Midweek Recess: Mr. T, Espionage and Saks vs. Dog Snacks

Welcome to Law.com’s Midweek Recess, in which we round up some tasty tidbits from the week’s legal news cycle. We’ll be here every Wednesday, so grab a cup of coffee and take a little break. It’s all downhill to the weekend from here.

Posh Pets – Fancy department store Saks Fifth Avenue has sent a cease and desist letter to a fancy online pet-snack purveyor, claiming that its name infringes on the famous retailer’s brand. The site — Snaks 5th Avenchew — offers a wide variety of all-natural, elaborately decorated gourmet treats for dogs and horses, including “pup tarts,” “pupato chips,” “pony poppers” and a $32 “Birth-Neigh” cake.

As the deadline set by the cease-and-desist letter came and went last week, Snaks 5th Avenchew owner Carrie Sarabella said she planned to keep the name, which she explained was intended it as a compliment to the department store. “I knew that Saks was able to offer me the best of what I was looking for, and I wanted to do the same thing with pets,” Sarabella told Reuters.”It was almost as if I was honoring and complimenting what they always gave to me, but unfortunately they don’t feel the same way.” Lawyers for Saks reportedly didn’t comment, so we guess it remains to be seen whether the company’s legal bark will be followed by a bite.

‘Sex, Lies and Espionage’ – Pro bono attorneys from Baker Botts are working on behalf of 98-year-old Miriam Moskowitz, who is fighting to clear her name in a 64-year-old case. In 1950, Moskowitz was convicted of conspiring to lie to a grand jury investigating allegations of atomic espionage against two men, including her then-employer, with whom she was having an affair. She served two years in prison and paid a $10,000 fine. Moskowitz’s attorneys have filed a petition in the Southern District of New York, arguing that critical evidence was withheld in the case and that a key witness changed his testimony at trial.

The petition asks the court “to correct a miscarriage of justice from the McCarthy era, of which Ms. Moskowitz is perhaps the last living victim.” Baker Botts attorneys discussed their work on the case, and its fascinating story of alleged “sex, lies and espionage,” with The American Lawyer. Moskowitz, a retired schoolteacher, said in an interview that the “entire course of my life has been affected by my conviction.” “All I want is to clear my name before it’s too late,” she said.

Mr. T, Model Citizen – Well, it seems to be the season for 1980s icons to be called upon by the courts to do their civic duty. First, Madonna breezed in (and out) of jury duty in Manhattan, and now Lawrence Tureaud (that’s “Mr. T” to you), was likely the most conspicuous prospective juror in recent memory at the courthouse in Rolling Meadows, Ill. “I pity the criminals today,” said the 62-year-old former “A-Team” star, who appeared delighted to sign autographs and pose for pictures with admirers during a break. (Check out the video, courtesy of the Daily Herald).

Among the fans were court employees and lawyers, including an assistant state’s attorney who revealed that he had carried a “Mr. T” lunchbox in elementary school. Defendants were ultimately spared the intimidating sight of the mohawked one in the jury box, since he wasn’t chosen for a panel. Mr. T said he didn’t even consider shirking his duties. “I’ve got to set an example. I understand my responsibility,” he said. “I told the judge: I’ll do my best to never let you down.”

Lesson Learned? – Finally, here’s an update to a story we brought you recently about some squabbling between opposing counsel that crossed the line and provoked a judicial rebuke. To recap: New York attorney Denise Savage received a written admonishment from Magistrate Judge James Francis IV regarding her behavior during some contentious litigation before him. Francis got right to the point in his order in June: “‘You’re an asshole, Dan’ is not how an attorney should address her adversary.” Savage had done just that in an email to the opposing attorney, Daniel J. Brown. In the message, she also accused Brown of unethical conduct and said she had secret tapes of conversations that she could use against him. Savage later admitted that she had made no such recordings.

In his order, Francis wrote that Savage had apologized for the email, which he noted was sent at 12:22 A.M. “In the clear light of day, she might have used better judgment and pressed ‘delete’ instead of ‘send.’” Francis suggested. He also concluded that Savage’s “contrition is undercut by her attempt to deflect blame to her adversary.” Francis cautioned Savage “that incivility among counsel will not be tolerated,” and that further misconduct could lead to sanctions or her removal from the case.

You might guess that Savage counted herself lucky to be let off with a warning and just let the matter rest. To the contrary, she objected to the order, and has now received a second, and stronger, rebuke from Southern District of New York Judge P. Kevin Castel. Castel agreed with Francis’s order in its entirety and saw fit to add “a few additional observations” of his own.

Castel wasn’t impressed with Savage’s claims that she was provoked by Brown, who she said “raised his voice to very high decibels” and told her to “shut up.” Savage apparently provided five DVDs of depositions to support her assertions about Brown’s behavior, but Castel’s order stated that, after watching all of the video, the court “was unable to find any substantial provocation.”

Here’s what we take as the central lesson of this latest order (and, really, of this whole situation): Pointing fingers at the other guy isn’t going to get you out of trouble. Castel wrote that, “In the realm of professional conduct, provocation is, at most, a mitigating circumstance and not a complete defense to wrongful conduct; the same is true under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines … and the rules of the Fifth Grade classroom.”

With that, Savage can probably consider herself schooled … twice.

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