Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Here's Your Grey Poupon"

The Smoking Gun reports that a Utah man was arrested last week after he had a more than novel response for two pranksters who had jokingly mocked the ever popular and often hilariously replicated Grey Poupon commercial shown above.

The man, Vitaly Kovtun, was allegedly stopped at a light in Salt Lake City, Utah when two pranksters pulled up to his car. The passenger, Stephen Cox, rolled down his window and inquired, "Excuse me, sir, do you have any Grey Poupon?" Kovtun responded, police charge, by pulling a handgun from his glove compartment, cocking the weapon, pointing it at the prankster's auto, and directing "Here's your Grey Poupon, roll your f***ing windows up."

Kovtun was arrested after one of the pranksters copied down his license plate. He was charged with one count of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony under Utah law. A copy of the probable cause affidavit can be read here.

Congressional Candidates from Miami Share Views on Amendment Concerning Gay Marriage

What is the most controversial issue being discussed by politicians today? Could it be illegal immigration? Sure, you could make a case for that. How about whether or not we should drill for oil in Alaska? That gets quite a few people fired up. There’s always the debate over government health care to start some verbal sparring. However, it is difficult to find another issue that sparks more emotion and protest than the discussion of gay marriage. When citizens show up to vote for president in November, Florida is asking them to choose a side on the gay marriage topic at the same time.

Amendment 2 will be on state ballots this fall. If passed, it would amend the Florida state constitution to ban gay marriages and civil unions. The change to the constitution also would affect publicly recognized domestic partnerships. The amendment, known as the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment, advocates the following:

This amendment protects marriage as the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and provides that no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.

As expected, advocacy groups are working hard on both sides to sway voters. And politicians are being asked to state their positions as well. The two women vying to represent Miami in the United States Congress, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, and her Democratic challenger, Annette Taddeo, have shared their opinions on the proposed measure. Both oppose the ban, but for different reasons.

Ros-Lehtinen does not support the amendment because it would affect the many heterosexual couples in Florida who are considered to have domestic partnerships. Ms. Taddeo has a different motive, stating that, ''We must fight Amendment 2 because all people must be treated equally and we should not change our state's constitution to allow discrimination.”

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who specialize in the issues of family law, so we certainly will be following the outcome of this vote. If you are dealing with the sensitive legal problems that can develop in all types of families, please contact us to discuss your situation.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Catholic Group Protests Immigration Policies

Since the offices of Bertolino LLP are in Texas and Florida, you will often see issues surrounding immigration law discussed on this blog. From the aggressive actions of the Border Patrol to the training of local officers in a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program to the disputes around immigrants’ access to education and health care, there is no shortage of immigration stories in the news. At a recent meeting, the Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network shared their own thoughts on how our country is handling immigration policy.

The assembled Catholic activists criticized the policies of the Bush administration, which they believe focus only on harsh enforcement and neglect the human element of the situation. In particular, they shared a frustration with the occurrence of mothers being separated from young children. Under United States law, children who are born in this country are considered citizens and therefore permitted to stay within our borders. The immigrant parents, if here illegally, are sent home with or without their kids.

As the executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Donald Kerwin, said in an interview with The Houston Chronicle, "Our programs are seeing families divided and communities devastated. Basically we're seeing the equivalent of a natural disaster, and we're organizing and responding accordingly.”

Houston has seen a couple of major immigration raids in the last few months, first at Shipley Do-Nuts in April and then at Actions Rags USA, a clothing and rag exporting plant, just last month. And ICE is certainly within its legal rights, as determined by both the White House and Congress, to do so. As proven by a failed attempt last year in Congress to develop a pathway to legalization, the will does not appear to be present to reform our immigration laws at this time. The hope is that after the presidential election in November, talks about comprehensive federal immigration reform will resume.

If you are dealing with your own immigration issues, please contact us at Bertolino LLP and we’ll get you in touch with one of our attorneys who specialize in such cases.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Prison Term Upheld for Texas Border Agents

The raid on the FLDS ranch is far from being the only legal story originating in Texas that has gained national attention. I imagine most readers are familiar with the case involving two U.S. Border Patrol Agents who shot an unarmed illegal immigrant in El Paso, Texas three years ago. The two agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, received eleven and twelve years (respectively) of prison time after being found guilty on charges of assault, violation of civil rights, use of a firearm during a crime of violence and obstruction of justice. The sentences were upheld yesterday by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans and the controversy surrounding these two men rages on.

Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, the shooting victim, had been pulled over and found to be driving a van filled with 743 pounds of marijuana. He was fleeing towards the Mexico border when shot from behind by the two agents. Advocates of stricter border control hailed the two agents as heroes and have encouraged President Bush to pardon the men ever since the sentence was first handed down in October 2006. On the other hand, immigrant rights advocates believe that justice was done in an instance of abused power. With which side of this controversial topic do you agree?

Despite the emotional arguments made by politicians and bloggers in favor of Ramos and Compean, the Appeals Court wrote in its decision that, ''The government's evidence showed that the agents had no reason to shoot the drug smuggler … that he posed no physical threat to either officer.” Therefore, at least for now, the grassroots efforts to justify the actions of the border agents have not been successful.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys in our Austin, Houston, and San Antonio offices who specialize in immigration law. If this hot-button issue has affected your life, please contact us and let’s see how we can help.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Flushing Will Cost You at the Home of the Whopper in Houston

Have you ever sat down for a nutritious meal of a Double Whopper, fries and large soda and prepared to enjoy an ambience that only can be found in your local Burger King? Then, suddenly, your mood darkens when a carload of tourists walks into the restaurant and heads straight for the restroom. Surely, they will order lunch once nature’s call is answered, right? But, no … they flush and leave without a visit to the cash register. Your mood is ruined. You can’t even finish your burger. How can people be so selfish and inconsiderate?

The Burger King near the Medical Center in Houston is putting an end to those who use them only for their toilets. Locked restroom doors now have the following sign posted, "Doors open with token or coin. Customers must request a free token from cashier." Patrons can either pull out a quarter or go to the counter for a free token. The hope is that this new policy will cut down on vandalism in the toilet stalls and perhaps offset the costs that inevitably come from repeated use of a public restroom.

Houston does have a city ordinance that states it is "unlawful for any person to make a charge for the use of a toilet maintained in a place open to the public or to a substantial part of the public." However, Larry Schenk, a senior assistant city attorney, has determined that Burger King is not violating Houston’s law because you can receive a free token from the front counter.

While the token system is only in place at the one Burger King location in Houston, its installation has opened up the debate concerning wider use of public pay toilets. The practice is already common in several large cities and first steps were taken to install such facilities in Houston several years ago. To comply with law, Houston likely would be required to supply quarters for those who can’t afford to pay the door-opening costs. For those with the available loose change, keep it handy and be prepared to flush at will!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Austin City Council Settles Lawsuit Against Police Officer

Police officers face difficult situations every time they take to the streets for patrol. We have all seen the videos of officers nearly struck down by passing motorists while making a routine traffic stop. Or, what about the instances in which a cop must respond to a call reporting domestic violence? He does not know what dangers may confront him when he walks through the front door. Members of our law enforcement must make quick decisions when dealing with potential criminal activity and, unfortunately, sometimes the choices made are later determined to be excessive or altogether wrong.

In July 2006, Austin police officer Gary Griffin responded to the call of “person down” and found Joseph Cruz asleep on a park bench. When Cruz did not respond to repeated efforts to rouse him from his slumber, Officer Griffin hit him with his billy club and punched him in the face.

Griffin was fired for using excessive force, but this decision was later overturned by an arbitrator. It was determined that although Griffin did “momentarily cross the line into the use of excessive force - he was not motivated by malice or bias.” And, the written ruling to overturn Griffin’s firing also asserted the idea that the Austin Police Department does not do a sufficient job of training its officers for such situations.

But Griffin’s legal battles did not end with this successful reinstatement. The Texas Civil Rights Project filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last year of behalf of Cruz, who suffers from schizophrenia. In a ruling that has quickly pitted defenders of the police officer against those who support the victim, the Austin City Council decided yesterday to award the family $55,000.00.

“We believe based on the risks and a pending federal trial to begin Monday that settling this suit for $55,000 was the best position for the city,” said Council Member Mike Martinez.

