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.
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!
New York Will Not Join Neighboring States in Supporting Same-Sex Marriage
|On 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
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."
Marist College poll revealed that 51 percent of New Yorkers questioned favored
legalizing same-sex marriage, while 42 percent opposed such action.
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
|On 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.
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
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.
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
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 TEN: A LOOK BACK AT 2009
BARACK OBAMA BECOMES 44th PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.
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
CARRIE PREJEAN, MISS CALIFORNIA
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.
DEATH OF MICHAEL JACKSON
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 BECOMES U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE
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
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
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.
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.
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.
MICHAELE AND TAREQ SALAHI
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.
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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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.
Midwin Charles is a Legal Contributor forIn Session (formerly Court TV)
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