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Legislator moves ahead of curve on ‘fracking’ in NC (access required)

State Rep. Mitch Gillespie described his bill to raise bonding permit fees on companies that want to drill for oil in North Carolina as "a one-issue place-holder bill." While that bill, H. 242, is in the House's Standing Committee on the Environment, the Burke County Republican said he will publish a proposed committee substitute addressing the broader issues posed by the process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

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Lay ownership of firms under ‘discussion’ (access required)

Non-lawyers would be allowed ownership in professional corporation law firms - something State Bar rules expressly forbid - under a bill now under consideration in the N.C. Senate. State Bar officials said they have not had a chance to analyze the bill or to make a decision on whether to take a position. But Tom Lunsford, the Bar's executive director, said, "It's a matter of concern to us, and we'll be taking a close look at it." Rule 5.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct states in part that "a lawyer shall not practice with or in the form of a professional corporation or association authorized to practice law for a profit, if a non-lawyer owns any interest therein."

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Insurers needed actual notice to trigger duty to defend claim (access required)

North Carolina has joined a majority of jurisdictions that require a policyholder to provide actual notice to an insurer of a claim before a duty to defend arises. Winston-Salem attorney Garth Gersten (pictured) described the March 15 ruling by the Court of Appeals as "important both for insurance companies and policyholders because it emphasizes that policyholders need to provide notice of claims as soon as possible to their carriers. Notice is not a luxury; it is sound risk management."

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Legislature considers re-injecting parties into judicial elections (access required)

Measures to restore partisan judicial elections are gaining momentum in both houses of the General Assembly. Supporters say voters need more information about judicial candidates. Opponents of the measure agree, but say that party affiliation is not the information voters need. "Yes, the public needs to know more," said John Wester, past president of the N.C. Bar Association. "But just like a book cannot be judged by its cover, so a candidate for the bench cannot be judged by their political party."

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High court kills anti-discrimination amendment to preamble (access required)

The N.C. Supreme Court has rejected an amendment to the preamble of the Rules of Professional Conduct that would ban discrimination by lawyers. The move by the justices in an administrative meeting last week means the issue is dead. Any changes to the rules must be approved by the Supreme Court. The court does not have to give reasons for rejecting a change, and it did not give any this time. "That will essentially be the end of it," said Tom Lunsford (pictured), executive director of the State Bar.

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‘Fracking’ poses risks, opportunities for industry, public, lawyers (access required)

The 21st century is going to be defined by water, says Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks. That is why he is against hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina. Right now the law is on Naujoks' side. But perhaps not for long. Winston-Salem attorney Nathan Atkinson, who represents energy companies throughout the Appalachian region, told Lawyers Weekly that "All the major players are looking at North Carolina for natural gas exploration, given estimates on deposits from some geologists in the area."

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NC Business Court enters new era as its founding judge retires (access required)

No hostile takeovers were involved, but the North Carolina Business Court has already experienced quite a shakeup in the year's first quarter. In just three months, two-thirds of the leadership on the court has changed, bringing "fresh blood" to the 15-year-old institution, said founding Judge Ben Tennille, who retired March 1. In January, the three-judge court welcomed a new jurist in Calvin E. Murphy of Charlotte. That same month, Judge John R. Jolly Jr. (pictured) was appointed chief special superior court judge of the Business Court after Tennille announced his departure.

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Bill would extend castle doctrine to cars, workplaces (access required)

Castles are in short supply these days, so the castle doctrine of old English common law gives dwellers of anything from a mansion to a mobile home the right to use deadly force against intruders. But lawmakers are now considering a broad expansion of the law. Under a bill that passed the Senate last month, one's "castle" would also include the workplace and motor vehicles. Scott Broyles, who teaches criminal law at the Charlotte School of Law, said he wasn't too concerned about giving a presumption of fear to the person who used deadly force against an intruder.

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NCBA holds fourth annual 4ALL service day (access required)

Over 470 attorneys, law students and paralegals from across the state fielded telephone calls from the public on March 4, taking questions about everything from child custody to foreclosures to prisoner's rights. The event was the N.C. Bar Association's 4ALL Statewide Service Day, an annual event started four years ago by then-President Janet Ward Black. Call centers were staffed by volunteers in Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Greenville, Raleigh and Wilmington. An additional call center was available for Spanish-speaking callers.

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Side Effects: Outcomes in other states indicate that med-mal bill would have marked impact on the business of law (access required)

The Texas Trial Lawyers Association used to attract anywhere from 250 to 350 people to its seminars on medical malpractice. That was before Texas enacted a cap on damages in med-mal cases. "This past year, we had 31 people show up," said Jay Harvey, past president of the association that represents plaintiffs' attorneys. The public-policy issues behind medical-malpractice reform are a matter of debate. But judging from the experience of other states, it's apparent that the reforms create a lasting impact on the business of law, leading to fewer attorneys able or wiling to take on med-mal cases, fewer billable hours available for firms that represent insurance companies, with some attorneys refocusing their practice or entirely dropping a concentration they developed. If a bill now in the N.C. General Assembly becomes law, North Carolina would join 25 other states with some form of cap on damages in medical-malpractice cases.

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