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Forsyth County’s pre-meeting prayers unconstitutionally divisive   (access required)

A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that prayers at Forsyth County Board of Commissioners meetings that mention Jesus and other tenets of Christianity violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. “Sectarian prayer is unconstitutional,” said Katherine Lewis Parker of the American Civil Liberties Union of N.C., who represented plaintiffs Janet Joyner and Constance Lynn Blackmon in their suit against the county. “This serves as a reminder of what the law is. Local and state governments that are violating the law will have to come into compliance,” Parker said.

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Two trials, two verdicts in the Casey Anthony case (access required)

When Casey Anthony (pictured in this AP Photo by Red Huber, Pool) was unanimously acquitted in July, a USA Today/Gallup poll showed that nearly two out of three Americans believed she was guilty of murder. How could the court of public opinion differ so drastically from the jury in an Orlando courtroom? Every parent has experienced that moment of panic in a store or park when you can’t find your child. Those moments can seem like hours, and when your child is found, an unbelievable wave of relief washes over you.

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Womble Carlyle adds another ‘first’ (access required)

Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice clearly likes being first. The firm boasts about being the first law firm in North Carolina to have its own website, first to embrace magazine ads, and first to indulge in airport advertising. But as Guinness World Records proves with every update of its fabled compilation, any list of notable achievements almost always eventually veers into the bizarre. Womble Carlyle’s latest “first” is no exception: first law firm to sponsor a car in a quirky cross-continental road rally that runs from Prague to Mongolia. It’s called the Mongol Rally, and a cardboard cut-out of the firm’s mascot, a bulldog named Winston, is accompanying the team in the firm’s sponsored car.

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McGuireWoods adds muscle to its debt finance group (access required)

Charlotte-based law firm McGuireWoods has added four partners to its debt finance practice group, a move that allows the department to expand its services to two major clients. Attorneys Jim Hedrick, Eric Burk, David Lapp and Kent Walker have joined McGuireWoods, literally moving across the street from the office of Winston & Strawn. McGuireWoods partner Bob Cramer, chairman of the firm’s debt finance department, said their addition means a more solid presence in the loan syndication market.

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Creditor attorneys deal with consumer-protection laws (access required)

The debt crisis was rocking Wall Street and beginning to reach North Carolina. Jerry T. Myers, a well-connected Raleigh debt collection attorney, kept getting regular, half-joking reminders that he needed to organize the state’s creditors bar. Starting in 2008, his friend, Adam Olshan, a board member of the National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys, or NARCA, would call every so often and needle him. “So, Jerry, how’s that creditors bar association going?” Olshan would ask, and Myers would answer, “I’m working on it.”

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Hey, you! Get off my cloud: How to vet your cloud provider for security (access required)

Cloud-computing has become so convenient for lawyers that security has almost become an after-thought. But the cloud recently rained down a flurry of concern about security and client confidentiality when users of the popular provider Drop Box learned that a security breach allowed access without a password for a period of four hours. When the company revised its security agreement to say that some employees had access, many lawyers began to question the level of security in transmitting and storing client information in the cloud. Several state bar associations have weighed in with ethics opinions on cloud computing, with most giving lawyers the green light as long as they take reasonable steps to maintain client confidentiality.

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Mr. Smith goes to Washington for work… and Ms. Smith needs help! (access required)

It is 9 a.m., and Ms. Smith walks into your office to consult with you about her separation and divorce. She has gone through a tough period. She was a homemaker with a current empty nest and a spouse who has left her. She is approaching retirement age and desperately needs to discuss the division of property. In your consultation, she mentions her husband’s employment with the federal government and asks what rights she has to the federal retirement and how she might be able to retain a flow of payments after he dies. She also is concerned with health care coverage and life insurance.

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NC ranks in bottom half of judicial pay nationally (access required)

Serving in a state’s judiciary has long been a noble profession, and many lawyers relish service on the bench after years of appearing before it. But increasingly, people in the legal arena say that too little pay for judges is taking its toll. Young lawyers who once dreamed of becoming judges set that goal aside because the salary is half to two-thirds less than what they’re making in a law practice. And current judges are leaving the bench early, when they hit their first retirement benchmark or even before. That trend doesn’t bode well for the citizenry, local attorneys say.

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State’s business courts straining under caseload

Earlier this year, a committee of lawmakers asked Business Court Chief Judge John R. Jolly Jr. (pictured) if he thought the Legislature should again raise the fee for filing cases in the state’s three business courts. The fee had jumped from $200 to $1,000 two years ago, which sparked concern and grousing among lawyers and litigants. The number of cases assigned to the Business Court fell by nearly 30 percent, though only for a few months. In fact, case filings quickly rebounded and the courts are busier now than ever – so busy that some lawyers worry that Jolly and the two other Business Court judges will not be able to juggle their caseloads if they don’t get some help. And help requires money.

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In a family way (access required)

Marcia Zug entered Yale Law School thinking she wanted to become a judge, because she liked the idea of wielding the law as a tool. But then she changed her mind. Almost a decade later, she’s glad she did. Zug, 33, is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law in Columbia. She teaches family and American Indian law, and is establishing a reputation as a legal analyst in emotionally charged immigration cases. Last year, for instance, she talked on Public Radio International about a pending Missouri Supreme Court case that involves an undocumented Guatemalan poultry worker, who is facing deportation but does not want to leave without her U.S.-born son. The boy was adopted against his mother’s will during the three years she was in detention.

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