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Miami firm scores dream payday:: $249M in fees Miami law firm Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson scored a dream payday last week when a Miami federal judge awarded the law firm $249 million in fees for its successful representation of gas station owners in a $1.1 billion class action case against Exxon Mobil Corp. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold ends a ferocious fee battle between various attorneys who represented the plaintiffs, including Pertnoy Solowsky & Allen in Miami. Under Gold’s ruling, the attorneys as a whole are entitled to 31.3% of the total award, which the plaintiffs won from a federal jury in Miami in 2001. Reversal of Florida $145B smokers verdict is upheld In a big victory for the tobacco industry, the Florida Supreme Court last week unanimously upheld the reversal of a $145 billion punitive damages verdict awarded to 700,000 ailing Florida smokers. The court also upheld the Florida 3d District Court of Appeal’s decertification of the class. But anti-tobacco lawyers say that the ruling creates favorable conditions for individual members of the class to go forward with suits against cigarette makers. Howard Engle v. Liggett Group. N.Y. bar head urges new system for picking judges With the convention system for selecting New York state trial court judges under attack in the courts, the New York State Bar Association figures the political climate has never been better to push for merit selection. “The association has called for [merit selection] repeatedly over a 25-year period,” said Mark H. Alcott of New York City’s Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, president of the state bar. At its recent meeting, the state bar’s House of Delegates approved a report from a special committee calling for reform of the judicial nominating process. Both the state bar committee and the Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections, often called the Feerick Commission, propose reforming the convention process rather than replacing it with open primaries. But Alcott said that the association remains committed to merit selection. Ga., N.Y. courts back bans on gay marriage The top courts in two states dealt setbacks to the gay marriage movement last week, with New York’s highest court ruling same-sex unions are not allowed under state law, and the Georgia Supreme Court reinstating a voter-approved ban on gay marriage. In New York, the Court of Appeals said in a 4-2 decision that the state’s marriage law is constitutional and clearly limits marriage to a union between a man and a woman. In Georgia, the state Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s ruling, deciding unanimously that the ban did not violate the state’s single-subject rule for ballot measures. The ban had been approved by 76% of voters in 2004. Calif. judicial education plan angers two judges Two judges with a combined 48 years on the bench announced recently that they will resign from the California Judges Association on Aug. 1 unless the organization’s leaders renounce a Judicial Council plan to require continuing education classes for judges. Justice Thomas Hollenhorst of the 4th District Court of Appeal and Alameda County Superior Court Judge Julie Conger joined Philip Gutierrez, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who left the association in June to protest its “failure to act decisively” against the council’s proposal. “The proposed rule is unnecessary, insulting and unconstitutional,” Conger wrote. Computer glitch blamed for Florida ‘secret docket’ Top Florida court officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties now say that computer problems were responsible for the controversial removal of many civil court cases from the public record. Broward Circuit Administrative Judge Thomas Lynch IV, whose own 2003 divorce was removed from public view, and Un Cha Kim, the chief operating officer of the Palm Beach County clerk’s office, said that computer programming problems and a changeover in systems led to sealed civil cases being left off the public dockets. The officials say their counties, which came under public criticism this spring for maintaining “secret dockets,” are handling the problem differently. “I don’t know why it was portrayed as [improper] interpretation when it was a computer glitch,” he said, referring to previous statements from the Broward clerk’s office that the cases were on a secret docket as a result of the clerks’ misinterpretation of judicial orders.

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