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Redefining “pro bono”   (access required)

Pro bono cases are often simple matters in which a lawyer donates a few hours to resolve a legal tangle on behalf of someone who can’t afford counsel. But sometimes the cases taken on for free can have a huge cost in time and emotion — and a huge payoff in personal and professional satisfaction. That was the kind of case two young Raleigh attorneys (Erin Mulligan Graber and Catherine Bailey, pictured) worked on for months and finally brought to a successful end this summer.

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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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Hospital horror leads to $15.5 million settlement  (access required)

A young woman walked into a hospital emergency room seeking help for a relatively minor ailment and ended up brain dead after suffering through a series of shocking oversights at the hands of doctors, nurses and pharmacists. The hospital’s mistakes were so profound that it eventually agreed to settle the woman’s medical negligence case for $15.5 million – one of the largest verdicts of its kind in North Carolina history. But the agreement came with an all-too-common catch: The hospital could not be named and the identities of its attorneys and the plaintiff also had to be withheld from the public. Even the court in which the case was filed had to be kept secret. Alan W. Duncan (pictured), Allison O. Van Laningham and Stephen M. Russell Jr. of Greensboro’s Smith Moore Leatherwood, which typically defends health care providers in medical malpractice cases, represented the young woman whose life was altered by the hospital’s negligence.

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CMPD officer pleads guilty in DWI testimony case (access required)

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer who allegedly gave false testimony in a driving-while-impaired case in April has pleaded guilty to criminal contempt. Officer B.D. Grimes entered the guilty plea on Aug. 23 before Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Richard Boner. Boner had appointed Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell to handle the case because Grimes’ prosecution by the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s office would have created a conflict of interest.

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The buck stops with NFL star  (access required)

Charlotte defense lawyer George V. Laughrun II had never tried a civil case. But when an NFL linebacker asks you to do something, you do it. Three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jon Beason of the Charlotte Panthers hired Laughrun after he was arrested and charged with assaulting a man at a Queen City strip club in November 2009. The District Attorney’s Office later dismissed the case against Beason, but the alleged victim, Greg Frye, sued him for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

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4th Circuit strikes down hypothetical sentencing enhancement  (access required)

A federal appeals court has ruled that actual time in prison, rather than the maximum amount a defendant could have gotten, should be considered when judges wish to invoke a repeat-felon sentence. Federal prosecutors in 2008 recommended that Jason Edward Simmons be sentenced to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. Simmons had been convicted in 1996 in North Carolina state court on a similar marijuana charge, which was punishable by more than a year in prison and thus constituted a felony even though he only served probation. Without the prior felony on his record, he would have served roughly half the ten-year sentence prosecutors sought on the federal conviction. Asheville attorney Andrew Banzhoff (pictured) represented Simmons on his appeal.

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Experts debate cost involved in demolition of home’s costly addition   (access required)

A dispute over the remodeling of a million-dollar Charlotte home, which has pitted neighbor against neighbor and already reached state Court of Appeals once, may come down to a simple bit of algebra: how much demolition, and at what price. But experts who testified for neighbors Pierce and Cindy Irby and the owner of the remodeled home, Elaine Freese, couldn’t agree on how much it would cost to demolish and rebuild a half-million dollar addition Freese built on the front and side of her home in Myers Park in 2008.

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“Diminished capacity” a tough sell to juries  (access required)

As lawyers for Robert Stewart present their case to jurors, they’ll face daunting challenges in trying to convince those 12 men and women that the disabled painter who killed eight people at a Carthage nursing home isn’t fully responsible for those acts. Above all, they’re likely to face the kind of skepticism that has greeted what are known as diminished capacity defenses for over three decades, ever since the so-called “Twinkie defense” helped get Dan White convicted on lesser charges after he shot and killed the mayor of San Francisco and city supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978. “Especially in violent crimes and crimes that appear to shock the conscience of a community, like those that Mr. Stewart is accused of committing, any type of defense based on mental illness is very, very difficult,” said Elizabeth Kelley, chairwoman of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ mental health committee.

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Traffic court to resume in Brunswick County   (access required)

Chief District Court Judge Jerry A. Jolly has reinstated Brunswick County’s traffic court, but the legal battle surrounding his original order to close the session continues to percolate behind the scenes. Jolly halted traffic court with an April 15 administrative order that raised concerns about a $250 campaign donation that newly elected District Attorney Jonathan M. David received from an instructor at the StreetSafe driving school. David represents Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties.

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SC’s tough new immigration law could push foreign-born workers and their legal needs northward (access required)

If South Carolina’s aggressive new immigration law takes effect next year as scheduled, the controversial measure could clog the Charlotte Immigration Court with deportation cases and lead to a spike in business at law practices throughout the Carolinas. Modeled after legislation in Arizona, the immigration crackdown would allow police to rely on “reasonable suspicion” when asking for proof of citizenship or legal residence during any kind of stop, investigation or arrest. The law also establishes an Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit and requires employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check whether employees and job applicants are legal residents.

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