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From Death to Life In a 6-3 decision on Nov. 14, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reduced a convicted murderer’s sentence from death to life imprisonment, accepting the trial court’s conclusion that the man is mentally retarded. But CCA Presiding Judge Sharon Keller wrote in a dissenting opinion in Ex Parte Van Alstyne that Gregory Van Alstyne “did not seem to be particularly impaired” in a video of a television reporter’s interview with him. CCA Judges Mike Keasler and Barbara Hervey joined in the dissent. David Dow, a University of Houston Law Center professor who represents Van Alstyne, says, “I was surprised that there were three judges who thought that they could make an independent diagnosis of mental retardation just by viewing a videotape.” According to a footnote in the CCA’s per curiam opinion, a Potter County jury convicted Gregory Van Alstyne for the 1990 robbery and murder of a pizza delivery man. The case was before the CCA on a subsequent application for writ of habeas corpus, based on Van Alstyne’s claim that he cannot be subjected to the death penalty under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which bars execution of the mentally retarded. The Atkins decision came out a decade after Van Alstyne was tried for capital murder in the 181st District Court in Amarillo. After an evidentiary hearing on Van Alstyne’s Atkins claim, 181st District Judge John Board recommended the reduction in Van Alstyne’s sentence. As noted in the CCA’s majority opinion, Van Alstyne scored in the range of mild mental retardation in each of at least six IQ tests administered between 1989 and 2003, and he demonstrates significant deficits in his adaptive functioning. “He’s clearly mentally retarded,” Dow says. But Keller wrote in her dissenting opinion that the video recording of Van Alstyne’s interview with the television reporter “starkly contradicts the picture painted by applicant’s evidence.” Keller noted that Van Alstyne spoke fluently during the interview and exhibited an ability to engage in abstract thinking when he explained the symbolism of the tear tattoo on his face. The video “is very telling,” says Potter County District Attorney Randall Sims, who contends Van Alstyne is not retarded. “I think this case is an example of how gray and convoluted the area is that Atkins has opened up,” Sims says. ( V&E in the UAE Vinson & Elkins has opened an office in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, making it the first U.S. firm with offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Lewis Jones transferred from the 784-lawyer firm’s London office to be the administrative partner in charge in Abu Dhabi. Also, partner Christopher Strong, currently in V&E’s Dubai office, will move his practice to Abu Dhabi, and partner Rindala Beydoun will divide her time between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. With the Abu Dhabi outpost, Houston-based V&E has 13 international offices, including the Dubai office, which opened in 2003. Although Abu Dhabi is only a 90-minute drive from Dubai, Jones says the Abu Dhabi economy on its own warrants an office. “Our clients were very keen for us to open in their home city,” Jones says. He says V&E received a trade license about three weeks ago that allows the firm to open the office. Jones says V&E clients in Abu Dhabi include Mubadala Development Co. and Emirates Securities and Commodities Authority, which is the UAE agency similar to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Jones says the firm has leased office space that will accommodate up to 15 lawyers, so the Abu Dhabi office will grow over time. The firm does energy, corporate and project finance work in the Middle East. V&E managing partner Joseph Dilg says the Abu Dhabi office will help the firm grow its UAE practice more quickly. Meanwhile, Houston partner Bruce Bilger, who heads V&E’s energy practice group and co-heads its business and international section, will leave the firm at the end of the year to join investment bank Lazard Ltd where he will chair and head its global energy business. On Jan. 1, 2008, Bilger will join Lazard in Houston where he will also be a co-lead of the investment bank’s Southwest investment banking region. Bilger, who earned an M.B.A. and a J.D. from the University of Virginia, says he always has had an interest in the business and financial aspects of deals and is excited about working as an investment banker. He says, “I’ve done a lot of fun things here [at V&E], and this was an opportunity to kind of take that one step further � build on the background I’ve got here, kind of take on one more challenge.” Bilger says, “The timing was right.” Dilg says, “Bruce is a close friend, and I’m going to miss practicing with him on a day-to-day basis.” But Dilg notes that Bilger will leave a legacy of many talented energy lawyers at the firm. While at V&E, Bilger led teams handling several significant energy industry transactions, including Duke Energy’s $8 billion acquisition of Canadian company Westcoast Energy Inc., the $13 billion merger between Enterprise Products Partners and GulfTerra Energy Partners and, most recently, the $32 billion leveraged buyout of Dallas-based TXU by Kolhberg Kravis Roberts, TPG and other investors. Bilger says V&E has done work for Lazard and other investment banks over the years.

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