If you have been a victim of violence, no matter the profession of the perpetrator, Bertolino LLP has attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who are available to help you. Please give us a call and let’s discuss the details of your case.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

For those of you with an interest in law, the cinema or both, the August 2008 edition of the ABA Journal, the monthly magazine published by the American Bar Association, contains an article regarding what the ABA Journal editors believe to be the twenty-five greatest legal movies of all time.
In addition to the the top twenty-five movies, they editors have also created a list of twenty-five greatest runner-up legal movies. The lists are worth the time to read and contemplate, but are hardly authoritative - no legitimate list would ever have ranked the classic Breaker Morant behind the more recent and more publicly accessible My Cousin Vinny. Further, while some of the movies are truly "legal" movies, like, for instance, 12 Angry Men and A Civil Action, other movies are more personally or historically driven, but merely contain the trappings of the legal profession, like Reversal of Fortune and A Man for All Seasons.
If you have the time, it's a very entertaining read.

Juror Arrested for Bringing a Gun to Austin Courthouse

There are plenty of ways in which people have attempted to get out of that civic responsibility called "jury duty.” During voir dire, I have seen people respond aggressively when questioned about the subject of the case – something like, “I’ve had three relatives die at the hands of car thieves and I believe all car thieves should be shot on sight.” Others, amazingly, have had to attend the funeral of the same grandmother three times. And, there are those who simply ignore the fact that the notice ever arrived in the mail. Clayton Robinson found another way to avoid that uncomfortable chair in a jury box … he got arrested!

Mr. Robinson was going through security metal detectors to prepare for a day of intense concentration on witness testimony in a civil case. Unfortunately, as he was preparing to empty his clothing, he realized that he still had a gun in his rear pocket. Robinson was arrested for carrying a weapon in a prohibited place, which is a third-degree felony in Texas. Under Texas Penal Code 46.03, those with permits to carry a concealed weapon are still prohibited from bringing the gun "on the premises of any government court or offices utilized by the court." Robinson faces two to ten years in prison for violation of this law.

Texas has certainly been dealing with plenty of issues surrounding gun ownership and where these weapons belong, from the debate over allowing guns on college campuses to a recent petition to allow open carry in public. Yesterday’s incident at the Travis County courthouse already has people jumping to Robinson’s defense and arguing against any restriction on a law-abiding citizen’s right to carry a firearm. The debates continue!

Despite his arrest, Robinson still had to return to the courthouse two hours later to fulfill his duty as a juror. He has agreed to turn himself in after the trial is over. If you have found yourself accused of a crime like Mr. Robinson, please contact us at Bertolino LLP. We have aggressive defense attorneys who can give you the representation you deserve.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

FLDS Leader, Warren Jeffs, Indicted on Charges in Texas

script writers keep trying to write the conclusion to the inevitable mini-series scheduled to air on a television near you, but the main characters keep adding to the plot. As promised in previous blog posts I have written in weeks past, the legal dramas involving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in Texas are far from over. Yesterday, FDLS leader Warren Jeffs and four of his followers were indicted in Eldorado on charges of felony sexual assault of a child, and one was additionally charged with the crime of bigamy.

Most people already know the story of the FDLS and its polygamist leader, Warren Jeffs. He has already been convicted of being an accomplice to rape in Utah and is awaiting trial in Arizona for other charges related to abuse of a child. There is no doubt, this guy certainly made the rounds while gathering teenaged brides and his attorneys are now picking up some serious frequent-flyer miles.

During the raid of the FLDS ranch that took place back in April, members of law enforcement seized photos of Warren Jeffs engaged in intimate hugs and kisses with underage girls. They also found a journal in which it was documented that Jeffs married his fifteen-year-old daughter to a man nearly twenty years her senior.

All of this evidence could be used to show that Jeffs has violated Texas state law. Texas does not allow a girl younger than seventeen to consent to sex with an adult, and the state does not allow for multiple marriages.

This case has raised many questions over the extent to which Americans have the right to follow the lifestyle that they choose. However, most people agree can agree on one point … when children are involved in a situation, the dynamics change. At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who specialize in the delicate matters of family law. If you find yourself in a difficult situation involving custody, marriage, or other such emotional issues, please contact us and let’s see how we can help.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Suspects in Theft from Houston Police Union Granted Lower Bail

Officer Jeff Larson

Police officers take an oath to uphold the law and protect citizens from those who seek to do harm. I still remember attending school assemblies during which a local cop would share important safety tips and warn us of the dangers of wayward behavior. With an instilled belief that members of the police force just inherently do what is right, I suppose we are more readily disappointed when one of them ends up on the other side of the law.

