Content tagged “Laws”

A legals war

In a legislative session dominated by debates over the hot-button issue of Common Core, a series of bills that would change state law to allow The New Orleans Advocate to compete for government classified ads in Orleans and Jefferson parishes hasn't made big news. But then, newspapers often shy away from calling attention to themselves.

Local group files amended suit against Commonwealth Advisors

A group of local retirees who lost millions of dollars in life savings they had invested with Commonwealth Advisors has filed an amended lawsuit against the firm and its owner, Walter Morales, raising new allegations in the case, which dates back more than four years. In the amended complaint, filed April 1 in U.S. Middle District Court, plaintiff Joseph Broyles and other individual investors claim a San Francisco investment firm, Stone and Youngberg, was complicit with Morales and Commonwealth in committing fraud and breach of fiduciary duty by investing their funds—without their knowledge—in risky mortgage-backed securities, then conspiring to hide the resulting losses. "Stone and Youngberg systematically traded Commonwealth's clients' investments in and out of Commonwealth...

Taking on tort

At least 40 chambers of commerce and business organizations in Louisiana—including the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association—are working to change Louisiana's tort system this legislative session. Efforts are aimed at limiting the number of frivolous lawsuits, increasing transparency within the sytem, and curtailing contingency-fee contracts by public entities, among other changes. The organization insists excessive litigation costs the average Louisiana family nearly $10,000 annually.

Capitol Views: Holden fights against red-light camera bills that nonetheless eke out of committee

Two bills about red-light cameras barely got out of a divided legislative committee today—one to limit the speed range for violations and another to add one second to the minimum time for yellow caution lights. Both bills by Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, would only affect cameras operating at intersections of state highways. With strong opposition from Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, tie votes on both bills were broken by House Transportation Chairwoman Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, sending the measures to the House floor. HB 801 would prohibit red-light camera tickets from being issued for speeds less than 10 miles per hour over the posted limit on state highways. The limitation would not affect cameras on city streets or federal highways. Arnold, who battles with local officials over his anti-camera legislation each year, said, "Traffic cameras are not about policing. They are about fleecing." In opposition, Holden asked the committee, "Why don't we let local governments...

La. lawmakers to take up 'Advocate' and 'Times-Pic' battle over legal notices

The newspaper war between The Advocate and The Times-Picayune has spilled over into the Legislature, where several bills have been filed that would allow The New Orleans Advocate to bid on publishing lucrative legal ads in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Currently, state law allows only newspapers that have been publishing in a parish for at least five years to bid on carrying legal notices, which include classified-style ads about government bids, property auctions and meeting notices, among other things. The proposed laws would do away with that requirement, allowing The New Orleans Advocate—which has been publishing in the Crescent City for just 18 months—to compete for the contracts, which are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. "All this is doing is responding to changes in the market," says Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, who filed one of the three House bills that would change the law on publishing legal notices. "The...

'Business Report': Texts, emails becoming key pieces of evidence in courtrooms

When Texas drilling engineer Kurt Mix deleted strings of text messages and voicemails from his employer-supplied iPhone one day in April 2010, it's possible he was merely doing what most people who use smartphones do routinely: freeing up data storage space. But several months ago, a federal jury in New Orleans decided otherwise. The jury determined that Mix—formerly a high-level engineer employed by BP—deliberately destroyed the messages because he knew they would prove his employer lied about the amount of oil that spilled from its blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. The jury in December convicted Mix on one count of obstructing justice in connection with the BP oil spill. He faces a potential prison term of up to 20 years and a maximum fine of $250,000 when he is sentenced in a few months. Not long ago, the idea that an individual could be held criminally liable for such a seemingly ordinary act as deleting phone messages may have seemed far-fetched. But Baton Rouge...

