Law clips

Relief at last

Tax relief is in store for most taxpayers in 2002, both from changes in the tax law and from annual inflation adjustments to the 2002 tax brackets, according to CCH Inc.

Projections indicate single and married taxpayers will pay a bit less to the Internal Revenue Service to make up for the impact of inflation and will also benefit from the new 10 percent tax bracket. Taxpayers in what used to be the 28 percent and higher brackets also will benefit from a lowering of their tax rates. More information is available at

Big money

The top 10 verdicts of 2000 totaled $2.6 billion, according to Lawyer’s Weekly USA.

There has been a clear upward progression of the nation’s largest awards over the last several years, with the increase leveling or beginning to taper off a bit. Compare the last four years:

* $53 million in 1997

* $134.5 million in 1998

* $295.5 million in 1999

* $268.6 million in 2000

Glass dockets

Although women have been a significant presence in the legal profession since the 1970s and now account for nearly 30 percent of all lawyers and a majority of entering law students, they still remain significantly underrepresented in positions of greatest status, influence and economic rewards. This is the conclusion of “The Unfinished Agenda: Women and the Legal Profession,” a report released by the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession.

The perceptions that barriers to equality have been eliminated are difficult to square with the facts: women comprise only 15 percent of law firm partners, 10 percent of law school deans and corporate general counsels and 5 percent of law firm managing partners.

A new type of defense

In his last moments of life, Robert Waters collapsed in front of the defense table in Courtroom 115 of D.C. Superior Court this year and pleaded for help.

“Get me to D.C. General!” the 54-year-old defendant shouted over and over, according to three witnesses. “I need air!

Senior Judge Tim Murphy peered over the bench, called for nurses and then kept the busy afternoon docket of traffic and misdemeanor cases rolling. As Waters lay prone in the well of the court, struggling for breath with a nurse at his side, defense attorneys and prosecutors haggled over plea bargains and fines. Defendants came and went.

The court clerk filed papers, and the rapid pace of the courtroom never slowed, according to The Washington Post.

I defer to the advice of my computer

According to CNET News, a handful of upstart software companies is seeking to automate one of the thorniest issues for many businesses: management of legal contracts and agreements. Though software makers long ago revolutionized how big companies handle daily tasks, such as payroll management or tracking raw materials on a production line, dealing with the fine print and legal entanglements of routine contracts still requires the human touch.

Contract management software automatically tracks contract terms and conditions, including renewals, obligations, the profitability of a contract and the financial aspects of a deal. Some systems even prompt people through contract negotiation steps and automatically issue checks to customers and suppliers when contracts are in force.

I have thousands of legitimate questions

Three securities firms have sued a couple who allegedly expressed their displeasure with the companies by bombarding them with thousands of e-mails and voice messages, according to the Associated Press.

The lawsuits say Neil and Penelope Wotherspoon flooded the companies with 80,000 e-mails and countless voice messages in March alone. The firms — Prudential Securities Inc., Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. and Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp. — say the correspondence has clogged their computers, and they’re asking the court to order the couple to stop.

Another emblem for your Web site

The U.S. Better Business Bureau and two European business groups are developing a set of standards for Web sites to ease consumer concerns about doing business over the Internet.

The three groups said they would merge their codes of conduct to provide a voluntary, international standard for online commerce, as well as a framework to resolve disputes. Participating companies would be required to abide by benchmarks for reliability, truthful advertising, customer privacy and customer service. Participating companies would be permitted to display a logo, or “trustmark,” on their Web sites

Resistance is futile

Bill Gates is shrugging off criticism that his company’s new juggernaut operating system is designed to muscle out the competition.

Love it or fear it, Gates told the Associated Press, Microsoft’s Windows is “the most important tool that’s ever been created.”

To some — including the Justice Department — Windows’ massive reach creates a quandary. As Microsoft keeps improving and expanding its dominant product, consumers may get a better deal, but competitors face the threat of being squashed.

Censorship? Ha!

Two years ago, Saad al-Fagih had a hard time spreading his anti-government message to people in Saudi Arabia, according to Newsbytes. He had to rely largely on smuggling in videocassettes and audiotapes.

But now the London-based Saudi dissident is in frequent “live” contact with his followers back home through Internet Web sites, chat rooms and virtual lectures. Modern-day communications technologies are helping dissidents undermine controls that authoritarian rulers in the Middle East have traditionally placed on the flow of information.

It is not clear how many people are logging on from each country. But there is no doubt that along with satellite television, cell phones and fax machines, the Internet has vastly increased the potential audience for foreign-based opposition groups and is helping make a mockery of censorship regulations.

Everything has a price

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating telemarketers who talk customers into accepting “free trial offers” for services and merchandise that, in reality, come at a cost, according to The Washington Post.

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy J. Muris told the Post in an interview that some “free trials” can end up costing consumers as much as $100 and are the subject of an increasing number of complaints.

CEO jailed

A federal appeals court unanimously upheld the 17-year prison term for a company owner who ordered an employee to clean out a storage tank filled with hydrogen cyanide gas. Allen Elias’ prison term issued last year was the harshest ever imposed for an environmental crime in the United States, authorities said.

Elias, the 62-year-old former owner of Evergreen Resources Inc. in southeastern Idaho, was the state’s first employer ever convicted on federal charges of knowingly exposing a worker to hazardous waste.