ATTORNEY FEES

PEEVED JUDGE DENIES VICTOR’S REQUEST FOR LITIGATION COSTS

DALLAS — In an intellectual property suit he characterized as “devoid of civility and professional conduct,” a federal judge denied a defense motion to shift costs to the plaintiff.

U.S. District Senior Judge Royal Furgeson ruled on January 3 in M3 Girl Designs LLC v. Blue Brownies LLC that “both sides are not guiltless in regard to civility issues,” but that defense attorney Charles Hanor’s conduct was “in question” because the motion was filed by the defendants, who had secured a take-nothing judgment.

That conduct did not amount to “a miscarriage of justice,” but was “sufficient to overcome the presumption that Defendants, as the prevailing parties, should be awarded taxable costs,” Furgeson wrote.

BANKING LAW

MICHIGAN BANK SETTLES LENDING-BIAS CHARGES

WASHINGTON — A bank has settled charges that it discriminated against African-Americans in its lending practices, agreeing to invest $165,000 and to open a loan office in a predominantly black neighborhood.

Community State Bank of St. Charles, Mich., “engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminatory racial redlining harming African-Americans in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a complaint filed on January 15 in Michigan.

The suit grew out of an examination by the Federal Deposit Insurance Co., which assigned Community its lowest possible rating, “substantial non-compliance,” awarded to fewer than 0.5 percent of the banks it inspects.

BUSINESS LAW

ARBITRATOR FINDS FRAUD BY ‘REVERSE MERGER’ COMPANY

A financial services firm has prevailed on fraud claims against one of the many U.S.-listed Chinese companies accused of violating securities laws.

According to a brief filed on January 15 by C.V. Starr & Co. Inc. in U.S. district court in Wilmington, Del., an arbitration panel in Hong Kong ruled in December that China MediaExpress Holdings Inc. was a “fraudulent enterprise” and ordered three of the company’s leaders to pay $77 million in damages.

The ruling was believed to be the first finding of liability against a Chinese company listed on a U.S. stock exchange through a “reverse merger,” in which a company acquires an already public shell company, bypassing the regulatory scrutiny that comes with an initial public offering.

BOA RESOLVES CLAIMS ARISING FROM MERRILL ACQUISITION

NEW YORK — Bank of America Corp.’s directors have agreed to pay $62.5 million to resolve share­holder claims that they botched the company’s 2008 acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co.

U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel approved the settlement on January 11. The bank previously agreed to settle the claims for $20 million, but Castel expressed concerns over that deal and pushed the parties to renegotiate.

Bank of America announced its plan to buy Merrill for $50 billion in September 2008 at the height of the financial crisis. Later, shareholders brought a flood of derivative actions, alleging that the board overpaid for Merrill and didn’t act in the interest of shareholders.

CIVIL RIGHTS

POST-9/11 DETAINEES DIDN’T ESTABLISH PUNITIVE INTENT

NEW YORK — A federal judge has dismissed claims against former Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Muel­ler and former Immi­gration Commissioner James Ziglar alleging discriminatory and punitive detention following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The plaintiffs were arrested, treated as “of interest” to the investigation into the attacks, detained under a blanket “hold-until-cleared” policy and held in jails in New York or Paterson, N.J.

U.S. District Judge John Gleeson acknowledged the men were treated harshly, subjected to physical and verbal abuse, kept under administrative segregation and denied counsel, but said they had failed to show “punitive intent.”

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

‘ROTTEN’ PROCEEDINGS SENT INNOCENT MAN TO PRISON

NEW YORK — A federal judge criticized prosecutors, defense attorneys and a state trial judge as he ordered the release of a man who had spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

“The case of William Lopez was rotten from day one,” U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis wrote on January 17 as he granted a writ of habeas corpus. He said Lopez should be “released with the State’s apology.”

“This wrongdoing has ranged from an overzealous and deceitful trial prosecutor; to a series of indolent and ill-prepared defense attorneys; to a bewildering jury verdict; and to the incomprehensible” Kings County, N.Y., Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest, “who so regrettably failed time and time again to give meaningful consideration to the host of powerful arguments Lopez presented to her.”

CORDON AROUND SEX SHOP WAS ALLOWED, JUDGE RULES

NEWARK, N.J. — A state law requiring a 50-foot buffer around a sexually oriented business is constitutional, even if the physical constraints of the property make compliance impossible, a state trial judge ruled on January 16.

Morris County, N.J., Superior Court Judge Thomas Weisenbeck found that a township had identified 14 alternative sites within the relevant market area that could accommodate such a shop and “would more than protect plaintiff’s constitutional right to free expression.”

The “potential need for a variance does not necessarily reflect a ‘physical impediment’ to the development of a site by an adult-oriented business owner,” Weisenbeck wrote, adding that occupancy of the site poses an inconvenience but does not bar its availability.

DAMAGES

PUNITIVES AWARD SLASHED IN RACE HARASSMENT CASE

ALBANY, N.Y. — A federal judge who clearly shared a jury’s disgust for the extreme racial harassment suffered by a black Buffalo-area steelworker nevertheless ruled that its $24 million punitive damages award was just too much.

U.S. District Judge William Skretny described “some of the most hate-filled and racist behavior imaginable,” but reduced the award to $5 million, plus attorney fees and the $1.3 million compensatory award for Elijah Turley.

Skretny said the U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Pacific Mutual Life Insurance v. Haslip suggested that a punitive damages award of more than four times the compensatory award “might be close to the line of constitutional impropriety.”

EVIDENCE

SCOUTS MUST TURN OVER ABUSE INVESTIGATIONS RECORDS

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tens of thousands of documents detailing two decades of sexual abuse allegations within the Boy Scouts of America must be turned over as part of a civil case in which a former Scout claims a leader molested him in 2007, a state trial judge ruled on January 16.

The ruling by Santa Barbara County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Donna Geck clears the way for roughly 120,000 pages of internal files to be made public if they are entered as evidence in the case. The Boy Scouts sought to prevent the disclosure of the documents, but the California Supreme Court rejected the organization’s appeal earlier this month.

Through additional civil cases, the Scouts have been forced to reveal files dating from 1960 to 1991 detailing numerous instances when Scout officials allegedly never alerted authorities to abuse claims and sometimes actively sought to protect the accused.

MEDIA LAW

TERMS OF SERVICE DON’T BAR INFRINGEMENT CLAIMS

NEW YORK — Photojournalist Daniel Morel, known for his shots of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, has notched an important win in his closely watched copyright battle with news organizations that published the photos.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan ruled on January 14 that Getty Images Inc., Agence France-Presse and The Washington Post infringed Morel’s copyrights by disseminating photos he took of the natural disaster without his permission.

Nathan rejected the news organizations’ arguments that Twitter Inc.’s terms of service allowed pretty much anyone, including them, to copy and distribute photos Morel posted there following the quake.