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Author Archives: Paul Tharp, Staff Writer

LegalZoom says Bar’s delays, not new law, is reason for lawsuit (access required)

LegalZoom sued the N.C. State Bar one day before a new law went into effect that allows a new cause of action against unauthorized practitioners. But the company says that was coincidence – not the impetus for the suit. LegalZoom general counsel Chas Rampenthal (pictured) said the new cause of action doesn’t apply to LegalZoom because the company is not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The company sued the Bar, he said, because the agency refused to withdraw a public cease-and-desist letter it sent LegalZoom three years ago and because it refuses to register the company’s prepaid legal service plans. In its suit, LegalZoom alleged that the impression that it engages in the unauthorized practice of law was fostered, at least in part, by the Bar’s May 5, 2008 cease-and-desist letter. That letter, LegalZoom alleged, has disparaged its name and caused it “incalculable” economic harm.

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Failure to provide title to plane leads to $8.7 million verdict  (access required)

A jury in Buncombe County awarded Venezuelan native Wilson Aponte and his company $8.7 million after finding that Dove Air Inc. and its president breached a contract with Aponte for the purchase of a Cessna jet. The jury awarded Aponte $2,922,353. The damages were trebled because the jury found that Aponte was damaged by the fraud of Dove Air and Joseph W. Duncan, the company’s owner and president. The 2009 deal, negotiated by an intermediary, was for Aponte to pay Dove Air $2.2 million in exchange for a Cessna Citation III. Aponte paid in full, but Dove Air hedged on giving over the plane. When it finally did, the plane came with an unexpected hitch: a $2.3 million lien in favor of Cessna Finance Corporation. That wasn’t part of the deal. The contract provided that the plane would be transferred free of any liens or charges.

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LegalZoom sues State Bar for recognition (access required)

LegalZoom has sued the N.C. State Bar, demanding that the agency register two of its prepaid legal services plans and publically withdraw statements it says have disparaged its name and caused “incalculable” economic harm. The Glendale, Calif.-based company filed the suit in Wake County Superior Court on Sept. 30, over three years after the Bar ordered LegalZoom to cease and desist from activities that the agency alleged constituted the unauthorized practice of law.

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“Loan discount” not actually a discount, court rules  (access required)

A proposed class action that Travis Bumpers brought against Community Bank of Northern Virginia in 2001 involving a fake loan discount rate has been given new life by the N.C. Court of Appeals. In a Sept. 6 opinion, the court upheld Wake County Superior Court Judge John B. Lewis’ 2008 summary judgment in Bumpers’ favor on his unfair and deceptive trade practices claim. The court sent the case back to Wake County to consider whether the case is appropriate for class action certification. Another plaintiff, Troy Elliot, dropped out of the Bumpers lawsuit because he is a member of a separate class action suit against Community Bank in federal court in Pennsylvania. Bumpers opted out of that class action.

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Columbia economist the go-to guy when money comes up at trial (access required)

If you’re a lawyer in South Carolina and you’ve had a case involving economic issues, chances are you’ve already made the acquaintance of Dr. Oliver Wood. It was a good day or bad day, depending on whether he was working with or against you. Wood, who taught banking and finance courses at the University of South Carolina for 29 years, is now the economist-in-residence at the Charleston School of Law. He has spent his entire professional life working in academia after earning a doctoral degree in economics from the University of Florida in 1965, with one exception: Since 1969, he’s been the go-to guy for economic testimony in legal cases. “He’s the authority on economic issues in cases,” Kingstree, S.C., lawyer Billy Jenkinson said of Wood. “He’s unmatched in the depth and breadth of his knowledge, and he has the respect of the bench and the bar.”

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Spouses must separate before filing for support, S.C. court holds (access required)

The S.C. Supreme Court has ruled that spouses must separate and live apart before one can bring a claim for “separate maintenance and support.” In a Sept. 19 opinion, the high court upheld Greenville County Family Court Judge Robert N. Jenkins’ order dismissing Eileen Theisen’s claim for support from Clifford Theisen. Eileen Theisen should have alleged that she was living separate and apart from her husband, the high court held. She didn’t, so the court upheld Judge Jenkins’ dismissal of her claim in Theisen v. Theisen. Greenville attorney Joe Ramseur (pictured) represented Clifford Theisen in the case.

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Charlotte School of Law, UNCC team up to offer joint degree program (access required)

The Charlotte School of Law is planning to offer a dual program that will enable students to simultaneously obtain law degrees and master’s degrees in business administration beginning in the fall of 2012. The school will partner with the Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte, said Charlotte School of Law President Dennis Stone (pictured). Stone said student admissions surveys showed incoming law students were most interested in a joint degree program involving business administration.

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Developer’s counterclaim against SunTrust nets $2.1 million  (access required)

A Winston-Salem developer has been awarded $2.1 million by a Forsyth County jury after asserting counterclaims against SunTrust Bank in a lawsuit brought by the bank on a promissory note. Donald H. Sutphin wasn’t any stranger to the construction business and he wasn’t any stranger to SunTrust Bank. Sutphin had been involved in residential construction and development for 30 years and had a 15-year relationship with SunTrust. He was surprised, then, when he received a call in October 2009 from a SunTrust banker notifying him that a hold was being placed on $365,000 Sutphin had in deposit accounts at the bank. Sutphin had taken out numerous loans from SunTrust to finance development of properties in the Winston-Salem area. But SunTrust had decided to exit the residential construction loan business as problems in the real estate market multiplied, according to J. Scott Hale, who represented Sutphin.

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Alcohol monitoring devices poised to spread in wake of new law  (access required)

Bill Powers is a tech geek. That may set him apart from other lawyers, but he thinks his Bar comrades need more than a passing interest in the evolving technology of alcohol detection to adequately defend their clients in court. Not that continuous alcohol monitoring, or CAM, is anything new. It’s been used sporadically in North Carolina since 2005. What’s new is a recent legislative push that figures to expand use of the technology across the state. Investment banker Bruce Roberts of Brevard-based Rehabilitation Support Services was a part of that legislative push. Rehabilitation Support Services’ authorized service partner is Alcohol Monitoring Systems, the maker of SCRAMx, an alcohol detection device (pictured).

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Bank’s time is money for plaintiff   (access required)

The S.C. Court of Appeals has upheld a $1.5 million punitive damages award against Bank of America after a Williamsburg County jury found the bank negligent for allowing a boy’s aunt to misappropriate life insurance proceeds from his father’s estate. Cody Powell stood to receive $252,000 in life insurance proceeds after his father’s death. The money was to be held in a conservatorship account overseen by his aunt and uncle. But Cody’s aunt, Karen P. Unrue, transferred money from an account she set up for Cody at Bank of America into her personal checking account. Cody’s guardian brought suit on his behalf against Unrue, his uncle Travis Powell and Bank of America. A Williamsburg County jury awarded Cody $205,735 in actual damages and $1,583,000 in punitive damages against the bank.

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