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News for, and by, our local legal community, curated and created by the Santa Clara County Bar. The opinions expressed in this blog are the authors' own and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Santa Clara County Bar Association, its members, its employees, or its governing board.

 

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Majorie Knoller’s conviction upheld in S.F. dog-mauling case

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 8, 2016

A federal appeals court has upheld the murder conviction of a former San Francisco attorney who allowed her unmuzzled dog to fatally maul a neighbor in an apartment corridor 15 years ago.

The judge at Marjorie Knoller’s trial went too far by threatening to jail Knoller’s lawyer if she continued to raise objections during the prosecutor’s closing arguments, but state courts reasonably concluded the error had no impact on the jury’s verdict, said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Knoller had been walking her dog Bane, a 140-pound Presa Canario, on the roof of the Pacific Heights apartment building in January 2001 and had returned with him to the corridor when he bolted away and attacked Diane Whipple, a neighbor who was carrying groceries to her apartment. The dog’s 100-pound mate, Hera, charged out of Knoller’s apartment and may have joined the attack.

Whipple, 33, the lacrosse coach at St. Mary’s College, bled to death from 77 wounds.

Read the whole story at SF Gate

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Chemerinsky: 'Potential blockbuster' rulings expected in June

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 8, 2016

The Supreme Court’s docket for October Term 2015 is now set. Absent extraordinary circumstances, all cases taken between now and the end of June will not be heard until next fall. The docket for this term appeared to be unusually small until the court granted review in eight additional cases on Friday, Jan.15, and then took four more cases on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Once more this year, it is a docket filled with potential blockbuster decisions that promise to have an enormous effect on the law and on people’s lives.

In December and January, the court heard oral arguments in cases that could be hugely important in areas such as how election districts are drawn (Evenwel v. Abbott) when universities may engage in affirmative action (Fisher v. University of Texas, Austin) and whether it violates the First Amendment rights of non-union members to require that they pay the share of union dues that support collective bargaining (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association).

The more recently granted cases on the upcoming argument calendars promise to be at least as important and as controversial.

Read the whole story at ABA Journal

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Chief Justice John Roberts seeks to limit role of courts

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 4, 2016

WASHINGTON — By siding with the Supreme Court's liberal wing on two major cases last week, Chief Justice John Roberts lent credence to conservatives' concerns that they can't count on his vote.

But as he moves into his second decade as the nation's 17th chief justice, Roberts is proving to be strikingly consistent in one area that conservatives applaud. He wants to close the courthouse doors to challengers with tenuous legal grounds or claims, thereby limiting the role of the judicial branch he leads.

Read the whole story at USA Today

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Judicial panel approves downtown courthouse plan

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 4, 2016

A state judicial committee on Wednesday unanimously recommended plans presented for a new 53-courtroom courthouse in downtown Sacramento in a crucial step toward replacing Sacramento Superior Court’s aging Ninth Street building.

Officials returning from the Judicial Council of California’s San Francisco offices confirmed the news in an email Wednesday afternoon, calling the panel’s decision “a great victory.”

What exactly that means for a new courthouse project remains unclear. Council officials were not immediately available for comment Wednesday. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Kevin Culhane, the court’s presiding judge, is expected to elaborate Thursday on the committee’s recommendation and what it means for the Superior Court’s plans.

Read the whole story at SacBee

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Real estate heir Robert Durst pleads guilty on weapons charge; paves way for California murder trial

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 4, 2016

NEW ORLEANS – A New York real estate heir pleaded guilty in New Orleans on Wednesday to a weapons charge and agreed to an 85-month prison sentence, a move that could usher in his extradition to California to face murder charges.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt told Robert Durst that he will not make the plea final until he reviews a pre-sentencing report due in two weeks.

Durst, 72, appeared frail. He said mostly “Yes, your honor” and occasionally “I’m sorry; I couldn’t hear that.” Defense attorney Richard DeGuerin occasionally repeated questions into Durst’s right ear; he told the judge that Durst’s left ear is completely deaf.

Read the whole story at OC Register

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Labor & Employment News: Equal Pay Act Now Poses Challenges

Posted By Wm. David Smullin, Esq., Thursday, February 4, 2016

This post is cross posted from the Labor & Employment Section Blog 

Equal Pay Act Now Poses Challenges:

California’s Equal Pay Act, newly amended Labor Code Section 1197.5 (Senate Bill 358), now creates significantly expanded liability for employers. It also creates great uncertainty in the standards by which the equality of California pay practices will be judged. The amended statute became effective on January 1, 2016; legislative information on SB 358 is available at http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/.

The changed standards

The amendments substitute the standard of “equal work” “in the same establishment” with "substantially similar work" regardless of location. The existing defense of a “bona fide factor other than sex,” such as education, training, or experience, will now only apply if the employer demonstrates that the factor is not “derived from a sex- based differential in compensation, is job-related” and "...is consistent with a business necessity." Business necessity is defined as “...an overriding legitimate business purpose such that the factor relied upon effectively fulfills the business purpose it is supposed to serve." The defense will "...not apply if the employee demonstrates that an alternative practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing the wage differential."

Each such factor is only a defense if it is "applied reasonably" and accounts "for the entire wage differential." The amendments also extend the record keeping requirements for wage data and "other terms and conditions of employment" from two to three years.