Judge upholds La. police pension bid to access Hershey records regarding African child laborers

Hershey Co., the largest chocolate maker in the U.S., was ordered Tuesday to face a lawsuit by a Louisiana police pension fund that's seeking to force it to turn over records about cocoa from African farms that may use illegal child labor. Bloomberg reports that Delaware Chancery Court Judge Travis Laster ruled the Louisiana Municipal Police Employees' Retirement System raised legitimate questions about Hershey executives' knowledge of how much of the company's cocoa, grown in West Africa, may have been produced by child slaves. Laster on Tuesday overruled a recommendation that the shareholders' request to see cocoa supply chain records be denied. The Louisiana police pension fund, which holds Hershey shares, sued last year seeking access to the company's records about cocoa purchases from West African suppliers who don't comply with international child-labor restrictions. The fund contends Hershey officials put the candy company's reputation at risk by relying on supplies produced...

Do not delete

When Texas drilling engineer Kurt Mix deleted strings of text messages and voicemails from his employer-supplied iPhone one day in April 2010, it's possible he was merely doing what most people who use smartphones do routinely: freeing up data storage space.

In Conversation: Harold Kim

With Louisiana's civil justice system expected to be a focus of the 2014 legislative session, it's fitting that Harold Kim, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, stopped in Baton Rouge last month to visit with the Baton Rouge Lawyers Chapter of the conservative Federalist Society.

Briggs to be in court today, one day after bench warrant issued for not appearing

Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs confirmed Monday night that he planned on appearing in a Baton Rouge court this morning, The Advertiser reports. On Monday, District Judge Janice Clarks issued a bench warrant ordering Briggs to either attend court or face jail for contempt. The order was issued after Briggs reportedly failed to appear at a court hearing regarding a LOGA lawsuit that seeks to rescind Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's approval of a lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies. In a press release issued by LOGA late Monday, the association says Briggs was advised not to show up to court by his physician due to health concerns and a pre-existing heart condition that was aggravated last week after Briggs was required to give a...

Getting tough on water

In the 1970s, a concept known as the "broken window" theory popped up on the East Coast. To oversimplify, the notion was that if there is an abandoned building and you see a few broken panes of glass, the smart thing from a public safety and welfare standpoint is to fix those windows as soon as possible.

Unconstitutional provisions in La. law prove difficult to repeal

State lawmakers are being asked in the session that begins March 10 to repeal portions of an anti-sodomy law that were declared unconstitutional in 2003, but The Shreveport Times reports that's not the only law still on the books after being declared unenforceable. A search of state laws by the newspaper has found some other high-profile unconstitutional measures that were left on the books and some that drew little notice when signed into law. LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center Professor Raymond Lamonica says "there's a lot of stuff in the so-called 'Green Books' that shouldn't be there." Someone should compile a list of unconstitutional and defunct laws and clear them out, he says, "but there's no incentive to remove it. There's no institutional mechanism to do it." Neither the attorney general's office, nor the Legislature's legal divisions, nor the LSU law school, nor the Law Institute, nor the state Law Library know how many unconstitutional laws are still on the books. None...

Gay rights group challenging La. same-sex marriage law

A gay rights group has filed a legal challenge to the Louisiana Constitution's prohibition against recognizing same-sex marriages performed legally in other states. The Forum for Equality Louisiana and four gay married couples have called news conference later today to discuss details of the suit. A draft of the group's planned lawsuit, obtained by The Associated Press, attacks the marriage recognition ban on several fronts. For instance, it says state revenue department policy, based on the ban, essentially requires married same-sex couples who file joint federal tax returns to falsely claim they are single on state returns, which the Forum says is a violation of free speech. The lawsuit challenges the state's refusal to recognize both members of a same-sex union as parents of a child born to them or adopted. The New Orleans-based Forum and the four couples plan to challenge the recognition ban, citing equal protection and free speech rights in the U.S. Constitution. A 2004...

