ABC News is Being Sued Over “Pink Slime” Reports

Beef Products, Inc., a South Dakota meat processing plant has filed a 1.2 million dollar defamation suit against ABC News, accusing it of misleading viewers into believing that “pink slime” is unsafe.

In court papers, the company said ABC falsely told viewers that its beef product was not safe, not healthy and not even meat, resulting in the 31-year-old company’s loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in profit and roughly half its employees.

“The lawsuit is without merit,” Jeffrey Schneider, senior vice president of ABC News, a unit of Walt Disney Co, said in a statement. “We will contest it vigorously.”

Six individuals were also sued, including ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer and the reporters Jim Avila and David Kerley.

ABC conducted a “sustained and vicious disinformation campaign,” Beef Products’ lawyer Dan Webb, chairman of Winston & Strawn and a former U.S. attorney in Chicago, said at a press briefing.

“To call a food product slime is the most pejorative term that could be imagined. ABC’s constant repetition of it, night after night after night, had a huge impact on the consuming public.”

The other defendants are Gerald Zirnstein, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist credited with coining the term “pink slime;” former USDA employee Carl Custer and former Beef Products employee Kit Foshee. All appeared or were quoted in ABC’s reports.

William Marler, a lawyer for Zirnstein and Custer, said: “The complaint is completely bogus and frivolous, and we will defend these public employees vigorously.”

Read entire story by Jonathan Stempl at Reuters.com

Beef Products, Inc. has accused ABC of interfering with it’s business dealings with grocery chains and of product disparagement.  If you feel your business has been negatively impacted by false or misleading statements by others, the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can help with a referral to a competent attorney who specifically handles defamation matters.  Call 603-229-0002 or complete the online request form.

Ground Beef

What is Jury Nullification?

Jury nullification generally refers to a jury’s decision to acquit a defendant even though the jurors believe the accused to be factually guilty of the crime.  Reasons include sympathy with the accused or distaste for the particular law being enforced.

Earlier this month, a Belknap County Superior Court Jury unanimously acquitted Doug Darrell, a 59-year-old Rastafarian charged with marijuana cultivation, after his lawyer, Mark Sisti, argued that a conviction would be unjust in light of the fact that Darrell was growing cannabis for his own religious and medicinal use.

It’s a legal concept known as jury nullification, a power that experts say has resided in the U.S. Constitution since the nation began but is rarely applied in modern courtrooms.

And it’s the basis for a new state law that permits the defense in all criminal cases “to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.”

Chuck Temple is a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, where he is director of the criminal practice clinic. In his 27 years of practice, he said, he has always asked judges to instruct juries about nullification — but has never had a judge do so.

Temple said the new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, “changes the landscape of how criminal cases will be argued.”

Before, he said, “in the vast majority of criminal cases, there would be no arguments regarding jury nullification. … Now, it’s going to be an everyday occurrence in criminal jury trials.”

Read the entire story by Shawne E. Wickham of the NH Sunday News.

Are you a suspect in a criminal investigation?  The time to obtain the advice of an attorney is before you are arrested.  The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to competent and experienced criminal law attorneys who have achieved specific education and experience standards with felony cases.   Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.

 

Mortgage Settlement Fund Applications to be Mailed

PRESS RELEASE

Released by: Michael A. Delaney, Attorney General
Subject: Mortgage Settlement Fund applications to be mailed soon to New Hampshire residents
Date: September 19, 2012
Release Time: Immediate
Contact: James T. Boffetti, Senior Assistant Attorney General
Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau
(603) 271-0302

Attorney General Michael A. Delaney announces that approximately 7,600 New Hampshire residents who lost their primary residence due an improper foreclosure process between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011 should expect to receive notice by mail with important information about how to file a claim for funds under the National Mortgage Settlement. Attorney General Delaney encourages every eligible New Hampshire citizen to apply.

