Friday, December 10, 2010

Chewing Tobacco Maker Agrees To $5M Settlement

Case tried by TLC Staffer, Antonio Ponvert!!

The maker of Skoal and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco has agreed to pay $5 million to the family of a man who died of mouth cancer in what is believed to be the first wrongful-death settlement won from a chewing tobacco company.

A legal expert said the case could open the door for more lawsuits against makers of chewing tobacco, an industry that drew fewer legal battles during the 1990s than cigarette manufacturers.

U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. will pay the award to the family of Bobby Hill of Canton, N.C., who began chewing tobacco at 13. He died in 2003 at 42.

Attorney Antonio Ponvert III, who represented Hill's relatives, told The Associated Press about the agreement Tuesday. Regulatory documents confirmed the deal.

Continue reading here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ninja Warriors: The Death Penalty Seminar

by Laura O'Sullivan, TLC 1998

The journey back to TLC for the Death Penalty College (a.k.a. Ninja Camp) began at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. some 12 years after my last visit. When I arrived in the Jackson Hole airport, I headed for the rest room. Events in rest rooms played an important role in my experience at The Ranch. Some of these events were explored extensively in late night psychodramas. In the first of these, I ran into someone I had met only once. I’ll call her Jenny Merrigan (okay, that really is her name), and learned she was also there for TLC Death Penalty College. I joined her, and her fellow traveler / TLC DPCer, Brandi Studer. Within moments, our number increased as other TLC peeps identified each other as attendees. Lifelong friendships forged in Jackson Hole airport (typical TLC stuff). When they discovered I had been to TLC before, the questions began with Jenny asking, “What’s up with this Ninja Camp?”

Ninja Camp? I needed to check into this reference, so I turned to the source2 for a little research about ninjas, and their legendary abilities. “Superhuman or supernatural powers were often associated with the ninja. Some legends include flight, invisibility, shapeshifting,3 the ability to ‘split’ into multiple bodies, the summoning of animals, and control over the five classical elements."4 Wow, Ninja camp is going to be fun! Curiosity took me further to find out about these mysterious elements. The five classical elements (Japanese style) are earth (chi), fire (ka), wind (fu), water (sui) and void (ku).5 Ninjas tried to exercise control over these elements throughout the week. Sometimes with success, other times…not so much.

We began the week getting to know each other. The fellow ninjas shared experiences, fears, confidences, and other good stuff. I knew from experience that I would need a lot of Kleenex as we delved deeply into the unexplored, unaccepted and previously unspoken emotions of our lives.6

Incredible faculty members7 descended upon the ranch from all over the country. Mitigation specialists, investigators, and attorneys hand-in-hand with psychodrama instructors explored both how to represent clients as warriors, and how to do it together.8 We transitioned from intensely personal experiences into exploring our clients and the areas of their cases we fear. To help in this exploration, we were lucky enough to meet and get to know two men, Kerry Cook and Darryl Burton. These two men each spent years of their lives in prison. Due to their strength in spirit,9 these men survived the tortures of incarceration and persevered to reveal the truth. Throughout this week, we experienced glimpses of their struggles and horrors through psychodrama, and in presentations. We are so grateful to Darryl and Kerry for the incredible gift of allowing us into their lives.

A weird thing happens when you start getting real with people.10 We learned that caring is, in fact, contagious. You find out that while you are unique and special, you’re not alone in your struggles. Through this realization, we suddenly can see the shared experiences we have with our clients, witnesses and jurors.

When we examined jury selection in the death penalty case, I was expecting a refresher of the TLC methods I learned in 1998.11 Guided by Gerry Spence and Cyndy Short, we learned new techniques to approach our jurors in the context of the death penalty case. It was amazing to explore these techniques interwoven with the TLC methods. Of course, we worked on voice in the courtroom as well. Isn’t it interesting how the meaning, effect and interpretation of what you say are so influenced by how you say it?

Besides being in total awe of the faculty, I was in total awe of my fellow ninjas. The ninjas included warriors from all over the country. (Texas won the attendance prize with 11 participants.) These ninja warriors across the nation are fighting for the lives of their clients against the prosecutors, the judges, the press, the counties, the states, and the country. Seeing these people work taught this ninja a lot.

Juxtaposed to these dramatic emotional days, was a night at the improv. Dipping our toes into improv12 waters, we joined the circle and started with a warm up exercise. We were laughing within moments. One of the highlights of the evening was the Bachelor and Bachelorette Game. It turns out improv is a blast. Interestingly, the juxtaposition resulted in the familiar reach for that Kleenex box. It was a nice change of pace to need a few to wipe away tears born of laughter.