Employees can file claims with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement or as a civil action, in the latter case to recover "reasonable attorney’s fees" in addition to unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and costs of suit within two years (or three years, if the violation is deemed "willful"). Employees' rights to disclose wage data, to discuss the wage data of others, and to ask other employees about their wages for the purpose of enforcing rights under Section 1197.5, are all protected. In addition, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee "in any manner” for the exercise of these rights.

Changing the definition of equal work to "substantially similar work," and the standard for discrimination to "in any manner discriminate," do more than expand the scope of a violation. The amendments include no definition of those terms, or of the expression "applied reasonably," nor do they provide guidance to the meaning of such terms. Accordingly, the amendments create significant ambiguity about how to evaluate a particular compensation plan.

How this amended law affects counsel and alternative dispute resolution.

Attorneys who advise corporations will want to alert clients about this new legislation, and of the need to audit their pay practices accordingly. Attorneys who represent individual employees will need to carefully assess the amended standards to determine whether existing compensation practices are no longer compliant with the new law. Counsel for all sides need to understand how these new standards will affect the mediation and settlement of claims under this law.

 

© 2016 Wm. David Smullin, Esq., Smullin Mediation

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Police say she helped her husband, who is accused in a grisly torture plot. How did she become a lawyer?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Cortney Shegerian was a law student when, police say, she helped her husband conduct surveillance on a man who was later abducted and mutilated. Two years later, she was licensed as a California lawyer.

Her role in her ex-husband's alleged crimes, described by a Newport Beach police detective in court testimony, has raised questions about the admissions process of the State Bar of California. All applicants for a law license must pass a moral character review.

State bar officials refused to discuss Shegerian's application, citing confidentiality rules, and it is unclear whether the bar knew about the role the detective said she played in her husband's alleged crimes. She told authorities that she poisoned hamburger meat, at her husband's behest, assuming it would be fed to a dog, the detective said.

Read the whole story at LA Times

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SCCBA Installs 2016 Officers and Board of Trustees at Recent Ceremony

Posted By Paula Collis, Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bob Weeks named 2016 Salsman Award Recipient

Area legal leaders, judges, and practitioners gathered downtown last week to welcome the 2016 leadership of Santa Clara County Bar Association, the largest and oldest bar association in Silicon Valley, and to highlight the successful completion of programs by the outgoing leadership.


The bar officers Matthew H. Poppe (President), Nicole Isger (President-Elect), Kate Wilson (Treasurer), and Kevin M. Hammon (Secretary) were installed by Hon. Risë  J. Pichon, the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court, County of Santa Clara, State of California. 2016 President Matthew H. Poppe and Hon. Jack Komar, retired, of JAMS and 1985 President of the SCCBA made brief installation remarks.  Judge Pichon also swore in the 2016 Board of Trustees: John L. Mlnarik, Hogene L. Choi, Golnesa Monazamfar, S. Michael Lee, Susana L. Inda, Troy Benson, Lauren E. Jones, Kathryn S. Diemer, Mindy Morton, Suchitra V. Narayen, Joshua J. Borger, Eugene Flemate, Bernard S. Greenfield, Gabriel Gregg, Bruce D. MacLeod, Megan E. Ottoboni, Sylvia Perez-MacDonald, Richard D. Schramm.


Also during the ceremony, incoming president Matthew H. Poppe recognized Bob Weeks with the distinction of being selected as the 2016 Salsman Award recipient.  The Salsman Award is given each year to a Santa Clara County Bar Association member who has contributed significantly to the association over a period of time without receiving other recognition. This year’s recipient, Mr. Weeks, is a passionate champion of the legal profession and has represented the SCCBA as its American Bar Association Delegate for 15 years, even serving as chair of the 2013 ABA Indigent Defense Summit. Prior to his service in the ABA House of Delegates, Bob was a deputy public defender for the County of Santa Clara from 1970-1999, and has been an SCCBA member since 1971.


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Shifting alliances tally up to more unpredictable CA Supreme Court

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, February 2, 2016

After decades of domination by conservatives, the newly reconstituted state Supreme Court is now approaching political parity.

Mariano Florentino Cuellar
Cuéllar takes the oath of office from Gov. Jerry Brown (AP Photo)

It’s not just the three fresh Democratic justices appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown who have altered the high court’s makeup. Goodwin H. Liu, appointed in 2011, was joined last year by Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Leondra R. Kruger.

That made for a 4-3 divide that still favors the Republican appointees: Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, the chief justice, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, Ming W. Chin and Carol A. Corrigan. But it is Werdegar’s political odyssey leftward – not the new appointees – that is shifting the bench calculus.

In themselves, Brown’s appointments have uncanny echoes of the 1970s and ’80s, during his first term as governor. Brown placed seven justices on the court, three of whom were ousted from the bench in a politically charged 1986 retention election focused on Chief Justice Rose E. Bird’s rejection of the death penalty.

Read the whole story at California Bar Journal

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White House expected to nominate high-profile Silicon Valley-based Judge Lucy Koh to federal appeals court

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, February 2, 2016

San Jose-based U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, who in recent years has become the most influential judge in Silicon Valley, is expected to soon be nominated to the nation's largest federal appeals court, according to lawyers and judges familiar with the White House vetting process.

The Obama administration is expected this month to nominate Koh to fill a spot on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which shapes federal law for California and eight other Western states. The 47-year-old Koh, best known for presiding over the Apple v. Samsung patent feud and legal claims against Silicon Valley tech powers over illegal hiring practices, has spent nearly six years on the Bay Area federal bench.

Read the whole story at San Jose Mercury News

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