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Ashcroft expected to leave before inauguration Attorney general John Ashcroft is likely to leave his post before the start of President Bush’s second term, senior aides said late last week. Ashcroft, 62, is described as exhausted from leading the Justice Department in fighting the domestic war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Ashcroft is expected to resign before Bush’s Jan. 20 inauguration, said aides who spoke only on condition of anonymity. They said there is a small chance he would stay on, at least briefly, if Bush asked him. Names that have been floated in recent weeks as possible replacements include Ashcroft’s former deputy, Larry Thompson, who would become the first black attorney general. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has been mentioned, but has said he is not interested. Tobacco verdict smoked The federal government’s $289 billion suit against tobacco companies was dealt a blow last week by the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia. Reversing the trial court, the ruling allows British American Tobacco PLC to assert attorney-client privilege to a document, known as the Foyle Memorandum, which plaintiffs allege is a blueprint for destroying discoverable documents. U.S. v BAT, No. 04-5207 (D.C. Cir.) 2d Circuit swamped by immigration appeals Almost three years after the U.S. Department of Justice amended internal rules and began clearing a huge backlog of immigration disputes, the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and federal prosecutors are taking emergency steps to keep pace with a surge in immigration appeals. In the year ending June 2004, immigration appeals constituted 44% of the 2d Circuit’s entire docket, up from 9% in 2002, the year the Justice Department implemented its streamlining procedures. In response, the circuit has taken numerous steps, such as asking its judges to sit more often. Despite its efforts, the court says it is at best standing its ground as the immigration appeals, largely asylum requests, continue to pour in. “All we are doing is making a slight inroad or holding our own, or maybe not even that,” said Senior Judge Jon O. Newman, who has taken charge of the court’s response to the problem. “We are doing all the things that we can think of.” Group that fought gay marriage wants fees Persuading the California Supreme Court to nullify about 4,000 same-sex marriages took a lot of hard work, attorneys for a conservative legal group say-and now they want to get paid. The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund filed a motion with the court on Nov. 5 seeking nearly $228,000 in attorney fees for more than 765 hours of work by eight lawyers and one paralegal. The group, which also requested about $1,300 in costs, petitioned under the state’s private attorney general statute, which allows courts to award fees to private parties that have won the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest. MTBE suit fast-tracked New York City’s environmental lawsuit against major oil companies over a gasoline additive has been put on a fast track by Judge Shira Scheindlin of the Southern District of New York, according to the city. City lawyers said the suit over MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, would be one of the lead cases among 115 federal lawsuits being filed against oil companies across the country. The suit, which seeks more than $300 million in damages, alleges that MTBE has contaminated a Queens groundwater well system. Reed Smith bulks up its West Coast presence Reed Smith announced plans last week to bolster its West Coast capabilities with the acquisition of an 11-lawyer class action defense boutique. The deal with Fleming & Phillips of Walnut Creek, Calif., is expected to become final by Jan. 1, 2005. The firm’s lawyers will work out of Reed Smith’s Oakland, Calif., office. Managing partner James Fleming and partners Robert “Bo” Phillips Jr., Thomas Evans and Linda Oliver will become partners in Reed Smith’s financial services litigation group. Reed Smith merged with Oakland-based Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May in January 2003.

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