While I did not gain the supernatural powers of flight, invisibility, or shapeshifting, I did see some superhuman powers13 associated with these ninja warriors. As for the five classical elements, I would like to point out that we spent the week treading the earth (chi) of Thunderhead Ranch, one of the most beautiful and magical places in the world. In the afternoons, ninjas could be seen sitting on the bridge or walking along the river’s edge admiring the water (sui). One warm day toward the end of the week, several of us lay in the grass and looked toward the sky (ku). In the darkness, we gazed in wonder at the night sky filled with stars.14 We enjoyed the wind (fu) at the mountaintop as we viewed the vast expanse, and the flames of the bonfire (ka) as we said goodbye to our friends. We laughed (a lot) and cried (a lot), and learned forever. Ninja Warrior Camp indeed.

1. This author in no way suggests that TLC change from Warriors or F Warriors to Ninja Warriors or the F Ninja Warriors. F Warriors really works. Rather, this discussion is meant to examine the serendipity of the moniker.
2. Wikipedia, of course. The author openly acknowledges her overreliance on this dubitably citable source.
3. Shapeshifting means to shift shapes! For example – “In the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin created a transmogrification machine that allowed him to transform into anything he wished.” Cool.
6. Water – Sui represents “mental or emotional tendencies towards adaptation and change. Sui can be associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.” (wiki five elements)
7. Earth – “When under the influence of this chi mode or ‘mood’, we are aware of our own physicality and sureness of action.” (wiki five elements)
8. “The ninja did not always work alone. Teamwork techniques exist: for example, in order to scale a wall, a group of ninja may carry each other on their backs, or provide a human platform to assist an individual in reaching greater heights.” (wiki ninja)
9. Fire – “Ka can be associated with motivation, desire, intention, and an outgoing spirit.” (wiki five elements)
10. Wind – “Mentally and emotionally, it represents an ‘open-minded’ attitude and carefree feeling. It can
be associated with will, elusiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom.” (wiki five elements)
11. TLC ’98. Yes, I know this dates me. You do the math.
12. Void – Ku also means sky or heaven. Ku “represents spirit, thought, and creative energy.” “A warrior properly attuned to the Void can sense his surroundings and act without thinking, and without using his physical senses.” (wiki five elements)
13. “Intended effects [of kuji (an esoteric ninja practice used to invoke superhuman feats)] range from physical and
mental concentration, to more incredible claims about rendering an opponent immobile, or even the casting of
magical spells.” (wiki ninja)
14. With the exception of the night Brandi, Kerry and I were talking late into the night in the cookhouse without a single flashlight. On that night, not a single star shone in the sky, and the moon was nowhere to be seen (which makes it very difficult to get back to the barn).

Summary of the Garcia Murder Trial, by Emily Detoto

Jose Garcia was an hispanic male living in a very rural town and was arrested based on the word of his "friend" who was the actual killer, for the murder of a former Marine at a well known bar in Angleton called the "Railhead" bar.
The evidence the State was relying on was the "friend's" testimony, a drop of blood belonging to my client at the scene, a scratch on my client's face, and my client's videotape statement, wherein he denied knowledge of the crime, and lied about his whereabouts.
On the eve of trial, the DA offered me 40 years. I told her time and time again that theyhad the wrong guy and that they could never prove their case. She laughed in my face and we proceeded to trial.
During voir dire, I was struck with the worst mirgraine in my life. Considering I had never had one, this was something I've never experienced. I picked the jury using the TLC method of throwing all my biggest fears out there, and the State put on a couple witnesses and we broke for the day. I drove straight to the ER, because the pain in my head was scary. They did their tests, gave me liquids, and an IV that was stronger than morphine, and after a couple of hours, I went home.
Then I just soldiered on. And one by one, piece by piece, chopped down the tree and told my client's story. I had the professional pleasure of my life when I got to cross examine the "friend." I toyed with the soft cross v .the regular cross. And, armed with Maren's cross examination lesson, I spent three hours exposing him for the liar he was.
At closing, I did a role play between an imaginary "friend" of a juror and a juror and had them explain to that friend, why they found my client not guilty. After about 7 hours, they came back with an acquittal. I hugged my client and we both wept. I then hugged his parents and we all three wept.
The newspaper asked me for my thoughts and I spoke from the heart. I said this should be a wakeup call to the elected DA that they ought use better judgment and discretion when they charge innocent people of crimes as serious as murder.
Thanks to GRAD 2, 2010, lead by Maren and Bernie. And all my classmates. I could not have saved Joey's life without you guys.
Emily Detoto,
TLC 2001

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Former deputy not guilty

Tried by TLC Staffer, Deb Ellis!

FAIRMONT - Jurors only took an hour Thursday to find a former Watonwan County deputy not guilty of possessing stolen property.