U.S. Chamber official urges changes to La. legal system

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform ranks Louisiana's tort liability system 49th in the country. "I love Louisiana," Harold Kim, the institute's executive vice president, said during a visit to Baton Rouge today. "I would not want to be on the receiving end of a complaint in this state." While the institute's rankings, based on a survey of corporate attorneys and senior business executives, are subjective, Kim says those perceptions matter because they influence where companies choose to locate and do business. So how can Louisiana move up in the rankings? Lowering or eliminating Louisiana's highest-in-the-nation $50,000 threshold for a jury trial could help, Kim says. He also says the Legislature could take another look at the practice of "lawsuit lending," in which plaintiffs take out high-interest loans to fund their lawsuits. Kim says the practice leads to unnecessary, prolonged litigation. The state Senate passed a bill last year to regulate rates, but the measure died...

Jury selection to begin in long-running suit between Little Village, former landlord

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday in a long-running lawsuit between restaurateur Wayne Stabiler and the owners of the downtown building that previously housed his popular Italian restaurant. CDR Properties sued The Little Village in late 2010, shortly after the restaurant moved out of the building at 453 Lafayette St. and relocated to the nearby Kress Building. According to court documents, Little Village caused "extreme damage … to the premises, including removing items which had been installed and were the property of CDR." Court records allege the extreme damage included “numerous gouges, scrapes and digs in the floors; removal of flooring … gouges, scrapes and holes all the way through the dry wall; removal of ceiling tiles throughout, removal of a walk-in refrigeration unit and removal of a service bar … without permission." The suit does not specify a motive, but Rob Miller, who owns the property, says it appears the alleged actions were "all...

Barry: Levee board suit against oil and gas companies may never go to court

Well-known author and former Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East board member John Barry predicted today that the lawsuit the flood protection board filed last year against more than 90 oil and gas companies in Louisiana may never see a day in court. In an address to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club, Barry said the lawsuit is pretty straightforward because there is irrefutable evidence that damage was done to Louisiana wetlands and that the remedies are plain in law and regulation. "This lawsuit hits at the heart of our most basic, conservative, American values, what parents are supposed to teach their kids: Keep your word, obey the law and take responsibility for your actions," Barry said. "Industry hasn't lived up to any of those." Insisting that he has nothing personal against the oil and gas industry and acknowledging its importance to Louisiana's economy and its people, Barry maintained the industry shouldn't get a pass on cleaning up what it acknowledges it...

Louisiana AG offers defense of role in Big Oil lawsuit

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit that says he illegally approved a New Orleans-area flood protection board's contract with lawyers who filed the suit against the oil and gas industry over coastal wetlands loss. The Associated Press reports Caldwell's office on Thursday released a copy of his state court response to the lawsuit filed last month by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. The filing says Caldwell never approved the contract between the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East and private lawyers led by Gladstone Jones of New Orleans. It says Caldwell did review the board's resolution to hire the lawyers, making sure it met legal requirements—a task he says he is required by law to do. The flood board's lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies was filed last summer. It says the companies' coastal drilling activities contributed to the erosion of wetlands, diminishing a natural hurricane protection buffer for New...

Ideas flourish to spend Louisiana's surplus and amnesty money

After years of divvying up cuts, state lawmakers have a pleasant financial problem: deciding how to spend as much as $300 million in unallocated cash from Louisiana's treasury. The Associated Press reports dollars include a surplus from the last fiscal year and excess collections from a recent tax-amnesty period that generated more than expected. With the cash surprise comes disputes about how to allocate the money in a state that has struggled through years of budget slashing, faces a looming shortfall next year and has a list of needs that far surpass available income. "Everybody has an idea," says Sen. Jack Donahue, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "At least it's nice to have money to talk about." Some people are eyeing the money for long-stalled highway projects. Donahue, R-Mandeville, thinks the state's "rainy day" fund should be replenished with some of the cash, since the state owes the fund $330 million by 2015 as part of a lawsuit settlement. Lawmakers eyeing a...