These funds are part of national mortgage settlement between 49 states and the five largest national banks. The amount of individual payments will depend on the number of people who file a claim and payments are likely to be in the range of $1,200 and $1,500 per borrower.

The foreclosure must involve one of the following five banks:

– Bank of America
– Citi
– Wells Fargo
– JP Morgan Chase
– Ally/GMAC

The deadline for filing a claim is January 18, 2013.

Notices are scheduled to be mailed beginning September 24, 2012.

If you think you might qualify and did not receive a form in the mail, please call 1-866-430-8358. For more information, go to www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com.

You can also call the Attorney General’s Mortgage Hotline at 1-866-522-4450.

This settlement is in addition to a separate Independent Mortgage Foreclosure Review Program being conducted by federal authorities. That program involves many more banks and a shorter time period [2009-2010]. If that review finds financial injury occurred as a result of bank misconduct, the borrower may receive remediation such as lump-sum payments, suspension or rescission of a foreclosure, a loan modification or other loss mitigation assistance, correction of credit reports, or correction of deficiency amounts and records. Lump-sum payments under that program can range from $500 to, in the most egregious cases, $125,000 plus equity.

The Request for Review Form for the federal program can be completed online at www.independentforeclosurereview.com.

Those forms must be submitted by December 31, 2012.

New Hampshire homeowners are encouraged to explore both of these options. For more information, please call the Attorney General’s Mortgage Hotline at 1-866-522-4450.

Foreclosure Sign

NH Lawyers Setting Things Right for Wronged Clients

In New Hampshire, what happens when a lawyer acts unethically and harms clients financially?  The rest of the legal profession rallies to provide a measure of relief to the victims and help restore faith in the legal system through the Public Protection Fund.

“There is no other profession that I am aware of anywhere… that has anything like this,” says Kevin Collimore of CullenCollimore, who recently stepped down as chair of the NHBA’s Public Protection Fund Committee. “When one steals from somebody, all of the others get together and compensate them.” The Public Protection Fund, established in 1998 by Supreme Court Rule 55, is supported by a mandatory court fee. The PPF is administered by a nine-member Bar Association committee, under the oversight of the Supreme Court.

The PPF recently experienced its biggest influx of claims against one attorney in its history, following the suspension in December 2010 of former Exeter bankruptcy attorney Brian McCaffrey, an attorney in NH since 1978.

By many accounts, McCaffrey was seen as an upstanding and friendly local guy. But after a complaint was filed, the New Hampshire Attorney Discipline Office launched an investigation that revealed that in scores of cases, fees for bankruptcy filings had been collected, but little or no legal work had been done, according to the ADO. It alleges that funds placed in client trust funds were mishandled. McCaffrey was suspended on an emergency basis.

The ADO turned over files for approximately 300 clients to attorney Philip Pettis, of the Boynton and Waldron firm in Portsmouth, who was appointed by the court to review the files and notify clients about McCaffrey’s suspension.

“I was just in a position to answer their questions and help them either transition to a new attorney or help them understand how to handle their case on their own,” Pettis said. “In many cases, I had to assure the client that I, the ADO, and other lawyers would do everything we could to help them address any pending issues with their cases or transition to a new attorney.” (See related story about how attorneys rallied to help many of McCaffrey’s former clients.)

Pettis also informed the affected clients about the Public Protection Fund and the opportunity to recoup the money they had paid to McCaffrey. The clients couldn’t claim against McCaffrey’s professional liability insurance, because he stopped paying on the policy around the time of his suspension. While some chose not to file claims with the PPF or didn’t meet the statutory deadline, 94 clients filed claims that averaged about $1,500 each. Many of the claimants were particularly vulnerable, relying on Social Security income, some suffering with disabilities or in the midst of a divorce. Members of the PPF committee, which included Kevin Collimore, Thomas Irwin, Keith Diaz, and Thomas Quarles, who recently moved from vice chair to chair, investigated and/or voted on each claim. Also, the late Roland Morneau, a longtime member of the committee, assisted in reviewing many claims before his retirement from the committee last year. The committee also includes public members Jay Haines and Sandra Keans, a longtime member of the NH House of Representatives, who voted on the claims. Because of the extraordinary workload, the committee sometimes operated remotely using a secure online spreadsheet, via technology supported by the NHBA, to track the progress of the many claims.

