ATTORNEY FEES

AGENCY PAYS $35,000 IN FAILED BID TO BAN AD

WASHINGTON — After a federal judge ruled last month that local public transit officials ran afoul of the First Amendment in delaying the posting of a controversial advertisement in rail stations, the agency agreed to pay $35,000 in attorney fees and costs to the group behind the ad.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative sued the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in September after learning that the agency was postponing the ad. The ad read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” with the tag, “Support Israel/Defeat Jihad.”

In early October, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled that while the ad did contain elements of hate speech, it nonetheless was protected under the First Amendment and ordered the authority to post it.

CIVIL PROCEDURE

JUDGE BLOCKS ASSETS SALE IN TAINTED-DRUG LITIGATION

BOSTON — A federal judge has attached $5 million in assets belonging to New England Compounding Pharmacy Inc., a company linked to a fungal meningitis outbreak that caused 36 deaths.

U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor IV issued the order on November 21 to satisfy potential claims by plaintiffs Michele Erkan and Robert Cole, two of a dozen claims pending in the District of Massa­chusetts.

New England Compounding’s injectable steroids from three recalled lots of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate have been tied to a multistate outbreak of fungal meningitis and other infections. The outbreak has been associated with 510 cases and 36 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

CHURCH FAILS IN CHALLENGE TO HEALTH CARE MANDATE

PHILADELPHIA — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh arguing that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act infringed on its right to freedom of religion.

U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry didn’t reach the substance of the claim, ruling that it wasn’t ripe and that the diocese lacked standing. It was one of 40 similar cases brought nationwide.

The diocese objected to language that requires group health care plans to include coverage for “preventive care” for women. The Health Resources and Services Administration subsequently mandated coverage of “the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods,” according to the opinion.

GUN-CONTROL ORDINANCE WITHSTANDS CHALLENGE

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge has rejected a National Rifle Association effort to block enforcement of city gun laws.

A 2007 San Francisco ordinance requires handgun owners to keep weapons locked up or to use trigger locks when storing them at home. A 1994 law bans bullets that can expand or splinter on contact, causing more damage to a human body than convention bullets.

The National Rifle Association sought an injunction on behalf of gun owners. But U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg ruled on November 26 that the laws don’t appear to violate standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2008 ruling that declared a constitutional right to possess firearms at home for self-defense.

CONSUMER PROTECTION

LAW FIRM ISN’T LIABLE FOR INACCURATE SUMMONS

ALBANY, N.Y. — A law firm that served a threatening and inaccurate debt collection summons on a debtor is not liable for Fair Debt Collection Practices Act damages because the contested statement, while “technically false,” was immaterial, a federal judge has held.

U.S. District Judge William Skretny said the “contested language clearly suggests that Defendant…would be entitled to a judgment based on Plaintiff’s nonappearance without doing anything beyond serving the summons and complaint,” which is inaccurate.

However, Skretny said, the plaintiff could not establish a claim for damages because he could not explain how he was misled or how the statement would coerce an unsophisticated consumer.

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

JUDGE: PROSECUTOR CANNOT ‘WALK AWAY’ FROM CASE

ALBANY, N.Y. — A state trial judge has threatened a district attorney with contempt if he does not follow through on the misdemeanor prosecution of a protester involved in last year’s “Occupy Albany” demonstration.

“When a district attorney exercises his or her discretion in invoking the jurisdiction of the court by pursuing a prosecution, as was done in this case, he or she may not simply walk away from the case and abandon it,” Albany City Court Judge William Carter ruled on November 26.

District Attorney David Soares had expressed some sympathy for protesters who camped out in a city park last year in defiance of Governor Andrew Cuomo. An attorney for defendant Colin Donnaruma had moved for dismissal on ground of failure to prosecute. But Carter ruled that Soares Carter said that Soares opened the door to a prosecution and is now bound to follow through.

EVIDENCE

SUSPECT BARRED FROM CONTACT WITH HER ALLEGED PARAMOUR

ATLANTA — A judge has ruled that a murder suspect must stop having contact with the man who a prosecutor has suggested she wanted to end up with after her husband was murdered.

The prosecution added Joseph Dell’s name to the list of potential witnesses who may be called in Andrea Sneiderman’s murder trial, and her bond conditions bar her from communicating with witnesses.

DeKalb County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams on November 26 denied Sneiderman’s request to continue having contact with Dell while the case is pending. An attorney for Sneiderman, Thomas Clegg, argued that her relationship with Dell had no bearing on the case, and he called the prosecution’s suspicions “fanciful.”

GOVERNMENT

EMBATTLED PROSECUTOR DROPS LEGAL CHALLENGE — FOR NOW

SAN FRANCISCO — A district attorney has dropped his suit against the State Bar of California, postponing litigating over what he calls a vengeful campaign by his political rivals and bar officials to remove him from office.

Jon Alexander of Del Norte County, Calif., said attorneys for the State Bar had cited a 1977 California Supreme Court precedent establishing that county courts lack jurisdiction over pending bar disciplinary proceedings.

Alexander claimed the bar violated his civil rights, defamed him and negligently inflicted emotional distress in bringing misconduct charges. Rhudolph Nolen Jr., Alexander’s lawyer in the San Francisco Superior Court action, said he planned to refile the suit in federal court should Alexander suffer discipline.

INDIANS’ TRUST CLAIMS CONCLUDE AFTER EPIC FIGHT

WASHINGTON — A Native American class action that settled for $3.4 billion after more than a decade of ­litigation is now over, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said on November 26.

Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell sued in June 1996, seeking an accounting of money the government held in trust accountants for Indians. (Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, died last year.)

The government and the plaintiffs’ attorneys announced the historic settlement in December 2009. The deal, which potentially compensates hundreds of thousands of class members, required congressional approval. Now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court have concluded review of the settlement.

LEGAL PROFESSION

‘JUNIOR’ WORK DOESN’T BAR LITIGATOR FROM PATENT CASE

A Delaware federal judge has ruled that a lawyer’s patent prosecution work for the plaintiff 15 years ago doesn’t disqualify him from representing one of the defendants in a patent infringement lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Richard Andrews on November 21 denied Walker Digital LLC’s motion to disqualify Stroock & Stroock & Lavan partner Ian DiBernardo from representing defendant On-Net Surveillance Systems Inc.

DiBernardo did some patent work for Walker Digital LLC during his tenure at the now-defunct intellectual property boutique Morgan & Finnegan during the late 1990s. The work “was confined to junior prosecution work on patents unrelated to those in suit, either by specification or by subject matter,” the judge said.