One love, one lawsuit

Bob Marley's family apparently has little love for Raising Cane's. Fifty-Six Hope Road, owned by Marley's widow and children, has asked a federal court in Massachusetts to permanently stop the fried chicken finger chain from using the phrase "One Love"—which also happens to be the title of the reggae songwriter's immortal ballad—in its promotions.

Face-off

Late this summer, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East sued 97 oil and gas companies, seeking unspecified (but no doubt massive) damages to pay for the industry's share in contributing to the state's coastal erosion. Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes since have filed similar suits. Louisiana Oil & Gas Association President Don Briggs calls the lawsuits "just more extortion by the trial lawyers," while former authority member John Barry says it's right to hold the industry accountable.

Judge revisiting challenge of La. teacher tenure law

A Baton Rouge judge is today reconsidering his decision to throw out Gov. Bobby Jindal's revamp of teacher tenure and salary laws. The Associated Press reports Judge Michael Caldwell is set to begin a hearing at 9:30 this morning on the issue. He had previously ruled that the legislation was unconstitutional because it bundled together too many items spanning Louisiana's education laws. But the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated Caldwell's decision and asked him to re-evaluate his ruling. The Supreme Court said its opinion in a separate education case involving Jindal's statewide voucher program contains new case law for Caldwell to review. In that case, the high court rejected a similar argument that the voucher bill contained too many objectives. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers filed the lawsuit challenging the 2012 law, which limited local school boards' authority, made it harder for teachers to reach tenure and eliminated statewide teacher pay scales.

Despite 'hostile' court decisions, class-action litigation alive and well in La.

An October headline in Bloomberg Businessweek proclaimed "The end of the class-action carnival." "Is the end of class actions upon us?" SCOTUSblog wondered. "Justice for Big Business," was the decision law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky spotlighted on the July 1 opinion page of The New York Times. But Louisiana lawyers on both sides of the class-action question tell Business Report they wonder if reports of the anticipated demise of these mass torts aren't greatly exaggerated. Class action, in which a large number of plaintiffs—often each with a small claim—come together to make litigation possible, has always been a complex issue. When the class-action rule was rewritten in 1968, these cases became more widely used and largely centered on anti-trust, security fraud, civil rights and consumer suits. Cases in which attorneys get multimillion-dollar fees while plaintiffs receive little compensation make the headlines. Yet, in recent years, the judicial...

Lawyers for levee board, oil and gas companies at odds over which court should hear suit

A legal tug-of-war continues in a state levee board's lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies over the erosion of wetlands. The Associated Press reports the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East wants U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown to send the case back to Orleans Parish Civil District Court, where the board filed it in July. Attorneys for Chevron USA Inc. got the lawsuit moved to federal court in August, arguing that federal laws govern many of its claims. Since then, lawyers have filed hundreds of pages of arguments and exhibits just on the question of which court should hear the case. Brown has scheduled arguments on the matter today. The lawsuit says oil and gas canal and pipeline work has contributed to the erosion of wetlands that protect New Orleans when hurricanes move ashore. Corrosive saltwater from a network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals has killed plants that anchored the wetlands, letting waves sweep away hundreds of...

Eight former workers sue 'Times-Picayune' and parent company

Eight former employees of The Times-Picayune have sued the newspaper and parent Advance Publications Inc., alleging their layoffs violated a longstanding "job security pledge" and age discrimination laws. The Associated Press reports the plaintiffs were 46 to 59 years old when they lost jobs ranging from warehouse worker to reporter in June and September 2012. They either were not allowed to apply or applied unsuccessfully for lower-paid replacement jobs, according to lawsuits filed on Wednesday and Friday last week in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. Times-Picayune publisher Ricky Mathews did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the AP. The plaintiffs are: Keith Catalanotto, 53; Patricia Gonzalez, 59; Aileen Kelly, 50; Vivian Hernandez, 50; Jeanne Woods, 60; Ulpiano Lugo, 50; Stephanie Stroud Naylor, 47; and Patricia Pitt, 49. All the plaintiffs said they relied on a longstanding company pledge not to fire non-union workers because of economic or...