Some of the claims were rejected, because there was no proof of wrongdoing, but the majority of them were approved. In all, 81 claims totaling $120,000 were paid to former clients of McCaffrey. Most of the claims were investigated, approved and paid within six months.

This was only possible because of a new claims process for PPF claims of less than $2,500 that the New Hampshire Supreme Court approved not long before McCaffrey’s suspension.

Read the entire story by Kristen Senz of the New Hampshire Bar Association.

There are several option available if a client believes his/her attorney has done wrong.  Sometimes the issue can be a simple misunderstanding and a lack of communication between the client and the attorney.   Sometimes attorneys do make mistakes, in which case filing a claim against his or her malpractice insurance may protect the client (IF they have insurance!).  In the rare instance that an attorney defrauds a client, the Public Protection Fund is a safety net.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can help with a referral to a competent attorney who specifically handles Legal Malpractice.  All LRS attorneys are required to carry malpractice insurance.   A consultation with an attorney may be all you need to determine which option makes the most sense for your particular circumstances.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.

NH’s New Voter ID Law

Photo by Theresa Thompson

From the NH Secretary of State’s Office:

During the 2012 legislative session the legislature passed House Bill 1354, also known as the “Voter ID” Law. The new law will phase-in a photo identification requirement over a period of time.

This explanatory document is required under the “Voter ID” law as part of the process of educating the public about the law’s requirements and application and outlines the law’s requirements for 2012.

What type of photo ID will I need in order to vote?
For any election before Sept. 1, 2013, you will be asked to provide one of the following: Driver’s license issued by any state (even if expired); ID card issued by NH DMV (Division of Motor Vehicles); U.S. Armed Services ID card; U.S. Passport (even if expired); Valid photo ID card issued by either the federal government or a state, county or municipal government; Valid student ID card Other photo ID deemed legitimate by the supervisors of the checklist, the moderator, or the clerk; or Verification of identity by a supervisor of the checklist, the moderator or the clerk.

What if I do not have an approved photo ID?
Before November 1, 2012, any voter who does not present an approved photo ID will be informed of the new law and permitted to vote.  Between November 1, 2012 and September 1, 2013, any voter who does not present an approved photo ID will be permitted to vote after executing a “challenged voter affidavit.”

A voter who does not have an approved photo ID may obtain a free photo ID for voting purposes only by presenting a voucher from their town/city clerk or the Secretary of State to any NH DMV office that issues identification.

Is there any post-election action required by me after I vote without an approved photo ID?
After November 1, 2012, if you filled out a “challenged voter affidavit” in order to vote on Election Day, you will receive a verification letter from the Secretary of State, requesting confirmation that you voted in the election. If you do not respond in writing to the Secretary of State within 90 days of the date it was mailed, the Attorney General will conduct an investigation to determine whether fraudulent voting occurred.

Where can I get more information?  Your city or town clerk or the Secretary of State

Who Inherits Your Digital Library?

Photo by Amit Agarwal

Quentin Fottrell reports in The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, on what happens to your digital library of books and music when you die.

Many of us will accumulate vast libraries of digital books and music over the course of our lifetimes. But when we die, our collections of words and music may expire with us.

Someone who owned 10,000 hardcover books and the same number of vinyl records could bequeath them to descendants, but legal experts say passing on iTunes and Kindle libraries would be much more complicated.