Two former officials with the Houston Police Officer’s Union, one a former officer and the other still serving, have been accused of theft in excess of at least $100,000 from the union. The prosecutors in the case are alleging that the two men stole cash, cashed checks, used credit cards, and kept profits from vehicle sales. One of the officers, Jeff Larson, was the union’s treasurer during the time that the thefts occurred. That is certainly a convenient position for someone who may be inclined to do some financial harm! Larson is off-duty with pay while awaiting trial. The other officer involved, Ronald Martin, is Larson’s father-in-law. (Isn’t it nice to see family members working together?) Martin retired after being relieved of active duty back in January.

The defense won a small victory in court yesterday, as the bail was lowered from $250,000 to $150,000. The duo still will be required to wear monitoring devices and follow a strict curfew. And, the friendship of fellow officers that was lost after this four-year scheme cannot be replaced by any judge’s order. As Gary Blankinship, the current president of the Houston Police Officers Union, said, "Both of these guys, I felt like, were friends. They betrayed that trust."

The union has no obligation (and certainly no desire) to assist with the officers’ criminal defense when the union itself was the victim in the case. It is in such instances that top-notch private defense is needed. Bertolino LLP is available to help those looking for dedicated and experienced legal assistance. Please contact us if you have been accused of a crime … let’s discuss how we can help.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Slimmed-Down Inmate Escapes from Texas Jail

I’ve heard of many creative ways that inmates have escaped from prison. There’s the option of digging through the walls of your cell over many years with the plastic spoon issued in the cafeteria, using a well-placed poster to hide your progress. Of course, you must be a very patient prisoner to complete such an undertaking. Or, you simply can hope that the bus transporting you to jail gets hit by a locomotive and you are able to flee from the wreckage. OK … maybe the ways of escape with which I am familiar are all from movies. But, the amazing escape that occurred in the Houston, Texas area over the weekend is quite real.

Darryl Lane Norris escaped from the Waller County Jail in Hempstead, an area outside of Houston, on Saturday by climbing through an air conditioning vent that was less than a foot wide! Apparently, Mr. Norris had been losing weight since arriving at the jail in April. He was awaiting trial for a murder that took place at a convenience store. So, although there is no evidence that Mr. Norris is armed, he should be considered dangerous.

According to Waller County Sheriff Randy Smith, "We just found out he's been slimming down a lot recently.” That is certainly an understatement considering the man slipped through a hole with a width that could barely serve as a long enough bed for a Barbie doll.

All kidding aside, I hope that this fugitive is brought back to justice quickly. The Texas Rangers are part of a large team searching for the skinny, alleged criminal, so we know that the best people possible are on his trail. Perhaps an all-you-can-eat buffet will be a good place to focus the search … he has to be hungry.

At Bertolino LLP, we take pride in providing legal defense to all who have been accused of a crime, no matter what your BMI indicates. Please contact us at our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office if we can help you.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Stairway Collapse at Houston Apartment Building Kills Two Children

A tragedy unfolded at the Westwood Fountains apartments here in Houston on Wednesday evening that has left a lot of people looking for answers and searching for the right people to blame. A stairwell collapsed on a group of boys playing hide-and-seek, killing a ten-year-old and a four-year-old. A third boy, age nine, was seriously injured by the falling rubble. Where should residents turn for an acceptance of responsibility? Unfortunately, there are several parties at fault in this situation.

The stairway on which the boys were playing was meant for maintenance personnel only and the door allowing access was supposed to be locked at all times. The building supervisor, Avi Thandani, insisted that the door was secure and that perhaps the boys squeezed through an iron railing. However, residents claim that the door was open regularly without adult monitoring. So, an open door is one way in which the safety of the children was compromised.

Next, there is the issue of government enforcement. The city of Houston does not require regular inspections of multi-family residential buildings. Westwood Fountains was last checked in 1996 and was determined to be a good shape. Of course, a lot can happen in twelve years. Should frequent inspections be mandated for such buildings in Houston, as they already are in places like Dallas? Houston Mayor Bill White thinks so, and recently proposed changes that result in inspections every three years, more often for older, rundown buildings.

Finally, there is the issue of differences in care based on socioeconomic factors. Westwood Fountains is a low-income housing unit with a largely minority population. John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service, believes that if the low-income tenants lived in neighborhoods with more affluent renters, problems would be more likely to prompt complaints and attract the city's attention.