Under fire

An October headline in Bloomberg Businessweek proclaimed "The end of the class-action carnival." "Is the end of class actions upon us?" SCOTUSblog wondered. "Justice for Big Business," was the decision law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky spotlighted on the July 1 opinion page of The New York Times.

Local lawsuits more to Jindal's liking

There is a good reason why Gov. Bobby Jindal responded so calmly to Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes suing dozens of oil companies for coastal damage, compared to his ballistic reaction to a similar suit filed earlier by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

Judge refuses to delay CNSI lawsuit against state

A Baton Rouge judge is allowing a Maryland company to move forward with its wrongful termination lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration. Client Network Services Inc. sued the state for canceling its $200 million Medicaid contract. Judge Tim Kelley today rejected a request from the attorney general's office to delay evidence-gathering in the case until January, The Associated Press reports. Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell argued the delay was needed to protect the integrity of a separate state grand jury investigation into the CNSI contract award. Kelley said he received no evidence to suggest that allowing the wrongful termination lawsuit to proceed would harm the criminal case. The Jindal administration has accused its former health secretary, Bruce Greenstein, of inappropriate contact with CNSI during the bid process. CNSI sued, saying it did nothing wrong.

Feds seek more time for documents in La. voucher case

The U.S. Justice Department is asking for extra time to produce documents in a case linking the state's private school tuition program to longstanding federal desegregation orders. Gov. Bobby Jindal responded in a prepared statement today, saying that the request is an example of Obama administration incompetence. "Were these documents lost in the Obamacare website? Or did the Department of Justice just ignore the documents and file a lawsuit against the state without having all of the information available?" Jindal says in the statement. Justice attorneys say in papers filed Tuesday that the recent partial shutdown of the federal government has contributed to a delay in compiling the documents being sought by Louisiana. They asked for a new Dec. 16 deadline. The case arises from an August filing in which the Justice Department argues there is evidence that moving students from...

Trash talking

Over the course of her tenure with Keep Louisiana Beautiful, Executive Director Leigh Harris has issued cautionary tales about what happens when communities don't pick up their trash.

Former DHH secretary's deposition pushed back to Oct. 29

Gov. Bobby Jindal's one-time health secretary will be questioned under oath Oct. 29 in a lawsuit filed by a Maryland-based company against the Jindal administration over a canceled Medicaid contract. Bruce Greenstein's deposition had been scheduled for Thursday, but The Associated Press reports it has been pushed back to coordinate with lawyers' schedules. The Jindal administration wants to delay Greenstein's deposition while a separate criminal investigation into the Medicaid contract award is ongoing. A judge denied the request for the delay on Sept. 30, and his decision is being appealed. Greenstein's questioning is part of a lawsuit filed by Client Network Services Inc. accusing the state of breach of contract for firing the company from a $200 million Medicaid claims processing contract. The Jindal administration has accused Greenstein of inappropriate contact with CNSI throughout the bid process. Greenstein, who was once vice president of CNSI, has denied any meddling in the...

Supreme Court case impacting Stanford victims to decide Ponzi scheme law 'for years to come,' attorney says

On the first Monday in October, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in a case that could have a major impact as to whether local Stanford Group victims finally will be compensated, says local attorney Phil Preis. Preis won at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals the right to pursue in state court a class action suit against law firms and financial services companies that he argues enabled the infamous Ponzi scheme. Put simply, state law allows for a negligence claim, while federal law would require investors prove knowledge of the fraud, a much higher bar. Tom Goldstein, a prominent Washington, D.C., attorney and publisher of SCOTUSblog, will argue before the high court that the Fifth Circuit's decision should stand. "This is going to establish the law on Ponzi schemes in the United States for years to come," Preis says. A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission administrative law judge