And one’s heirs stand to lose huge sums of money. “I find it hard to imagine a situation where a family would be OK with losing a collection of 10,000 books and songs,” says Evan Carroll, co-author of “Your Digital Afterlife.” “Legally dividing one account among several heirs would also be extremely difficult.”

Read the entire article.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to attorneys who can advise you on matters pertaining to wills and estates.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.

Do’s and Don’ts of Apartment Hunting

The Better Business Bureau has received hundreds of complaints against apartment complexes every year, consistently placing the apartment industry on the BBB’s top 25 list of most complained about industries.

This video filmed by the Rhode Show gives many helpful tips for apartment hunters:

If you are having issues with your landlord that you are unable to resolve on your own, the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can help with a referral to a competent  attorney who specifically represents tenants.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association is not a member of, nor is it endorsed by the Better Business Bureau.

Setting Up an Online Business

Reprinted from SBA.gov.

Setting up your business on the Internet can be a lucrative way to attract customers, expand your market and increase sales. For the most part, the steps to starting an online business are the same as starting any business. However, doing business online comes with additional legal and financial considerations, particularly in the areas of privacy, security, copyright and taxation.

Rules and regulations for conducting e-commerce apply mainly to online retailers and other businesses that perform consumer transactions by collecting customer data. However, even if you do not sell anything online, laws covering digital rights and online advertising may still apply to you.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the primary federal agency regulating e-commerce activities, including use of commercial emails, online advertising and consumer privacy. FTC’s Online Advertising and Marketing provides an overview of e-commerce rules and regulations.

The following topics provide further information on how to comply with laws and regulations related to e-commerce.

Protecting Your Customers’ Privacy

Learn the necessary steps you should take to protect your customers from identity theft and other misuses of their personal information. Any business that collects personal or financial data either through online sales, credit reports or applications should understand these rules and regulations.

Collecting Sales Tax Over the Internet

If you a run business with a physical storefront, collecting sales tax is pretty straightforward: you charge your customers the sales tax required by the jurisdiction where your business is located. For example, if you operate a retail store in Nashville, Tenn., you collect both state and local sales taxes from customers buying merchandise at your store.

But suppose you start selling your products online. Does that mean you charge them the same sales taxes that you do to those coming into your store? It depends.

If your business has a physical presence in a state, such as a store, office or warehouse, you must collect applicable state and local sales tax from your customers. If you do not have a presence in a particular state, you are not required to collect sales taxes. In legal terms, this physical presence is known as a “nexus.” Each state defines nexus differently, but all agree that if you have a store or office of some sort, a nexus exists. If you are uncertain, whether or not your business qualifies as a physical presence, contact your state’s revenue agency. If you do not have a physical presence in a state, you are not required to collect sales taxes from customers in that state.

This rule is based on a 1992 Supreme Court ruling (Quill v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298, (1992)) in which the justices ruled that states cannot require mail-order businesses, and by extension, online retailers to collect sales tax unless they have a physical presence in the state. The Court reasoned that forcing sellers to comply with over 7,500 tax jurisdictions was too complex for sellers to manage, and would put a strain on interstate commerce.

Keep in mind that not every state and locality has a sales tax. Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon do not have a sales tax. In addition, most states have tax exemptions on certain items, such as food or clothing. If you are charging sales tax, you need be familiar with applicable rates.

Determining which sales tax to charge can be a challenge. Many online retailers use online shopping cart services to handle their sales transactions. Several of these services are programmed to calculate sales tax rates for you.

