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DoJ files antitrust action against national realtors Washington—The U.S. Department of Justice sued the National Association of Realtors last week, claiming that it unfairly limits competition by allowing real estate agents to withhold home listings from Internet-based brokers. The antitrust lawsuit, filed in a Chicago federal district court, follows lengthy negotiations in which the government pressed the realtors to drop restrictions designed to protect traditional brokers. The association announced changes to its original plan on Sept. 8, but they were insufficient because the group kept in place brokers’ ability to discriminate against competitors who post listings online, said J. Bruce McDonald, a deputy assistant attorney general. Study shows moderate law firm growth in 2004 Revenue per lawyer rose 3.8% in 2004 compared with the previous year, according to a recent survey by Altman Weil, the law firm consultancy. Median revenue for lawyers from firms of all sizes totaled $389,000. At the same time, overhead per lawyer climbed only 1.9%, the study found. The median hourly billing rate for partners with more than 20 years’ experience equaled $295 in 2004, representing a 5.4% increase. Billable hours for partners and associates remained unchanged, with experienced partners billing 1,660 hours and associates billing 1,883 hours. Steel Hector merges with Squire Sanders After months of negotiations, the 80-year-old Steel Hector & Davis finalized a merger that took effect last week with Cleveland-based Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in one of the largest law firm combinations in Florida history. The transaction gives 800-lawyer Squire Sanders, which was formed in 1890 and was seeking to expand in Florida and Latin America, four new offices and 100 lawyers in Florida, South America and the Caribbean. Squire Sanders ranked 52d in this year’s Am Law 100 survey of the nation’s largest law firms in terms of gross revenue. Alvin Davis, Steel Hector’s managing partner since last November, will continue as Miami managing partner of Squire Sanders. “This gives us greater depth and gives us a global platform,” Davis said. 4th Circuit rules against ‘dirty bomber’ Padilla A federal appeals court ruled last week that President Bush was “fully authorized” by Congress to detain “dirty bomb” suspect Jose Padilla. The ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district judge’s order to either charge or release Padilla, who was designated an “enemy combatant” by Bush. Judge Michael Luttig led the unanimous, three-judge panel in holding that the president has authority to order the military detention of an American citizen arrested in the U.S., as Padilla was, who is believed to be associated with al-Queda. Padilla was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in 2002 after returning from Pakistan, where he was allegedly trained by al-Queda. Vioxx cases may go to Houston due to Katrina Coordination of hundreds of federal lawsuits over Merck & Co.’s withdrawn painkiller Vioxx is being moved to Houston from New Orleans, at least temporarily, because of the devastation there from Hurricane Katrina. The judge overseeing the massive litigation, U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon, and a handful of his staff members, have already moved into temporary quarters in the federal courthouse in Houston, a law clerk for Fallon told The Associated Press last week. The judge is trying to keep as close as possible to the case schedule he had set last month, which had the first federal trial starting in New Orleans on Nov. 28. It is still unclear where the trials will be heard, the clerk said. Fallon is handling pretrial coordination of more than 1,800 federal Vioxx lawsuits alleging the drug caused patients heart attacks and other harm. Such pretrial consolidation is done to streamline steps common to the cases, such as document gathering and witness depositions. [See related story, page 8, on a state Vioxx case scheduled to go to trial on Sept. 12.]

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