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House moves to counter high court’s ‘Kelo’ In reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision on eminent domain in Kelo v. New London, the U.S. House of Representatives took up legislation last week to block court-sanctioned seizures of people’s homes for use by private developers. The bill, headed toward easy passage with bipartisan support, would withhold federal funds from state and local governments that use powers of eminent domain to force homeowners to give up their property for commercial uses. Kelo drew criticism from a broad spectrum of private property, civil rights, farm and religious groups that said it was an abuse of the Fifth Amendment’s “takings clause.” Akerman Senterfitt, which has all but a handful of its lawyers in its seven Florida offices, is expanding outside the state. The firm is set to open a New York office in about a month, staffed with about 10 lawyers, and is expanding its Washington office. Rather than acquiring an existing New York firm, Akerman plans to hire handpicked attorneys. Akerman opens in N.Y., expands D.C. outpost Akerman announced last week that four attorneys have joined its Washington office, including Richard Smith, a senior lawyer from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division who was the lead trial lawyer in the investigation of HealthSouth Corp. KPMG pact gets nod; but rivals press claim Three plaintiffs’ class action firms have vowed to appeal last week’s federal court ruling in Newark, N.J., that preliminarily approved a $225 million settlement of a class action against accounting giant KPMG and its lawyers, Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. The challengers seek to disqualify lead plaintiff’s firm Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman. They claim the firm negotiated with KPMG and Sidley Austin on behalf of putative class members before filing a class action-and did so while keeping a plaintiff in Florida dangling in the dark. U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh turned away the objectors and set Feb. 24, 2006, for a fairness hearing on final approval of Simon v. KPMG, No. 00-6003. It would end claims that KPMG and Sidley Austin sold tax shelters that the Internal Revenue Service later eviscerated. In New Jersey, law firm hiring, salaries are up New Jersey’s biggest firms hired more novice lawyers this year than last, and entry-level compensation rose modestly. Starting compensation, including bonuses, for first-year associates went up an average of 2.75% at 17 firms, to $98,200 in 2005 from $95,570 last year, according to a survey by The New Jersey Law Journal, a sister publication of The National Law Journal. Those same firms hired 135 new associates, up 17% from the 115 hired last year. Nine firms hired more, six hired less and two kept flat. McCarter & English of Newark had the state’s largest freshman class this year: 19 new hires. Roseland’s Lowenstein Sandler and Morristown’s McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter followed with 17 lawyers each. The contents of a New Jersey man’s “gripe site”-a 45-page Web site dedicated to the perceived misdeeds of his car insurer-were protected free speech that did not constitute defamation, a New York trial judge has ruled. Contents of ‘Gripe site’ is ruled not defamation Penn Warranty Corp. alleged that Ronald DiGiovanni’s site made eight libelous statements about its business, including that it is a “blatantly dishonest company” that has been “running scams,” “committing fraud on a grand scale,” and “ripping off its contract holders for quite a while.” New York County Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische recently dismissed Penn Warranty’s suit, upholding DiGiovanni’s right to maintain the site. The site, however, has not operated since January 2004. “The court holds that the cause of action for libel . . . should be dismissed because the challenged speech is merely a statement of defendant’s personal opinion about the quality of services provided by plaintiff company,” Gische wrote in Penn Warranty Corp. v. DiGiovanni, No. 600659/04.

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