Jose A. Lopez stood accused of having a stolen skid loader on his property. But Lopez's attorney, Deborah Ellis, argued Lopez bought the Bobcat in good faith, having no idea it was stolen.

In her closing arguments, Ellis said the accusations against Lopez came about because of a "seed of suspicion" cast by his wife's cousin, Emilio Florez, a career criminal responsible for facilitating the purchase of the skid loader.

Read more here!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Weld jury awards injured trucker $15 million - Denver Post

Tried by TLC lawyer, Jeffrey Hill!

A self-employed truck driver from Cheyenne who suffered spinal injuries while delivering frozen food to a Wal-Mart in Greeley has won a $15 million judgment against the chain.

The truck driver, Holly Averyt, 41, slipped and fell on ice and grease in December 2007 as she delivered a load of food to a Wal-Mart store, her lawyer, Greg Gold, told a Weld County District Court jury.

Read more: Weld jury awards injured trucker $15 million - The Denver Post

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jury acquits Clute man in killing

Tried by TLC grad, Emily Detoto!

See the article here or read below:

ANGLETON — After hearing the words that made him free Friday, Jose Garcia immediately reached over and hugged his attorney with tears in his eyes.
A jury of 11 women and one man acquitted Garcia, 30, of murder in the stabbing death of Richard Keller, who died outside an Angleton bar just after midnight June 2, 2009.
“I knew the evidence would never ever lead to a conviction,” said his attorney, Emily Munoz Detoto, who cried with Garcia after the verdict.
An audible gasp from Keller’s family was heard in the courtroom after District Judge Randall Hufstetler read the jury’s “not guilty” verdict. They held each other and cried.
“Justice was not served,” said Keller’s sister, Diane Hamilton. “The best human being is dead because of him.”
District Attorney Jeri Yenne said she respected the jury’s verdict and had no regrets going to trial with the evidence.
“Richard Keller is an innocent victim,” she said. “We believed in our evidence. We collected every piece of evidence that we could.”
Prosecutors accused Garcia of attacking Keller from behind at the bar in the 5600 block of CR 288, stabbing him in the head, the neck and his chest. A medical examiner testified during trial that Keller died from a puncture wound to his heart.
Victor Ramon Rodriguez, 22, also testified during the trial that he and Garcia planned to rob Keller that night. Rodriguez since has been charged with aggravated robbery in the case, and he faces up to life in prison if convicted. He is awaiting trial.
Rodriguez testified that Garcia approached Keller for money. When Keller tried to walk away, Garcia pulled out a knife and stabbed him from behind, Rodriguez said.
After the verdict was read Friday, jurors said the evidence against Garcia just wasn’t enough to support a conviction.
“Too many holes,” said juror Michael Stafford of Alvin. “To much incomplete evidence. We just couldn’t do it by law.”
Jurors deliberated about eight hours over two days before giving their verdict on Friday. They asked Friday morning to watch some video evidence, including a recorded interview between Garcia and investigators where the defendant denied any involvement with Keller’s death.
Detoto argued during the trial that her client was not the one who killed Keller. There was more physical evidence that linked Rodriguez to the stabbing, including the fact Keller’s DNA was found on Rodriguez’s pants.
Detoto said the state prosecuted the wrong man for Keller’s murder.
“It should have never got to this point,” she said.
Keller’s relatives said they didn’t understand how the jury could have reached their verdict. Keller was a loving man, an ex-Marine who always donated blood and helped the local food banks.
“He was a good, good person,” said his cousin, Sandy Kravitz.
Yenne said despite the verdict, Brazoria County Sheriff’s investigators and prosecutors tried the case the best they could.
“Anything can happen in a courtroom,” Yenne said. “Reasonable doubt is a tough burden.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jury decides on damages in case against Bartlett Regional Hospital

TLC Grad Mark Choate represented Julia Hanweck in this case.

A jury awarded a woman $148,000 in a negligence case against Bartlett Regional Hospital heard Tuesday in Juneau Superior Court.

Julia Hanweck sued the hospital after a 2006 infusion therapy procedure as treatment for a diagnosis of Lyme disease. She claimed as a result of the hospital's negligence, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, along with a fear of doctors and hospitals. She has made more than 100 visits to a psychiatrist in three years.

Patients expect a hospital to do no harm and when the healer hurts then the trust of the patient is betrayed, said Hanweck's attorney Mark Choate during closing arguments Monday.

Keep reading here!

Jury Passes Not Guilty Verdict for Disbarred Attorney

TLCer Mark Bennett represented Shawn Roberts during the trial.

HOUSTON - A Houston jury passed a not guilty verdict for a disbarred attorney accused of delivering drugs to his now-deceased girlfriend on Thursday.

