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After tort reform, support costs of litigation get a hard look from lawyers (access required)

In anticipation of state legislators passing tort reform, Mark McGrath and his law partner, George Podgorny, started reviewing medical malpractice cases for filing about eight months ago. With the new tort reform law taking effect Oct. 1, the triage of what to fast-track and what to drop continues unabated at McGrath Podgorny in Research Triangle Park. Every new case coming in is probed: How many medical experts are needed to present the case? How much research will be required? What’s the chance of settling the case or winning a jury verdict if it goes to trial? Is the patient at the center of the case a child or a nursing home resident?

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Superior Court electronic filing program stalls   (access required)

The effort to bring a modern electronic filing system to every Superior Court in North Carolina started off with a bang but has quietly fizzled in the two years since its inception. The momentum behind the project stalled shortly after it was launched in 2009, when the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts started its electronic filing pilot project in Chowan, Davidson and Wake counties. AOC officials predicted at the time of the launch that the project could be rolled out statewide as early as 2010. But the project still has not expanded beyond the original three counties. “Of course, at first there were high hopes that this was the beginning of electronic filing in North Carolina,” said Wake County Clerk of Superior Court Lorrin Freeman (pictured with assistant clerk Tasha O'Neal). “Since then, the court’s budget has been cut in three successive legislative cycles and any expansion on the pilot project has been put on hold.”

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NLRB eyes Carolina office as it decides where to cut (access required)

Labor lawyers and a pair of North Carolina congressmen are pressuring the National Labor Relations Board to look elsewhere as it goes about the business of studying which regional offices can be closed. The NLRB is conducting a review of its Region 11 office in Winston-Salem, which serves North Carolina, South Carolina and parts of Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Under pressure to cut costs, and facing a changing employment landscape, the board is considering downsizing the office and consolidating it with another region. That has area labor and employment attorneys scratching their heads.

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Can John Edwards resist becoming a “fool client”?  (access required)

Following his indictment in June, former U.S. Senator John Edwards stood and listened as the judge explained his rights. But as the judge went on Edwards interrupted saying he was an attorney and the explanation wasn’t necessary. That exchange in the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem may have been the first flicker of the legal tension that will run through Edwards’ upcoming trial on charges of violating campaign finance laws. It’s a case in which the defendant is also an attorney, and a very good one. What will be the dynamic between Edwards and his defense team? How much will he steer the case and how much will he defer?

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Block on NLRB nominees may bring work to a halt (access required)

For the National Labor Relations Board, next year could be, as Yogi Berra put it, deja vu all over again. Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in New Process Steel v. NLRB that the normally five-member board, which is responsible for enforcing federal labor laws, acted without authority when it handed down nearly 600 decisions with only two active members. Today the NLRB has four members. But if members of the Senate, angered over recent NLRB actions, block President Barack Obama’s attempts to fill those vacancies, the board could again drop to two members, rendering it unable to issue decisions.

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Judge amends juror privacy order  (access required)

A senior Superior Court judge in Wake County has reversed himself on a juror privacy order that sealed the personal information of everyone in a jury pool, but refused to budge on another order that restricted jurors’ ability to discuss a high-profile case outside court. Judge Donald W. Stephens agreed to amend the juror privacy order in a recent letter to media lawyer Hugh Stevens Jr. of Stevens, Martin, Vaughn & Tadych in Raleigh. Stevens, who represents Raleigh’s News & Observer, WRAL News and several other media organizations, had sent Stephens a memo in which he raised concerns about the judge’s orders.

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Foreclosure filings slow for the first time in seven years   (access required)

The number of mortgage foreclosure filings in North Carolina is on the decrease for the first time since 2004, but the drop is most likely temporary. In May, foreclosure filings were down more than 10 percent compared to the same time a year earlier, according to N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts figures. RealtyTrac reported filings decreased 33 percent nationwide. But creditor and debtor attorneys across the state don’t believe the number of delinquent or defaulted loans is much different from last year’s record high. Nor have large banks that own or service mortgages noticed a slowdown in distressed home loans.

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Budget woes force Legal Aid to close offices, cut staff  (access required)

The announcement that Legal Aid of North Carolina is closing three offices and cutting positions didn’t come as a surprise to Kenneth Schorr. Schorr, a Charlotte attorney who is executive director of Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont, said groups like Legal Aid and LSSP are struggling to cope with budget cuts. “We have some of the same funding sources as Legal Aid, but all of our funding sources have been hit,” he said. Legal Aid executive director George Hausen said cuts in money from the state as well as the federal Legal Services Corporation resulted in a $2 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year.

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New fees stress clerks, litigants and lawyers

An increase in the fee for filing motions in civil cases is expected to generate millions of dollars a year, but many court clerks say it has already created confusion, delays and more work at a time when staffs are stretched too thin. The motion fee, which became effective July 1 along with a number of other fee hikes, is the result of a mutual effort between the legislature and the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, said Judge John W. Smith II, the AOC’s executive director. Because lawmakers declined to raise taxes to offset the budget deficit, Smith said he was forced to choose one of two unappealing options: help raise revenue for the court or lay off dozens of court employees. He opted for the first.

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New law has civil action for fathers of aborted babies (access required)

A House bill that became law on July 28 after the Senate overrode Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto contains a new cause of action for fathers of aborted babies. The law, known as the Woman’s Right to Know Act, imposes several conditions on pregnant women and their physicians before abortions can be performed. It also specifically allows the father to bring an action if those conditions are not met. Katherine Lewis Parker of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina said the intent of the new cause of action was “to scare doctors to prevent them from performing medical procedures that they have a right to perform.” Even if lawsuits are not filed, she said, the threat of litigation will cause doctors to be reluctant to perform abortions.

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