No matter where people choose to lay the blame, the end result is the possible wrongful death of two children. If you have been the victim of someone’s negligence or a loved one has been a victim of wrongful death, please contact us at the Austin, Houston or San Antonio offices of Bertolino LLP. We have attorneys who will help you find justice.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Austin Mogul Indicted for Tree Chopping

Austin Legal reports that Austin real estate developer Hunter Wheeler was indicted on criminal charges of illegally cutting down a 22-inch-wide cedar tree on Daniel Drive in South Austin’s Bouldin Creek neighborhood. It is alleged that Wheeler order the cutting down of the tree down to clear a view of downtown from the large house he built across the street.

The official charge is criminal mischief, which is punishable by up to two years in a state jail. A warrant is likely to be issued for Wheeler's arrest next week.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the tree cut down was valued at nearly $9,600. It was purportedly located on a right of way owned by the city.

Rodeo Star Indicted on Road Rage Charges

The life of a former rodeo star is not one to be envied. While your counterparts who retire from football or baseball have a lucrative future in broadcasting or coaching awaiting them, such opportunities do not abound for athletes who conquered a bucking bull or roped a calf. I imagine this life circumstance can lead to a great deal of frustration. Is it possible that rodeo superstar Sid Steiner let these emotions get the best of him?

Mr. Steiner, who is known to many as “Sid Rock”, has been indicted by a Travis County grand jury on a felony charge of aggravated assault. He is accused of pointing a gun at a fellow motorist after a minor traffic accident near his Austin home. If convicted of the charge, Steiner faces anywhere from two to twenty years in prison. Sid Rock’s defense attorney, Alan Williams, asserts that his client is innocent and will be acquitted at trial.

Road rage, a term that was coined in the late 1980s, has become a common component of our driving experience. How often do you drive any distance without seeing someone blow a horn repeatedly, shout obscenities out a window, cut off another driver or throw scalding coffee into a nearby convertible (OK … maybe only I’ve seen this one)? It is unusual for road rage to reach the level at which weapons are used, but many drivers fear that the increase in aggressive driving will only lead to more incidents of violence. Couple crowded highways with ever-rising gas prices, and there are a lot of people with short fuses behind the wheels of cars.

Sid Steiner is well-known in the rodeo world, both for his own success, and also for the huge contributions made to the sport by his father and grandfather. He already has a bad boy image from his time on the rodeo circuit. Will he add to this persona with a stint in prison? That remains to be seen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

University of Texas Settles Fraternity Death Lawsuit

As the media has shared in several recent reports, binge drinking on our nation’s college campuses is on the rise. The ultimate tragedy that results from consuming multiple drinks in one night is the death of one of our young people. At least 157 college students drank themselves to death between 1999 and 2005. One of these students was Phanta “Jack” Phoummarath, a Houston native and freshman at the University of Texas. The family of the young man just settled with the fraternity and its members yesterday in court for $4.2 million.

Mr. Phoummarath was determined to have a blood alcohol level of 0.41 after a night of hazing at the Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity, which is a blood alcohol level that is more than five times the legal limit in Texas. Three members of the fraternity pled no contest last fall to the misdemeanor charge of hazing and were sentenced to two years of probation. These young men, the president, pledge captain and always-illustrious “Hellmaster” at the time that Phoummarath died, will be required to apologize to the victim’s family. They also will pay a $1000 fine and complete 100 hours of community service.

Some of the settlement proceeds will go to produce an educational video called Enough is Enough. As Phoummarath’s father explains, "We do not want Jack's death to be in vain, and by this educational program, we hope to save families in the future from the great despair we have suffered from the loss of our youngest son."

The debate concerning responsibility over binge drinking fatalities is certainly a controversial one. At what point does overwhelming peer pressure and ridiculous rules established by a social organization supplant the need for an individual to make responsible decisions? Could the victim have refused more alcohol at any point? Obviously, the group mentality in this sad instance at University of Texas was strong enough to create criminal activity.

If the tragedy of a wrongful death has struck your family, please contact the Austin, Houston or Miami offices of Bertolino LLP. We have attorneys who can help you find justice for your loved one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Miami Beach Man Charged with Hate Crime While Cycling

Vicious crimes such as those committed against James Byrd in Texas and Matthew Shepard in Wyoming brought the debate over hate crimes legislation onto the national stage. Should the penalty for a crime be harsher when the act was motivated by a certain characteristic of the victim? If so, which groups of people should receive legal protection from crimes borne of hate? One man in Miami is finding out this week how Florida law treats those whose criminal activity stems from prejudice.