La. 'stand your ground' law not a 'license to kill,' DA says

Though much attention has been paid to so-called stand your ground laws recently, District Attorney Hillar Moore III says Louisiana's version is rarely invoked in court. He says the statute, which basically says people who aren't breaking the law are allowed to "meet force with force" if they have good reason to feel threatened, simply extends the traditional "castle doctrine" that allows people to defend themselves in their home. "The presumption of reasonableness is not a license to kill," Moore says, citing a court's decision in one such case. Shenequa Grey, an associate professor with the Southern University Law Center, says unlike Florida's, Louisiana's statute does not provide immunity from criminal prosecution or civil action. The law requires jurors to "get inside someone's head" to determine if the person truly felt threatened, Moore says, which is difficult, but says juries tend to have good "B.S. meters." Moore suggests people who have completed the requisite training to...

Historic lawsuit challenges politics

Louisiana politicians, beware: This is what happens when you establish in the constitution an independent and apolitical board of experts empowered to take legal action to protect the lives and property within its jurisdiction: namely, the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

Tweeting while driving ban among Louisiana's new laws

Tweeting while driving can get you a ticket, posting the names of people who apply for concealed handgun permits can land you in jail, and selling cakes and cookies you bake at home faces looser regulation, under new state laws that take effect Thursday.

Tweeting while driving ban among Louisiana's new laws

Tweeting while driving can get you a ticket, posting the names of people who apply for concealed handgun permits can land you in jail, and selling cakes and cookies you bake at home faces looser regulation, under new state laws that take effect Thursday. Nearly 250 statutory changes passed by lawmakers earlier this year hit the books with the start of August. Many are modest tweaks to existing laws or arcane changes that few people would notice. Lifetime concealed handgun permits will now be available to Louisiana residents, and restaurants will pay higher permitting fees to enhance food inspection services at the Office of Public Health. Public schools will have to hold annual safety drills to rehearse crisis management plans, a response to last year's school shooting in Connecticut. Car and truck owners will be able to put in applications for new license plates declaring "I'm Cajun ... and proud" or "I'm a Creole ... and proud." Once at least 1,000 apply, the plates will be...

A look at some of the nearly 250 new Louisiana laws on the books

Nearly 250 new laws take effect Thursday, after being approved by lawmakers in the most recent legislative session. The measures will:
• Expand Louisiana's ban on texting while driving to also prohibit accessing, reading and posting to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook while behind the wheel.
• Make it a misdemeanor crime to publish the names and addresses of people who have or apply for concealed handgun permits.
• Allow for lifetime concealed handgun permits.
• Exempt home bakers who sell cakes and cookies from state licensing regulations and sanitation rules that require the purchase of commercial equipment.
• Require public schools to hold annual safety drills to rehearse crisis management plans and to design those plans in coordination with local law enforcement.
• Prohibit state agencies from paying unequal wages based on gender to their employees for the same job.

La. braces for suit over flex-fuel tax credit

Complaints about Louisiana's administration of a fuel tax credit program and talk of a class-action lawsuit are on the rise, but so far no such lawsuit has been filed. The dispute is over the Louisiana Department of Revenue's handling of the Alternative Fuels Tax Credit program for owners of vehicles that burn fuels other than gasoline. Joe Stevenson, attorney for the Louisiana Board of Tax Appeals, tells Gannett Louisiana that between 600 and 700 taxpayers whose claims were rejected have filed appeals and are awaiting hearings. Stevenson says he was not aware of any lawsuit filed in district court in East Baton Rouge Parish, and the civil suit division of the clerk of court's office couldn't find one either. But Douglas Baker, communications director for the Department of Revenue, says he would "be shocked if they didn't" file a class-action suit "considering the conflict surrounding this issue." Baker adds the Revenue Department is "prepared for that. We live in a very litigious...