Shawn Roberts, 40, was charged with felony manufacturing and delivery of a controlled substance in connection to the death of Tara Sganga.

Sganga died in 2007. Police found her body in a murky bathtub, apparently drowned.

Keep reading here!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Killer Timothy O'Reilly is spared from execution by federal jury Read more: Killer Timothy O'Reilly is spared from execution by federal jury

Rick Kammen, a TLC grad and his team worked tirelessly for their client Tim O'Reilly.


In the end, jurors couldn’t unanimously decide whether Timothy O’Reilly actually pulled the trigger that killed an armored car guard.

That was the key factor today that spared the 37-year-old Detroit man from a federal death sentence for murdering Total Armored Services guard Norman Stephens, a 30-year-old married father of six, during a 2001 robbery at a Dearborn Federal Credit Union.

The verdict, which came after six hours of deliberations and a six-week trial, brought tears of joy to O’Reilly’s parents and disappointment to Stephens’ grieving family members.

Read more here!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

In Koua Fong Lee case, justice delayed was justice denied

Litigated by TLC grad, Bob Hilliard.

On Thursday afternoon, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner stood in front of the courthouse in St. Paul and delivered this message just before Koua Fong Lee was released from prison:

"I believe the system worked, and this is a very good day for the criminal justice system."

Continue reading here!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Family can't fathom loss of their twins"

A case tried by the Leeseberg & Valentine firm. Anne Valentine, '98.

MARYSVILLE, Ohio - No matter what he does, no matter how hard he tries to forget, Shannon Legge still hears the screams.

In the quiet of his home, in the middle of the night, his wife cried out his name.

Jenny Legge ran toward him, one of their twin sons limp in her arms.

"He's not breathing!" Jenny screamed. "A.J.'s not breathing!"

Read this story here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Estey & Bomberger announces Jury Awards $30 Million in San Jose Molestation Case

SAN JOSE, Calif. - (Business Wire) A San Jose, CA jury late yesterday afternoon awarded a former foster care child $30 million in damages for sexual abuse the child endured due to the negligence of the private company that licensed the foster home in which the child was placed for four years.

Check out the rest of the article here!

Friday, July 2, 2010

TLC grad wins case at the Texas Supreme Court!

Ann Johnson of the 2009 Class just won a case at the Texas Supreme Court. Here's the majority opinion and the dissent.

Thanks Eric Davis for the tip!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lawyer: Rapid City woman wins jail suicide lawsuit

The Associated Press | Posted: Friday, May 7, 2010 6:00 am

OMAHA, Neb. -- Sheridan County has agreed to pay $100,000 to a grieving mother and improve suicide-prevention policies at its jail as part of a settlement over deaths there, an attorney in the case announced Thursday.

The county has been set to go to trial Monday in a wrongful-death case brought by Arlyn Eastman/Broken Nose of Rapid City, S.D., whose son hung himself in the jail's drunk tank in July 2005.

An attorney for the county, Michael Javoronok, denies an agreement has been reached. However, a lawyer for Eastman/Broken Nose said there is one, and court filings reflect that.

The 2007 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court said a sheriff's deputy and a jailer failed to follow county policy during the arrest and booking of 20-year-old Lino "Jay" Spotted Elk. His death was the fourth suicide at the jail since 1998; eight other inmates attempted suicide at least once between 1998 and 2005.

The lawsuit also said the county failed to train jail employees on suicide prevention.

Eastman/Broken Nose's attorney, Maren Chaloupka, said the county agreed Thursday morning to the monetary settlement and to allow the mother and a Lakota medicine man to pray in the drunk tank for the release of Spotted Elk's spirit.

The county also agreed to train staff in the sheriff's office and jail on suicide prevention and, when appropriate, work with prevention programs offered by the Rosebud Sioux and Oglala Sioux tribes across the border in South Dakota, she said.

Javoronok said late Thursday that the county is in negotiations and hasn't agreed to anything. He said he would deal with the court filing on the settlement on Friday.

Chaloupka said in a statement that 11 of the 12 inmates who committed or attempted suicide in the jail between 1998 and 2005 were American Indians, so it was important to Eastman/Broken Nose that the county specifically work to prevent those in the future.

Sheridan County Attorney Dennis King declined to comment on the case.

According to the statement from Chaloupka: Spotted Elk was drunk and upset when he was arrested July 19, 2005, in Rushville on a warrant for failure to appear in court. He threatened suicide and tried to hurt himself by slamming his head on the patrol car, causing an open wound. He did not get medical treatment or a mental evaluation, and he was wearing his street clothes when he was put in the drunk tank. He later used his belt to hang himself.