MC&A Newsletter
Volume IX  ::  January 2010
Happy New Year!  Welcome to the first volume of 2010.   During 2009, we brought you news about the state of the legal profession and news of several legal issues ranging from teen sexting, the use of personal digital assistants and social networking sites by juries and their effect on trials and defendants' rights, the misuse of social networking sites by lawyers and its impact on the ethical rules lawyers must follow, to a spotlight on the inner workings of the Supreme Court and Justice Sotomayer's historic appointment to the Supreme Court, workplace sexual harassment issues raised David Letterman's affairs, and the various legal implications of Roman Polanski's arrest.


In this Volume, we have prepared a special look back at the most interesting issues of 2009 as well as the latest news in the practice of law.  MC&A wishes you and your family the best year yet!



Midwin Charles

Managing Principal

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New York Will Not Join Neighboring States in Supporting Same-Sex Marriage
marriageOn December 2, 2009, the New York State Senate rejected a same-sex marriage bill with a 38-to-24 vote.  Had the bill been approved, New York would have joined seven other states in legalizing gay marriage, including Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut.  This came after over a year of lobbying efforts and nearly $1 million of support of the New York legislative races in an attempt to gain support for the bill.  Senator Tom Libous, the deputy Republican leader, acknowledged that same-sex marriage is an important issue for many New Yorkers, but explained, "I just don't think the majority care too much about it at this time because they're out of work, they want to see the state reduce spending, and they are having a hard time making ends meet."
In reaction to the vote, Senator Tom Duane, the chamber's first openly gay member and who was in support of the bill, stated that "there's never a good time for civil rights . . . but the paradox is, it's always the time to be on the right side of history."  Supporters of the bill will continue to present the bill as many times as is necessary to get it passed.  Ruben Diaz, a Democrat and Pentecostal minister from the Bronx, who was in opposition of the bill, has said, "if we take it to the people, the people oppose it."
A Marist College poll revealed that 51 percent of New Yorkers questioned favored legalizing same-sex marriage, while 42 percent opposed such action.
Sources:  "New York State Senate Votes Down Gay Marriage Bill" by Jeremy W. Peters, December 2, 2009, The New York Times ;  "Same-sex Marriage Bill Voted Down in New York Senate" by Evan Buxbaum, December 3, 2009, CNN.
Relief for Students?  Supreme Court Case May Forgive Student Debts in Bankruptcy
debtOn December 1, 2009, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on whether student loans can be dismissed in bankruptcy absent proof that repayment constitutes an "undue hardship."  Francisco Espinosa took out student loans four years ago to attend trade school and since that time, failed to find job advancement that would allow him to pay off his student debt.  Espinosa turned to bankruptcy and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed him to discharge all debt above the principal amount of the loan incurred through interest.  The Justice Department, appearing as amicus curiae, disagreed with the Judge's finding and sided with Espinosa's creditor, United Student Aid Funds, that student debt should not routinely be discharged in bankruptcy.
A person filing for bankruptcy who wants to discharge student loans is required to send an official notice to the student lender of intent to argue that the loan payments create undue hardship.  The lender usually objects, at which point it is up to the bankruptcy judge to make the final determination as to whether undue hardship exists, thereby allowing the debt to be discharged.  In Espinosa's case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the combination of the creditor's notice of Espinosa's bankruptcy petition combined with its failure to object to the bankruptcy plan was sufficient to eliminate the debt.
Student loans are one of the few forms of debt that is generally not discharged through the declaration of personal bankruptcy.  Currently, students cannot be discharged in bankruptcy under federal law absent a showing of "undue hardship" in a court hearing with the loaning institution.  The reasoning behind requiring such a showing is to prevent students from turning around immediately after graduating and declaring bankruptcy so that their debts may be eliminated.  In addition, ruling in favor of Espinosa could result in raised costs for other borrowers to make up for the losses incurred from those declaring bankruptcy.
We must wait to for the Supreme Court's final decision on the issue, but no doubt students are holding out for a ruling that would relieve their debt obligations.
Sources:  "Supreme Court to Decide on Student Loans and Bankruptcy" by Joan Biskupic, December 2, 2009, USA Today; "Bankruptcy:  New Haven For Student Borrowers?" by Asher Hawkings, October 20, 2009, www.forbes.com; "A 'Somewhat Tense Moment' as Justices Consider Discharge of Student Loans" by Debra Cassens Weiss, December 2, 2009, ABAJournal.
The year started with historic significance:  Barack Obama made history this year as he became the first African American president of the United States.  President Obama was sworn in as the 44th president on the January 20, 2009 inauguration.