Chilled water fight at Perkins Rowe headed to trial

What's a fair price for chilled water? That's what a longstanding dispute between Perkins Rowe developer Tommy Spinosa and the movie theater within the development—over more than $434,469 in unpaid bills—will come down to, a federal judge concedes. Central Facilities Operating Co., which Spinosa owns with Alabama football coach Nick Saban, has a pending lawsuit against Texas-based Cinemark, to whom it continues to provide chilled water for air conditioning. So far, all efforts to settle the matter have failed—including settlement negotiations and Cinemark's request for the appointment of a special master—setting the case on a course for trial. Cinemark insists CFOC has charged above-market rates and asks the court to apply a "standard public rate" of 8.1 cents per ton hour; CFOC argues no such standard exists. In a ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James Brady, who is overseeing the matter, declined both parties' requests for summary judgment. "The...

SEC cleared in probe into Stanford Ponzi scheme

The Securities and Exchange Commission should not face a class action lawsuit for its failure to investigate R. Allen Stanford's $7 billion Ponzi scheme, a federal judge has ruled. Courthouse News Service reports several investors in Stanford International Bank Ltd. sued the agency in 2012, seeking relief under the Federal Tort Claims Act. They claimed the SEC knew of scheming by the bank and Stanford Group Co., and that former Fort Worth regional enforcement director Spencer Barasch "was negligent and engaged in deliberate misconduct" by failing to investigate before the investors suffered massive losses. The federal government later moved to dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing the SEC enjoys complete discretion in deciding what matters to investigate under the discretionary function exception to the FTCA. U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick in Baton Rouge has agreed, dismissing the action and declining to certify class. "While the alleged conduct of...

'Tres' Bernhard sentenced to 27 months in prison

A U.S. district judge today sentenced former attorney James M. "Tres" Bernhard III to 27 months in federal prison for committing wire fraud and diverting nearly $500,000 in funds from his former law firm to his own personal use. Judge Brian Jackson issued the sentence after about 20 minutes of arguments in Baton Rouge today, mostly from Bernhard's attorney, Michael Villa, who argued the 36-year-old should receive a sentence of probation, community service and, possibly, home incarceration so that he could continue to receive intensive mental health treatments for a variety of mental and cognitive illnesses. "These are not diagnoses of convenience," Villa said, citing two physicians' reports detailing Bernhard's lifelong history of mental illness. "There is a long history of mental instability … that we are only now seeking treatment for … that should have been sought long ago." Bernhard, son of the Shaw Group founder Jim Bernhard, was present for the sentencing and...

'Tres' Bernhard in court for sentencing today

Former attorney James M. "Tres" Bernhard III is in U.S. District Court this morning, where he is expected to be sentenced on a single count of wire fraud. Earlier this year, Bernhard pleaded guilty to wire fraud and for diverting funds from his former law firm for his personal use. Bernhard, son of The Shaw Group founder Jim Bernhard, was charged by the feds last fall, after settling a civil law suit that was filed against him by his former law firm, Crawford Lewis, and some of its clients. That civil suit alleged that Bernhard, who had billed himself as an expert in the state's movie tax credit program, sold invalid tax credits to third parties, then misappropriated the proceeds from the sale, using them for his personal gain. Last May, Bernhard was permanently disbarred. Wire fraud carries a possible penalty of 20 years in prison and a possible fine of $250,000. The sentencing was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. in U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson's courtroom. —Stephanie...

Ban on using social media while driving moves closer to law

An attempt to ban posting to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites while driving is nearing final passage in the Louisiana Legislature. The proposal, approved today by the House transportation committee, is designed to close what lawmakers call a loophole in the state law that prohibits texting while driving. The Senate-approved bill would add accessing, reading and posting to social media sites to the prohibition. It heads next to the full House. Livingston Sen. Dale Erdey, the Republican sponsor of the bill, says he's trying to cut down on distracted driving and improve public safety. If passed into law, violators would face a fine up to $175 for the first offense and up to $500 for second and subsequent violations.