Pichardo Dearmas was charged over the weekend with assault with prejudice. As Dearmas was riding his bicycle in Miami Beach, he found himself spinning towards Rabbi Abraham S. Mann. With either a horrible sense of perception or no real intention of making contact, he then swatted at Mann from several feet away and called him a “f***ing Jew.” When questioned by police, Dearmas could not explain any reasoning behind his vulgar action. Regardless of his lack of a convincing justification (not that I can think of a possible one at this time), the slap-happy criminal now finds himself accused of a first-degree misdemeanor. This charge brings up to a $1000 fine and a year in prison.

While Florida law covers "prejudice based on the race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, mental or physical disability, or advanced age of the victim,” the state’s hate-crime laws were first put in place in 1989 following a series of synagogue vandalisms. Since then, the legislation had come into play with issues of underground high school publications, Eucharist smuggling and the beating of a homeless man.

If you have been accused of a hate crime and need solid, aggressive representation, Bertolino LLP has attorneys with experience in criminal defense who are ready to help you. Please contact us and let’s discuss the details of your case.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Texas Legislature Considers Allowing Guns on College Campuses

Everyone remembers that horrific day last April when a gunman opened fire on the Virginia Tech campus and killed thirty-two people before turning the gun on himself. This event was the deadliest shooting spree by a single person in the history of our country. Now, some legislators in Texas want to pass a measure that they believe will prevent such a massacre from occurring on one of their college campuses. Hearings are underway to determine whether the ban on concealed weapons at Texas colleges and universities should be lifted.

The bill is being introduced by House Law Enforcement Chairman Joe Driver, a Republican from Garland, and has received strong support from both the National Rifle Association and students who do not want to risk becoming the next victims. If passed (an outcome that even Driver admits is questionable), Texas would join only Utah as the only two states which allow concealed weapons on college campuses.

Naturally, there are groups who are making the case against the bill. Marsha McCartney, president of the North Texas Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, believes that suicide rates and binge drinking among college students provide enough reason to keep guns off campuses. And, the Rice University Police Chief Bill Taylor is worried that the limited training given to those who receive carry permits is not sufficient for students and faculty to act as stand-ins for law enforcement.

If precedent is any indication, Driver faces an uphill battle in getting the ban lifted. Bills to allow guns on campus have been introduced in seventeen states and have met with fifteen failures. The other two states are still considering the legislation. Time will tell if the outcome in the Lone Star State is any different.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Texas Meth Law Benefits Mexican Drug Cartels

Grits for Breakfast recently posted on the effect of the Texas anti-meth law on the production of methamphetamine in Texas. Texas Department of Safety officials testified yesterday at a Senate Criminal Justice Committee that restrictions on pseudoephedrine purchases have resulted in a dramatic decline in the production of methamphetamine in Texas. The officials were referring to the state legislature's 2005 bill that implemented a requirement that stores keep pseudophedrine products behind the counter. Meth is a powerful synthetic stimulant that is derived from decongestants such as Sudafed® .

Methamphetamine is traditionally a drug that is manufactured in clandestine laboratories in trailers and secluded homes in rural areas. During the peak of meth's popoularity in the 1990s, Austin was a haven for the drug's manufactuers and the department sometimes raided as many as three laboratories a week.

Given the high psychological addiction of meth to binge and high-intensity users, the demand for the drug in the State remained and it appears the supply of the drug has just moved south - to Mexico. The Brownsville Herald recently reported a massive seizure of 211 pounds of methamphetamine at the US-Mexico border.


As Grits has previously discused, the true solution to our nation's meth problem remains drug treatment. Drugs courts have worked wonders in South Florida and would probably enjoy similar results if program's like Travis County's S.H.O.R.T. Program were more widespread in Texas.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Florida Sex Offenders Have Right to Porn

Florida’s Supreme Court hears issues of critical importance to the residents of the Sunshine State on a regular basis – the decision to sentence a juvenile to life in prison, the right of a religious organization to share its beliefs on the public square and … whether or not a sex offender can possess pornography. Yes, it’s true. The seven justices of the Supreme Court ruled yesterday on this hot topic. Pedophiles and gropers anxiously bit their nails on the steps of the courthouse while waiting for this historic ruling. They collectively exhaled with relief when the 5-2 decision determined that the right to own porn could not be denied.

