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PATENTS PENDING Computer databases are generally an improvement over the old way of storing information, but not necessarily so. By dint of a suit brought in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of the National Intellectual Property Researchers Association Inc., D.C. solo practitioner Richard Hirnhas persuaded James Rogan, undersecretary of commerce and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, not to dispose of the hard copy for about 6.5 million patent and 1.2 million trademark registrations ostensibly turned into electronic files. Last July, Rogan certified to Congress that the public would not suffer from the disposal of the patent and trademark collections because the information on the registrations had been placed in a computer database accessible to the public. Not so, say the members of the NIPRA, who contend, says Hirn, that “the scanning-in process was sloppy, as was the job of data entry. The databases are full of errors and are incomplete.” Late last year, Rogan relented and notified Congress that “[i]n order to permit appropriate revisions to the plan and to avoid needless, time-consuming and costly litigation, this office is rescinding the certification of July 24.” Yet the suit is still pending because, Hirn contends, the PTO hasn’t yet made copies of the patents and trademarks issued since last July available in the public search rooms. “Anytime you challenge the federal government,” says Hirn, “it’s an uphill battle.” � Joel Chineson POLICE BEAT Let’s hope civil rights lawyers Kelli Evansand Christy Lopezenjoy flying cross-country. They’re bound to be doing their share of it in the upcoming months. The two will be spearheading the Relman & Associatesteam chosen to monitor the settlement of a lawsuit between the city of Oakland, Calif., and a group of its residents who claim that renegade city cops framed and abused them on city streets. In addition to a cash payout of about $11 million, the settlement calls for widespread reforms in the Oakland Police Department. The suit’s plaintiffs and the Oakland City Council have OK’d the firm’s participation as monitor, and court approval is expected soon. Both Evans and Lopez are former senior trial attorneys in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Joining them on the monitoring team will be Rachel Burgess, a retired division chief from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and Charles Gruber, the chief of police of the South Barrington, Ill., Police Department. The Relman & Associates group won its appointment over 11 other teams invited to compete for the Oakland City Council’s approval, says firm director John Relman.After serving a decade as project director of the Fair Housing Project at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Relman founded the firm in October 1999. This summer, it will count eight lawyers on its roster. About his firm’s participation as a monitor, Relman says, “It’s a wonderful thing for our practice. Being a monitor in a case like this has enormous impact on how police departments perform.” � J.C. CAUGHT IN TRAFFIC Two D.C. solo practitioners have joined forces to represent local drivers who sued the city after receiving traffic tickets for allegedly speeding or driving through red lights. The violations were caught on camera, but civil rights lawyer Thomas Ruffin Jr.and traffic expert Horace Bradshawclaim that the city has no way of knowing who was at the wheel of the vehicles. On April 18, the two appeared before D.C. Superior Court Judge Melvin Wright to argue against the city’s motion to dismiss. Ruffin and Bradshaw contended that the District’s traffic monitoring program, which uses cameras attached to traffic lights or radar devices in order to catch violators, is unconstitutional. City attorneys claim no rights are violated because there is a process in place for drivers to contest a ticket. Bradshaw says even though a driver can request an administrative hearing, the only way out of a ticket is to name another person who was driving the car. “All you can do is finger somebody else,” Bradshaw says. “The hearing serves no purpose; it’s a formality.” Ruffin and Bradshaw are seeking to represent up to 400,000 people who have been ticketed under the program, and are asking that the city be forced to return the millions of dollars in fines it has collected since the program began in 1999. � Tom Schoenberg WEB WISE D.C. solo practitioners Jonathan Benderand Carolyn Elefanthave recently launched Web sites designed especially for solo and small firm practitioners. Bender’s site is http://sohoattorney.com. Elefant’s site is www.myshingle.com. � J.C.

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