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Tripped up (access required)

In 1972, when he began practicing law, Michael Kemp drove a 1972 Monte Carlo, paid 35 cents a gallon for gas and felt like king of the hill. Today, the Mount Holly attorney gets around in a Honda Accord and pays at least $3.35 a gallon for gas. The rising price of fuel has taken its toll on attorneys, particularly those who must travel to multiple courthouses, and many have adjusted their driving habits and vehicles to compensate. "We all have cars that get a lot better gas mileage than they did when I started practicing law because nobody thought about it then," Kemp said.

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Innovate, but don’t be late (access required)

If changes are made to a longtime piece of American law, a race to the patent office could be on, and North Carolina attorneys may be swept up in the pursuit. For several years, attempts at national patent reform have failed, but this year, it appears Congress has the votes to significantly change the way Americans secure patents. Under the current "first to invent" patent law, when inventors have an idea, they have the opportunity to work on it in depth, reduce it to practice, then file it with the patent office, as they know their idea is safe if they're able to prove they discovered it first. If the law changes to a "first inventor to file" system, which most of the rest of the world employs, an invention still has to meet the requirements of patentability, but the person who first files a patent application gets the patent.

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Inviting judges to the parties (access required)

Legislation that would put Democrat, Republican or Independent beside a judicial candidate's name on the ballot has evoked strong responses from people on both sides of the issue. Senate Bill 47, which would mark the return to partisan judicial races, passed the North Carolina Senate last week by a vote of 36-13. At press time for Lawyers Weekly, the bill was awaiting House action. North Carolina began switching to nonpartisan judicial elections in 1998 and completed the switch in 2004.

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How the 2010 amendments to Rule 26 changed the preparing of expert witnesses (access required)

Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which broadly addresses the scope of permissible discovery and the basic rules of the road, has been thoroughly overhauled several times and tweaked almost continuously since its original inclusion in 1938. Because so much of modern litigation involves pre-trial skirmishing for trials that never actually take place, even minor adjustments to Rule 26 tend to have a disproportionately large impact on the work of litigators.

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A peek at State Bar survey (access required)

The North Carolina State Bar hopes that all of its 24,000-plus members will complete a first-ever voluntary survey on age, gender, race and ethnicity in the state's legal community. So far, 14,536 responses have been received - not a bad start, if you ask Bar officials. "We feel pretty good about the information collected at this point," Alice Neece Mine, the State Bar's assistant director, said last week. As of last week, the State Bar had tabulated results for 8,723, or 60 percent, of the responses it had received, said Tammy Jackson, the Bar's membership director. All of those were online responses to emailed surveys, Jackson said, adding that the other 5,813 responses were paper surveys sent to members who didn't respond to one of three email blasts from the Bar.

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Foreclosure practices and COA rulings spark debates, lawsuit threats (access required)

Home-mortgage lenders' paperwork problems are touching off a series of conflicts, from courtroom challenges over proving who really owns a home to arguments about whether people who took out mortgage loans should suddenly enjoy payment-free shelter. Even the North Carolina Court of Appeals appears conflicted, having issued two recent opinions on different sides in the banks-v.-borrowers dispute. In early May, the Court of Appeals joined a number of state and federal courts by challenging the so-called robo-signer issues plaguing foreclosures. In In re: Foreclosure of Gilbert, the court ruled in favor of homeowners challenging a foreclosure on the basis that the servicer couldn't prove it was the holder of the note.

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The last straw: Attempted-murder costs lawyer his license (access required)

David H. Rogers' legal career ended much as it started three decades ago - under a cloud of suspicion about his character. On May 2, 2011, the North Carolina State Bar disbarred Rogers and announced the decision in a terse one paragraph statement. The reason: He was convicted in October 2010 of attempted first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill.

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Does the Missouri Plan strip politics from the process or power from the people? (access required)

While the North Carolina Legislature wonders whether a massive change in how the state chooses judges is a good idea, John Johnston, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney, has no doubts. Johnston, president of the Missouri Bar Association, is a strong supporter of the judicial election system that bears his home state's name: the Missouri Plan. That's the kind of plan that reform-minded North Carolina lawyers like Charlotte attorney John Wester (pictured right) want to see their state adopt. On the other side, supporters of the status quo, like Raleigh attorney Robert Numbers (pictured left), say the Missouri-type plan would take power from the voters.

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Should NC trust voters to elect the best judges? (access required)

If the North Carolina Bar Association has its way, voters in 2012 will be presented with an opportunity to create a drastically new, and complex, system of selecting the state's judges. But some attorneys say North Carolina's current system is fine, and the power to select judges should be left where it is: in the hands of voters. The NCBA is pushing Senate Bill 458, which would establish the so-called Missouri Plan, a system that allows voters to either retain or reject sitting judges who are nominated by a commission and appointed by the governor.

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Senate budget better for IDS, worse for DA’s (access required)

The North Carolina Senate's budget panel is calling for a spending plan that is vastly different from the House's proposal when it comes to the state's Indigent Defense Services and Conference of District Attorneys. The Senate Appropriations Committee plan announced last week would reduce IDS's budget for fiscal year 2012 by $8.9 million, a large cut, but considerably less than the $11.3 million cut passed by the House. District attorneys, however, didn't fare as well in the Senate.

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