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Attorneys ladle out $17M in campaign cash Law firms and individual attorneys have poured nearly $17 million into presidential campaigns within the last year, putting them on target to increase the amount they gave in the 2000 presidential election by more than half. Between January 2003 and March 2004, lawyers nationwide donated $8.8 million to Bush and $7.9 million to Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom of New York tops the list among law firm donors for Kerry, giving nearly $160,000 as of March 31. Attorneys from Philadelphia’s Blank Rome have anted up $208,000 for Bush. Ashcroft directive illegal A divided panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week blocked Attorney General John Ashcroft’s attempt to declare Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act illegal. After voters had approved the law, which allows doctor-assisted suicide in the state, Ashcroft issued a directive that declared the practice violates the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA). But the 9th Circuit ruled that Ashcroft overstepped his authority. “We hold that the Ashcroft Directive is unlawful and unenforceable because it violates the plain language of the CSA, contravenes Congress’s express legislative intent, and oversteps the bounds of the attorney general’s statutory authority,” Judge Richard Tallman wrote. $37M lawyer fee vacated The undefined phrase “legal costs” as used in bond agreements guaranteeing the completion of naval projects in Brazil has led the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate a $36.7 million award of attorney fees to the prevailing party. Finding no compelling argument for an exception to the American rule that prevailing parties are not generally awarded attorney fees, the court, in an opinion written by Judge Roger J. Miner, vacated the award ordered in U.S. Fidelity and Guaranty Co. v. Braspetro Oil Services Co., No. 02-9185. The ruling came following a review of Southern District of New York Judge John Koeltl’s decision, after a bench trial, that U.S. Fidelity and its fellow sureties were obligated under performance bonds to pay $370 million, an amount that included the fee award. Philadelphia firm expands insurance business Philadelphia-based Duane Morris is seeking to expand its ancillary medical malpractice insurance business into New Jersey, which would make it the third state where the 550-attorney firm conducts such work. An equity owner of insurance management companies in Pennsylvania and Florida, Duane Morris launched its insurance ancillary in 2002. “Conservative underwriting” enabled its Pennsylvania business to generate about $18 million in premiums last year, said Duane Morris Chairman Sheldon Bonovitz. The law firm and the insurance practice are “unrelated,” he said, adding that Duane Morris attorneys perform no insurance defense work for the insurer. The firm’s Florida endeavor, started in January, is expected to total about $11 million in premiums this year, Bonovitz said. The firm expects authorization to conduct New Jersey business this fall. New Calif. bar president John van De Kamp, who was California’s attorney general for eight years and once ran for governor, has been chosen as the next president of the state bar. The 68-year-old Pasadena resident beat out three other candidates last week as State Bar of California governors cast their votes during a meeting in San Francisco. He will take over in October during the bar’s annual meeting in Monterey. In a speech just before the vote, Van de Kamp vowed to devote his one-year term to, among other things, encouraging pro bono service and finding ways to protect the public from abusive lawyers. Ethics inquiry ordered after Scalia flap William H. Rehnquist, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, has ordered a study of federal judicial ethics, a move that follows much criticism of Justice Antonin Scalia for taking a hunting trip with his friend, Vice President Dick Cheney. A six-member committee appointed by Rehnquist will begin meeting next month, about the time the Supreme Court is expected to rule in a case involving Cheney that generated much of the criticism. Rehnquist named Justice Stephen Breyer, a Clinton appointee, to chair the panel. Congressional Democrats and many newspaper editorials demanded that Scalia step aside when it was disclosed he took the trip in January with Cheney, on the vice president’s plane, three weeks after the court agreed to hear the Bush administration’s appeal of a ruling that ordered disclosure of details of an energy task force chaired by Cheney.

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