Archive for » September, 2010 «

A legal secretary and paralegal for a New Jersey law firm, alleges that she was fired 2 weeks before she was scheduled to take her maternity leave.  To add insult to injury, she was replaced by the woman she was training to do her job while she was on maternity leave.

An Amended Complaint was recently filed in the United States District Court of New Jersey, entitled Christine Heckel vs. Schibell, Mennie and Kentos, L.L.C., and Richard N. Schibell, Esq., Civil Action No. 3:10-cv-03454 (FLW/DEA).

As a woman, this story is of interest to me, not because I am pregnant, heaven forbid, but because if this act by this law firm is true, women are still being treated as if their careers aren’t important.  It also means that no matter how far women have come in the workforce, there are still people who run companies and even law firms, who believe that women should stay home when they have children.  This is not only happening in New Jersey, it recently happened in California when George Lucas lost a discrimination suit when he fired a woman for being pregnant.

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Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, Walt D...
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I am a Disney fan and I don’t care who knows it.  My best friend and I used to have the time and money to go to Disney twice a year.  Back then, we were annual pass holders.  But as we got busier and the economy got tougher we had to let our annual passes go and well, I haven’t been able to get to the Happiest Place on Earth for two years now.

The story of how Disney came to Florida in 1965 is one of intrigue,  master spies and secret meetings.  Chad Emerson is a law professor at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., where his areas of expertise include law concerning land planning, intellectual property and amusement parks. He’s also the author of Project Future: The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World, published this year.

It’s been 45 years since the Sentinel reported on its front page that a mystery buyer represented by Miami attorney Paul Helliwell had acquired about 9,700 acres from Bronson Inc. in Osceola County.  The speculation on who was buying this land produced rampant rumors that the secret buyer would be revealed as Howard Hughes or Boeing aircraft or the Rockefeller family. Even the first legal secretary hired for the mystery company, Julia Switlick, didn’t know who her employer was.  Can you imagine being hired for a position and not knowing who your employer is?  Almost makes you wish that could happen now, secret meetings with unknown people, travel to foreign countries, oh wait, back to reality.

There were even rumors that the communists were buying the land!  Say what? Maybe I would rethink that secret employer thing.

Emerson became absorbed in the story of Disney while he was researching an academic article and realized it had potential for readers outside legal journals.  “There are so many secretive and spy-like maneuvers, all legal, but very interesting and intertwined,” he said.  There was even a rule at Disney that no one at Disney could talk to anyone in Orlando, period.

I, for one, am a little jealous of Julia Switlick, not only for working at Disney but for being part of the big secret in Florida!

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Ok, I am a coffee-aholic.  I am not afraid to say it.  But I know my limit and I have never had so much caffeine that I wanted to kill.  Remember the Twinkie defense?  Now we have the Caffeine defense.

Woody Will Smith, a 33-year-old father of two, is facing life in prison for the 2009 murder of his wife, Amanda.  His attorney intends to argue that Smith was so hopped up on caffeine — courtesy of coffee, diet pills and energy drinks — he was essentially too insane to have consciously, intentionally committed the heinous crime of strangling his spouse to death.

According to the American Psychiatric Association they classify a caffeine overdose as consumption in excess of 300 milligrams — around nine cans of Coke, four Red Bulls or three Starbucks tazo chai lattes, according to the Mayo Clinic’s estimates.  Hmm, I love the Chai Lattes.  Caffeine intoxication can cause an irregular heartbeat, jitters and nervousness, and even euphoria and muscle twitches.  Going really overboard can yield more serious results, from temporary insanity and mania to the breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue that causes kidney failure.

There’s a precedent with the Caffeine defense! Daniel Noble, who in 2009 drank two large Starbucks coffees before mowing down and injuring several pedestrians with his car, won a dismissal of all charges thanks to a “caffeine intoxication” defense strategy.

Will be waiting to hear how this defense works out for Mr. Smith.

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Queensland Law Society’s ethics committee chair Brian Bartley has raised the issue of abusing time billing practices. Bartley stressed, “Instead of criticizing time billing, we need to deal with the abuses of time billing practiced by some within the profession.”

According to Bartley, one of the biggest revenue-generating part of some law firms is the paralegals. The staff who lack legal qualifications earn about $40,000 a year, but their actual value to a law firm could be up to $500,000.

Charge-out rates of up to $300 an hour for these staff made it possible for legal firms to profit because each staff member is only compensated with less than $20 an hour. Paralegal work is the same as secretarial tasks.  WHAT?  Are they serious?

These include booking appointments for clients who need to see doctors and specialists, collecting and collating medical reports, and bundling documents for review by a barrister.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but what I do for attorneys is far more than secretarial tasks.  It makes me wonder how they can even be called paralegals?  Of course, we are talking Australia.  Any comments?

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Category: Court Info  7 Comments

A former Herzing University student who was allegedly kicked out of its paralegal program is seeking $2 million in damages, claiming in part that he now suffers from unreasonable irritability.

Acting as his own attorney, De Rome A. Seals filed suit against Herzing Inc. Aug. 30 in federal court in New Orleans.  Seals accuses Herzing of failing to exercise due process in violation of his civil rights, cruel and unusual punishment, negligent infliction of mental and emotional distress, libel, defamation of character and extortion attempt.

He is asking for the monetary award for mental and emotional anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, aggravation of pre-existing illnesses, undue stress, homicidal/suicidal ideations, undue anxiety and heightened, unreasonable irritability.

The University claims that Seals obtained loans and grants improperly and that they had to repay the loans, therefore dropping him from classes and the Paralegal program.

Seals states he enrolled in the program in April 2009 and provided Herzing University copies of his academic transcripts, including copies of his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He says he was awarded Pell grants and student loans for the paralegal program.  Will be interesting to see where this goes, if anywhere.

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