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Smuggling a twist into the Patriot Act The 2d circuit doesn’t think much of Senator John Kerry’s reading of the USA Patriot Act, judging from a Jan. 14 decision in three consolidated lawsuits over alleged black-market cigarettes: The European Community v. RJR Nabisco. The opinion largely upholds a district court’s dismissal of foreign countries’ money laundering claims against big cigarette companies. It said the plaintiffs have to file a new action if they choose to amend their complaint. The opinion notes that on the day that the amended act passed the Senate, Kerry introduced a statement into the Congressional Record “clarifying” that the law could be used in legal attacks on tobacco companies. “It is the intent of the Legislature that our allies will have unimpeded access to our courts and the use of our laws if they are the victims of smuggling, fraud, money laundering or terrorism,” the court quotes Kerry. But saying it doesn’t make it so. “We found nothing in RICO’s text that explicitly authorizes foreign nations to use RICO’s civil remedy provisions to enforce their tax laws extraterritorially.” Traditionally, U.S. courts have steered wide of foreign countries’ tax issues on the ground that foreign policy is best left to the president and Congress. The fact that “a few individual legislators” disagreed doesn’t amount to legislative intent to change that, the judges said. Op knocks in Philly You have to admit that Philadelphia’s plan to upgrade crummy parts of town by giving tax breaks to law firm partners is-well-unique. The city has something called Keystone Opportunity Zones, set up by the state. They were sold as a way to rebuild neighborhoods by attracting outside businesses with economic-development incentives, including one that exempts partnership incomes from taxation. It works as a 15-year-long shield against state and city income taxes. Nonpartners like associates and secretaries don’t qualify. Along come Dechert and Woodcock Washburn. Only they didn’t come from very far. They’re just moving crosstown into a 28-story tower named Cira Centre in an opportunity zone. Dechert is the city’s largest law firm, with about 90 partners and more than a dozen other offices around the nation. Citing a Philadelphia Bar Association survey, the Philadelphia Inquirer estimates that partners could be getting annual tax breaks of as much as $50,000. “The personal enrichment of already very rich people is the most outrageous aspect,” said Jonathan Stein, a public-service lawyer who served on the Philadelphia Tax Reform Commission. Spokesmen for both firms were unapologetic. “We have a lot bigger issues,” the paper quotes Dechert CEO Barton J. Winokur. Like willful client problems. Dechert represents the Inquirer. Show biz U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter is keeping Ashton Kutcher’s feet to the fire. In 2002, we reported an unnerving reality TV suit brought by a Washington couple, James and Laurie Ryan. They checked into the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, which, unbeknownst to them, was purportedly helping MTV prepare Kutcher’s new series, Harassment. The name, plus Kutcher’s interviews describing it as a “guerrilla Candid Camera,” must have sounded in retrospect to defense lawyers like a Fifth Amendment violation. According to the suit, hidden cameras were planted in the Ryans’ suite to record their horror when they found what looked like a dead body in a pool of blood in their bathroom. After they were intimidated by fake security guards, they said Kutcher bounced out to tell them it was a big joke. They want $10 million. Harassment met a fate common to TV pilots. It never aired. MTV’s new vehicle for Kutcher is called Punk’d. MTV’s lead attorney, Andy White of Los Angeles’ White O’Connor Curry & Avanzado, gave the judge written arguments that Punk’d didn’t exist when the alleged tort occurred and the plaintiffs should not be allowed to “bootstrap” their suit by introducing evidence of it at trial. Hatter disagreed but did say the plaintiffs can’t talk about Kutcher’s other “goofy” roles.

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