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Are health courts coming to a state near you? (access required)

Buried in the White House's federal budget plan is a proposal to encourage states to reform their medical-malpractice laws. The budget proposes a total of $250 million in Department of Justice grants to "provide incentives for state medical malpractice reforms," $100 million for 2012 and $50 million for each of the next three years. It's not the first time President Barack Obama has mentioned med-mal tort reform.

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Johnston County ROD first to offer 100% e-filing capability (access required)

The electronic-filing train has left the station and is coming to a register of deeds near you, says Raleigh attorney Richard Bowlin. Bowlin operates Electronic Document Logistics, a company he started several years ago that has created software that allows for the electronic creation of documents and solutions for electronic recording of documents in North Carolina counties. EDL is one of several companies that have contracted with county registrars and private entities to provide electronic recording capabilities.

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Bar wants to know the race, age and gender of its members (access required)

Check your inbox. The N.C. State Bar wants to ask you a few questions. Next week, the State Bar will be sending out an anonymous survey to the state's 24,217 active lawyers to get a better grasp on the demographics of lawyers in the state, part of a push from the N.C. Bar Association and the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys. The voluntary survey asks participants three questions: Gender, birth year and race (the choices are African-American, Asian/Pacific, Caucasian/Anglo, Native American, Hispanic/Latino, mixed race and other minority).

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State files answer for Mecklenburg D.A. in fired prosecutor’s suit (access required)

The N.C. Department of Justice filed an answer last week on Peter S. Gilchrist's behalf in a suit brought against the former Mecklenburg County district attorney in December by Sean P. Smith (pictured), an assistant D.A. Gilchrist fired last year. In his answer, Gilchrist denied that he "acted outside the scope of his official duties" or is subject to any personal liability. He denied violating Smith's rights. Smith, who is now a district court judge, alleged that Gilchrist violated his state and federal constitutional rights when Gilchrist fired him last July after the former assistant prosecutor gave an interview on Charlotte's FOX affiliate that Smith said angered Gilchrist.

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Lawsuit claims competitor copied firm’s site, slogan (access required)

The website for Raleigh's Kurtz & Blum is sleek and well-designed, complete with photos of the attorneys, easily navigable links and a slogan at the top designed to instill client confidence: "We're in your corner." In a lawsuit, Kurtz & Blum claims that The Wright Law Firm of Charlotte, and its principal, Roderick M. Wright Jr., copied its website design right down to the "We're in your corner." The suit asks for damages including Wright's profits that were the result of what it calls his wrongful actions, as well as treble damages under G.S. § 80-12.

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From print to pixels, legal ethics struggle with new media (access required)

Not only does nearly every lawyer practicing have his own website, but potential clients are much more likely to plug "DWI lawyer" into a search engine than to look in the Yellow Pages. And as legal marketing has morphed into new arenas with ever-changing technology, there's some concern that regulatory agencies and state bars have not kept up. Ryan Blackledge (pictured), who serves on the N.C. Bar Association's Technology Advisory Committee, said that any new ethics rules need to reflect a true understanding of the various media.

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Want more referrals? Say ‘thanks’ for the ones you’ve gotten (access required)

The importance of giving thanks to colleagues for client referrals isn't lost on Raleigh lawyer Mark Sullivan (pictured). His family law practice draws about 60 percent of its client base from attorney referrals. That's why he turned the etiquette of saying "thank you" into a deliberately structured part of his business plan about 20 years ago. But it took time to figure out what strategy was best.

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Stam pushes good-faith exception to exclusionary rule (access required)

The effort to adopt the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule has been given a jolt by House Majority Leader Paul Stam (pictured). Stam, R-Wake, introduced a bill to adopt the exception, and it passed the House last week in an 81-36 vote and is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee I. "The practical result [if the bill passes] is that in an unknown number of cases, murderers, rapists and drug dealers won't get off on a technicality. They will have to pay for their crimes," Stam said.

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NCBA section takes on ‘arduous task’ of updating lien laws (access required)

With so many diverse and competing interests, it's been difficult to get a consensus on how to do something everyone agrees must be done: Change the state's lien laws. Nan E. Hannah (pictured), head of the N.C. Bar Association's Construction Law Section, said recent bankruptcy decisions, economic factors, concerns in the title industry and other issues led the section to "take a really hard look at the lien law" this year.

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Med-mal bill would cap damages, increase threshold for ER claims (access required)

The state's legal landscape for medical-malpractice lawsuits would undergo a seismic shift and North Carolina would join 28 other states with caps on damages if a bill introduced last week becomes law. The bill, S. 33, is now being debated in the Senate's Judiciary I Committee. At a packed hearing before the committee Thursday, it attracted the attention not only of attorneys and doctors, but also such diverse entities as the AARP and the N.C. Chamber of Commerce. The bill would limit noneconomic damages in medical-malpractice cases to $250,000. It would also require a showing of gross negligence by clear and convincing evidence if the claim involved emergency care, and allow separate trials for liability and damages if either party asks for it.

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