Digital Rights/Copyright

Personal data is not the only thing protected on the Internet. Digital works, including text, movies, music and art are copyrighted and protected via the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA offers a number of protections for information published to the Internet, as well as other forms of electronic information. Among its many provisions, the DMCA:

  • Limits Internet service providers from copyright infringement liability for simply transmitting information over the Internet. However, service providers, are expected to, upon notification, remove material from its web sites that appear to constitute copyright infringement.
  • Limits liability of nonprofit educational institutions for copyright infringement by faculty members or graduate students.
  • Makes it a crime to circumvent anti-piracy measures built into most commercial software. However, reverse engineering of copyright protection devices is permitted to conduct encryption research, assess product interoperability, and test computer security systems.
  • Provides exemptions from anti-circumvention provisions for nonprofit libraries, archives, and educational institutions solely for the purpose of making a good faith determination as to whether they wish to obtain authorized access to the work.
  • Outlaws the manufacture, sale or distribution of devices used to illegally copy software.
  • Requires that “webcasters” pay licensing fees to record companies.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to attorneys who specifically handle e-commerce matters.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral.

Female Inmates Sue for Equal Treatment

Four female inmates, incarcerated at the NH State Prison for Women in Goffstown, are suing the state over what they say is unequal treatment compared with male inmates incarcerated at the NH State Prison.

In an article written by staff writer Joseph Cote of the Nashua Telegraph:

The four inmates filed a suit in Merrimack County Superior Court on Monday alleging the state Department of Corrections hasn’t abided by a 1987 federal court order that it provide female inmates with services including vocational education, work, mental health and substance abuse treatment, education and housing programs comparable to those offered to men.

It’s not the first time the state’s treatment of women in prisons has come under fire. The suit comes a year after a federal civil rights committee lambasted the state over its treatment of female inmates.

The women are being represented by New Hampshire Legal Assistance and Devine, Millimet & Branch.

Read the entire story.

Discrimination affects people in all segments of our population.  The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer attorneys who specifically handle discrimination and civil rights issues.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.

Barbed wire image by Fiona Dalwood - Creative Commons

 

 

 

Consumer Alert: Deed Retrieval Services Solicitations

NEWS RELEASE

Released By      Michael A. Delaney, Attorney General

Subject:              Consumer Advisory About Deed Retrieval Services Solicitations

                     

Date:                      August 3, 2012

Release Time:       Immediate

Contact:        Senior Assistant Attorney General James T. Boffetti

                            Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau

                            (603) 271-0302

                            james.boffetti@doj.nh.gov   

CONSUMER ALERT

Attorney General Michael A. Delaney issued the following consumer alert to all New Hampshire property owners:

Consumers should be aware of mailings being sent to property owners throughout the state from companies using the names:

 SECURED DOCUMENT SERVICES, and DEED RETRIEVAL SERVICES

The mailings appear to be official government notices recommending, “that all United States [or New Hampshire] homeowners obtain a copy of their current grant deed” and further indicate that, for a fee of $86.00 or $87.00, these companies will provide the property owner with a copy of their Grant Deed and a Property Profile.

The Attorney General advises that these companies are providing a service of questionable value and the information advertised in these solicitations can be obtained from any of the State’s Registers of Deeds for significantly less money. With deeds so easily and inexpensively attainable, the existence of these companies depends greatly on the public’s unfamiliarity with the county registers of deeds offices.

 Attorney General Delaney stated, “The real lesson for an educated consumer is to know what you are paying for, which in the case of these deed retrieval companies is virtually nothing more than a homeowner can acquire for far less cost.  Don’t be fooled by a company whose name sounds ‘official’ or by an ‘official’ looking notice designed to confuse and mislead you.  If you would like a copy of your deed, you can obtain it yourself for nominal cost and time, or contact your county’s Register of Deeds, who would be glad to assist you.”

Under New Hampshire’s Consumer Protection Act, N.H. RSA 358-A, it is unlawful for any person to use any unfair or deceptive act or practice in the conduct of any trade or commerce within this state. Anyone who feels they have been the victim of any unfair or deceptive act should call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Bureau hotline at (603) 271-3641 or 1-888-468-4454.  For more information on consumer fraud you can also visit the Bureau’s website at www.doj.nh.gov/consumer.

If you believe you are a victim of consumer fraud, the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to licensed and insured attorneys who handle consumer protection matters in your area.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.