The decision stemmed from the Miami case involving a man named Donald Kasischke, who pled guilty in 2001 to three counts each of lewd or lascivious battery and exhibition on a fifteen-year-old boy. After spending a year in prison, Kasischke was let out on probation and a search of his home led to the discovery of pornographic photos and videos. He was immediately sent back to jail, with the Third District Court of Appeals upholding the jail time in 2006.

So, why did the Supreme Court overrule the Court of Appeals this week? The relevant Florida statute includes the statement that sex offenders may not own “any obscene, pornographic or sexually stimulating visual or auditory material, including telephone, electronic media, computer programs or computer services that are relevant to the offender's deviant behavior pattern.'' Does this mean that a man who accosted young children can own pornography involving only adults? Can a man who inappropriately touched a female co-worker possess photos that are absent of women? When ambiguous language in law raises such questions, the accused must receive the benefit.

Kasischke will now be given a new hearing in Miami following this ruling by the Supreme Court. Assuming no other probation violations have occurred, he may soon find himself a free man who can boldly own porn without fear of repercussions.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Florida Does Away With Felony Driving While License Suspended

JAABlog points our attention to a significant change in Florida law that went into effect on July 1, 2008:

Felony DWLS is history for anyone who does not have a prior forcible felony conviction. Non-violent HTO defendants charged with DWLS now face 1st degree misdemeanor penalties.
A copy of the Bill can be found here.

Houston Man Sentenced in Smelly Feet Killing

There has been a lot of scrutiny in the media concerning a general lack of concern for human life. Perhaps video games have desensitized young people to the very real crime of attacking someone? Do our 24-hour news channels make murders seem commonplace and expected? It isn’t unusual to see stories about people shooting each other for a coat or a pair of shoes. However, the sentence reached in a Houston courtroom this week was a new one for me.

William Antonio Serrano was sentenced to thirty-five years in jail on Tuesday for murdering his roommate. They weren’t fighting over a girl or even stolen items in the apartment … the violence arose from an argument over foot odor. Apparently one of Serrano’s roommates, Noel Quintanilla-Vaquero, loudly shared his displeasure at the smell emanating from Serrano’s lower extremities. Serrano did not appreciate being taunted about his need for a little foot powder, and he proceeded to stab his roommate sixteen times. Serrano claimed the act was one of self-defense, but no evidence of a weapon could be found on the victim.

The most shocking part of the story as reported by the Associated Press, which is calling the case the Stinky Feet Slaying? The men allegedly had been drinking.

Serrano and his court-appointed attorney plan to appeal the ruling, as Serrano pled no contest and did not reach this sentence as part of an agreement with the prosecution. But, as it stands now, he will be serving at least half of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole. This minimum time served will have Serrano behind bars until he turns forty and all because he could not deal with the accusation of having “smelly feet”.

If you have been accused of a crime, foul-smelling or odor-free, Bertolino LLP has attorneys in Austin, Houston and San Antonio who are ready to help you. Please get in touch with us and let’s discuss your case.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Officer’s Gun Found at Austin Playground

There are certain items that are simply natural complements when put together – peanut butter and jelly, baseball and hot dogs, Bertolino LLP and superior legal services. One combination that doesn’t seem to work, no matter how hard you try to make it fit, is a loaded firearm and a playground. Unfortunately, however, a police officer’s lost weapon was found on a park slide in South Austin yesterday. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Parents are rightfully concerned, though, that a gun was left within easy reach of young children.

A group of mothers found the gun and one of them called 911. Police quickly determined that the weapon was registered to an officer named Daniel Eveleth. He claimed that the gun must have fallen from his holster while he was training a dog in the pre-dawn hours. The police department is investigating how the weapon was able to slip out of his holster and how Eveleth did not notice that his firearm was no longer in his possession.

It seems that Officer Eveleth meant no intentional harm and, according to reports, he is devastated by the incident. It is terrifying to imagine the consequences if a child had been the first one to find the loaded gun. As a mother who frequents the park said, “I know that having a two-year-old, they’d pick that up without a problem.” There is no doubt that these moms will want answers and some reassurance that this will not happen again.

