MC&A Newsletter
Volume XIV  :: September 2010

Read and enjoy MC&A's September newsletter. As always, we endeavor to bring you the latest in legal news. This issue includes articles on Craigslist and laws that govern internet websites, a mega class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart and the death penalty.


Craigslist Not Liable for Prostitution Postings
craigslistIn early September, Craigslist, the popular online posting service, blocked access to its adult services section amidst allegations that the ads were a breeding ground for prostitution and child trafficking. Craigslist's self-censorship was likely a response to a letter signed by attorneys general in 17 states calling for them to remove the section from its website.

Craigslist did not, however, have to block access to the section. Under the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, "[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." In other words, websites such as Craigslist, who solely provide a bulletin board for others to post personal content, are immune from prosecution for the content of those postings. In fact, just last year, a federal judge blocked South Carolina's attorney general from prosecuting Craigslist executives for postings involving prostitution.

The issue surrounding Craigslist's adult services postings has sparked a debate over free speech on internet sites. Many believe that Craigslist should be held responsible for illegal acts that stem from its postings. This belief was echoed in the wake of the Philip Markoff case - the alleged "Craigslist Killer" who was accused of murdering a woman he met thru Craigslist's adult services section for erotic services.

Although Craigslist's move to block access to the adult services section on its site favors public opinion, it comes at a great cost to the company. At $5 to $10 per post, the adult services advertisements were a major source of revenue for Craigslist; the ads were projected to bring in approximately $45 million to the company this year. Facing such a loss, Craigslist may decide that public opinion is not strong enough to continue the blockage, particularly given the fact that federal law is on its side.

Sources:  "Craigslist Blocks Access to 'Adult Services' Pages," by Claire Cain Miller, September 4, 2010, The New York Times; "'Censored' Adult Ads Still Pop Up on Craigslist," by Seth Doane, September 6, 2010, www.cbsnews.com; "Some See a Ploy as Craigslist Blocks Sex Ads," by Claire Cain Miller, September 5, 2010, The New York Times; "Craigslist Stops Offering Links to 'Adult Services' Ads," by David A. Fahrenthold, September 4, 2010, The Washington Post.
Super-Store Faces Super-Size Lawsuit
ssshhhhOn August 25, 2010, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that allowed female employees to bring a class action suit against the retailer on behalf of up to 1.5 million women. The ruling came from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, where the court ruled in a 6-5 decision that women who worked at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores since 2001 will be a party of the class-action suit. The named Plaintiffs -- six female employees of the store -- alleged that Wal-Mart paid women less than men for the same jobs, and gave women fewer promotions.

Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes is the largest employment class action in history. Indeed, the retailer pointed out in argument to the court that, "[t]he class is larger than the active-duty personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard combined." A Supreme Court ruling allowing such a large-scale class action will significantly impact the legal field. According to Robin S. Conrad, executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center, "[t]his is the big one that will set the standards for all other class actions."

To proceed as a class action lawsuit under the federal law, there must be common issues between the class and the defendants, as opposed to individual, fact-specific conflicts. Plaintiffs' attorney Joseph Sellers argues that the case is a proper class action because Wal-Mart has a common set of personnel policies at all of its stores. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar denied any type of companywide discrimination. Theodore Boutrous, one of the attorneys for Wal-Mart, stated that even if the six named plaintiffs were victims of discrimination, it does not mean that there was similar bias across the board at all of the Wal-Mart and Sam's Clubs locations throughout the nation.

The case's origins trace back to Betty Dukes, then a 54-year-old Wal-Mart employee in California, who claimed she was denied training to obtain a promotion due to her sex. Stephanie Odle had a similar experience at the Sam's Club where she worked as an assistant store manager. According to the Plaintiffs, Wal-Mart's female employees earn 5% to 15% less than men holding the same positions.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide later this year whether it will review the 9th Circuit's decision. In the meantime, it looks like corporations should gear up for the potential to face massive class-actions suits in the future.

Sources: "Wal-Mart Appeals to U.S. Supreme Court in Bias Case," by Greg Stohr, August 25, 2010, Bloomberg Businessweek; "Wal-Mart Asks US Supreme Court to Review Dukes Ruling," by Nathan Becker, August 25, 2010, Wall Street Journal; "Wal-Mart Asks Supreme Court to Hear Bias Suit," by Steven Greenhouse, August 25, 2010, The New York Times.
Virginia Woman Executed for Hired Murder
Teresa LewisOn Thursday, September 23, 2010, Teresa Lewis became the first woman to be executed in Virginia in almost a decade, and the first woman to be executed in the U.S. in five years. Lewis was sentenced to death in 2002 after pleading guilty to having her husband and stepson murdered.

Lewis, a 41-year-old grandmother, paid Matthew Shallenberger - with whom she was having an affair - and 19-year-old Rodney Fuller to murder her husband and stepson so that she could receive the insurance money. Lewis was the only member of the conspiracy sentenced to death because, according to the sentencing judge, she was "the head of this serpent." Shallenberger and Fuller were sentenced to life without parole.

Lewis' attorneys requested clemency from Virginia governor Bob McDonnell on the basis that Lewis had an IQ that was borderline mentally retarded, and as a result of her low IQ, she was easily manipulated by Shallenberger to commit the crimes. Two anti-death penalty groups - Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty - joined Lewis in her plea to McDonnell, stating that, "[her] death sentence, imposed despite clear evidence of her diminished mental capacities, disabilities and addictions, undermines any confidence that she was properly adjudicated to be 'worthy' of death." Lewis' request was denied, along with her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution.

Prior to her execution by lethal injection, Lewis stated that she wanted her stepdaughter - daughter and sister to the murder victims - to know that Lewis loved her and the she was very sorry. Jim Rocap, Lewis' attorney, believed that Lewis accepted her execution and was peaceful with it.

Sources: "Virginia Puts Woman to Death By Lethal Injection," by Dugald McConnell & Brian Todd, September 24, 2010, CNNJustice.com; "Virginia Woman Executed for Slayings in 2002," by Maria Glod, September 24, 2010, The Washington Post.
MC&A is firmly committed to our valued clientele.  We provide services in the areas of litigation, criminal law, and general corporate and business law.

For more information about how we can be of service to you, call us at 212.551.3617 or send an email to info@charleslawfirm.com.

Midwin Charles & Associates LLC
230 Park Avenue, Suite 1000
New York, New York 10169

Е 2010 Midwin Charles & Associates LLC
In This Issue
In The Spotlight
The Practice Corner
Recent News

MC&A is now on
Facebook & Twitter.
Follow for the
latest in legal news

MC&A is a proud sponsor of Corporate Counsel Women of Color's Sixth Annual Career Strategies Conference in New York, October 6-8, 2010 (www.ccwomenofcolor.org)

Midwin Charles is scheduled to speak at the following events:

и A panel discussion on criminal investigations at the International Bar Association 2010 Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia on October 5, 2010.
For more information, go to www.ibanet.org.

и A panel discussion on Pathways to a Legal Career at the American Bar Association, International Law Section Fall Meeting in Paris, France on November 2, 2010.
For more information, go to www.abanet.org.

и A CLE seminar on Building a Successful Small Firm Practice: Taking Steps to Achieve Success Conference, hosted by the New York State Bar Association in New York on November 8, 2010.
For more information, go to www.nysba.org.

Midwin Charles is a Legal Contributor for
In Session
In Session
(formerly Court TV).
Watch daily on
from 9:00AM-3:00PM

Quick Links
Midwin Charles & Associates


Join Our Mailing List