyers to have equity in the firm, the commission recommends letting fees be shared between offices as long as the non-lawyers are assisting the firm in providing legal services.
In the U.K., the Legal Services Act now allows, among other things, investment in—and ownership of—law firms by parties other than lawyers. So far, there seems to be little interest by leaders of corporate law firms to take advantage of the new laws. According to a recent article in The New York Times, most of the impact of new rules is being felt at mass-market retailers aiming to offer legal services alongside grocery shopping and accounting.
In the U.S., plaintiffs firm Jacoby & Meyers is pushing the court system, not the ABA, to change the rules on law firm ownership. The firm, which became something of a household name in the 1980s and 1990s through a national television advertising campaign, filed suit earlier this year in federal court in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut challenging laws in all three states that deny law firms from tapping into outside funding, which Jacoby & Meyers says could help smaller firms compete with larger rivals.
The firm's lawsuit in New York hit a roadblock in early November, when a skeptical federal judge questioned whether the firm has standing to bring its lawsuit and if so, why federal court is an appropriate venue to litigate the issue.
Posted by Sara Randazzo at 07:05 PM.
Friday, December 2, 2011
The legal sector continued to make modest gains on the employment front in November by adding 100 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' preliminary employment report released Friday. The sector also added 400 jobs in October, according to the seasonally adjusted figures included in the BLS report.
While encouraging, the uptick in legal hiring over the past two months doesn't offset the 1,200 jobs the industry lost in September (the legal sector also shed 300 positions in August). July, during which the industry added 4,100 employees, remains the year's bright spot. The legal sector has suffered a net loss of 1,000 jobs in 2011 and is down 3,100 jobs since November 2010, according to BLS statistics.
The nation's overall unemployment rate, meanwhile, dropped to 8.6 percent last month, its lowest level in two and a half years. The New York Times cited two factors as driving the decline: employers hiring 120,000 people in November and 315,000 abandoning their active job searches.
The dip in unemployment comes four weeks before the scheduled expiration of extended jobless insurance benefits, which allow some unemployed workers actively seeking a job to receive government payments for up to 99 weeks. The Times reports that millions of people have already exhausted their benefits, and Congress's failure to renew the extended benefits program will affect as many as 1.2 million in January alone.
Posted by Claire Zillman at 01:24 PM.