Nadya Suleman became a nationally recognizable figure when she gave birth to octuplets in January 2009.  Public reaction turned negative when it came to light that Suleman -- a single, 34-year-old, unemployed and on public assistance programs at the time - already had six young children at home.  Suleman conceived the octuplets and her six other children via in vitro fertilization (IVF).  The birth of her octuplets let to controversy in the field of IVF and an investigation by the Medical Board of California of the fertility specialist involved.
Carrie Prejean first hit the nation's radar when, during the question and answer portion of the Miss USA 2009 pageant when she stated that she did not support same-sex marriage.  After partially nude photographs of Prejean surfaced on May 4, 2009, Miss California USA began an investigation, as nude photographs are a violation of a contract clause for pageant contestants.  Finally, on June 10, 2009, Prejean was dethroned as Miss California for continued breach of contract issues.  Prejean brought suit against Miss California USA, but the two parties reached a settlement but the debate over same-sex marriage continues.
Pop legend Michael Jackson passed away on June 25, 2009 after suffering cardiac arrest in his Los Angeles home.  Jackson was taking a multitude of prescription medications, which the coroner attributed to the singer's death.  As a result, Conrad Murray, Jackson's doctor was charged with manslaughter.  The charge will certainly make doctors second guess casual administration of prescription drugs and begs the question as to whether the medical field will rein in how prescription drugs are prescribed.
Sonya Sotomayer is the most recent addition to the Supreme Court.  Appointed by President Barack Obama on May 26, 2009 and confirmed by the Senate on August 6, 2009, Judge Sotomayor will be the first Latino to serve on the high court.  She will also be the third woman named to the Supreme Court, and the second on the current court.
Judge Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and attended Yale Law School, where she was editor of the Yale Law Journal.  After law school, Judge Sotomayor became an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan.  She then entered private practice in 1984.  In 1992, President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  President Clinton appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1998.
In 1978, Polanski fled the United States for France the day before he was to be sentenced for having unlawful sex with a minor - a crime to which he pled guilty.  In September 2009, Polanski was arrested in Zurich, 30 years after U.S. authorities sought extradition of the 76-year-old filmmaker.  What made this case interesting was that, many - including the victim herself -- believed U.S. authorities should leave Polanski alone because so many decades had passed and/or he was such a great artist who had made enormous contributions to society.
On October 1, 2009, late night television host David Letterman came clean on the air -- when faced with the threat of blackmail by a CBS News employee -- to having sex with various female employees.  This raised issues of sexual harassment on the job and relationships between employers and employees.
On October 15, 2009, the Heene family pulled a fast one on the nation.  Richard Heene and his wife claimed that their son, Falcon, was inside a mylar balloon launched into the air from their Fort Collins, Colorado home.  The child, in fact, was not inside the balloon and the Heene's encouraged their children lie to authorities and the media in order to gain public attention with the hopes of landing a reality show.  On December 23, 2009, Richard Heene was sentenced to 90 days in jail and his wife to 20 weekend days in jail as a result of their balloon hoax.
Because the Heene's did not prove that some will do anything for publicity, on November 24, 2009, Michaele and Tareq Salahi managed to pass by White House security and gain admittance to President Obama's first state dinner for the Prime Minister of India, without an official invitation.  The Salahi's were auditioning to participate in a reality show.  Congress is investigating how this security breach occurred.  The Salahi's have been asked to testify at a January 20, 2010 hearing but their attorneys have stated that the Salahi's will invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.  The Salahi's may face criminal charges for crashing the state dinner.
President Obama and his supporters proposed a bill that includes a government-sponsored health plan.  The House passed a bill in November, and on December 24, 2009, the Senate passed a bill in a 60-39 vote.  At least 15% of the U.S. population is completely uninsured.  According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. is the "only wealthy industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage."  Many issues remain to be settled between the two bills but nonetheless, it is undoubtedly a victory for President Obama.
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For more information about how we can be of service to you, call us at 212.551.3617 or send an email to midwin@charleslawfirm.com.

Midwin Charles & Associates LLC
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New York, New York 10169

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In This Issue
The Practice Corner
In The Spotlight
Recent News
MC&A will host a panel discussion entitled "The Law Degree's Limitless Possibilities" on February 11, 2010 in New York.  During this program, our distinguished panelists -- all attorneys -- will discuss the various exciting careers they have transitioned into after or even during the practice of law.  Confirmed panelists are Jack Ford, former anchor of In Session (formerly Court TV) and published author, Medina Senghore, Associate Counsel at American Express/Model/Actress, Olga Jobe, Real Estate Developer, and Lori Mason, Owner of Klee Brasserie.  Save the date and stay tuned for more information on this.

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