While we certainly hope that you are never a victim of violence, there are attorneys at Bertolino LLP who can be of assistance if someone’s negligence has led to the injury or death of a loved one. If you have found yourself in this situation, please let us know how we can help.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Austin Man Admits to Indecency with a Child

Few crimes are met with more outrage than those inflicted on a child. And, unfortunately, the news confirms to us every day that the instance of child as victim is far from rare. What is perhaps unusual, however, is how readily the perpetrator admits to the crime of which he has been accused. Yesterday, a man was arrested in Austin who was ready to confess to his alleged crime and more.

Leroy McAfee was arrested yesterday and charged with indecency with a child for fondling a girl who is related to his fiancĂ©e. The eleven-year-old girl told her grandmother that Mr. McAfee had touched her inappropriately. While being questioned about the accusations, McAfee acknowledged committing not only the crime being discussed but also that he had assaulted several other girls. At least one of the incidents involved using the threat of a deadly weapon – a charge corroborated by the girl who made the initial accusation, as she said that McAfee carried a shotgun. Since McAfee is on probation for a prior shooting and therefore not allowed to carry a firearm, possession of a weapon will be added to his other charges.

Mr. McAfee admitted that he is attracted to preteen girls and only confessed to the crimes now that he had been caught. He apparently told police that he wants help for his problem. If there are issues with McAfee that can be addressed through therapy or other appropriate programs, then I hope he gets the help that he has requested. However, he must also be prepared to face the legal consequences of his deplorable actions.

At Bertolino LLP, we stand firmly on the right that everyone has to representation under the Constitution. If you have been accused of criminal activity, we have attorneys in our Austin, Houston and San Antonio offices ready to help you.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wife of Alex Rodriguez to File for Divorce in Miami

The highest paid player in Major League Baseball is expected to be served with papers for divorce today after allegedly having several affairs, including a relationship with one of the most influential pop superstars of the past twenty-five years, while his soon-to-be estranged wife flees to the City of Lights to find comfort from a rock star. This is a tabloid writer’s dream, and the entire story is expected to take place in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

You likely will recognize the above scenario as the divorce proceedings that are about to commence between Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez and his wife, Cynthia. A-Rod has been seen leaving Madonna’s Manhattan apartment at late hours, as his wife is spending time with Lenny Kravitz in Paris. Adulterous relationships have been adamantly denied by all parties involved.

Upon her return to the States and into a Miami-Dade courtroom, Mrs. Rodriguez will ask to be named the primary residential parent of their daughters and also will be seeking alimony. There is a prenuptial agreement that was signed one month before the 2002 wedding which certainly will dictate much of the financial settlement. Cynthia Rodriguez has retained in attorneys in both Houston and Miami, as the wedding took place in Texas and the couple’s primary residence is in Coral Gables (just outside of Miami), to make sure that deliberations proceed smoothly.

As one of Mrs. Rodriguez’s attorneys, Maurice Kutner, told the The Miami Herald, his client “has exhausted every opportunity to salvage the marriage, and that Alex has emotionally abandoned her and the children and has left her with no choice but to divorce him.”

At Bertolino LLP, our typical client may not have the paparazzi appeal that Alex Rodriguez brings to a courtroom. However, we value each person who walks into our Austin, Houston or San Antonio offices with the respect and attention he or she deserves. We have attorneys who specialize in divorce law (as well as celebrity divorces) and we would like the opportunity to assist you if you are going through this difficult situation. Please contact us and let’s discuss your situation.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Birthday, America!!

I want to take a break from writing about legal issues today to wish everyone (including my hard working staff, attorneys, colleagues, friends, family and fellow bloggers) a wonderful Fourth of July. The birth of our country through the Declaration of Independence 232 years ago began an amazing experiment that continues to this day. The values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that were laid out by Thomas Jefferson many years ago deserve to be celebrated every day. I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy the picnics, parades and fireworks that bring family and friends together on this special day.

And, as we enjoy this holiday, let us remember the men and women who are serving our country around the world right now. They are bright examples of what this country has to offer. Because of the sacrifice of our servicemen, we are able to celebrate the freedoms of this country today.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Texas State Representative Hopes to Extend Waiting Time for Divorce

There is no shortage of laws surrounding the specifics of marriage and divorce in our country – who can get married, who can perform a marriage, child custody and financial settlements in a divorce, etc. are all determined by government. Some argue that the government must be involved in such matters for reasons of economics and a basic social order. Others believe that the government has a deeper role to play in the establishment and perpetuation of the family. One person who believes the latter is our very own Texas State Rep. Warren Chisum.

Rep. Chisum plans to reintroduce a proposal when the state legislature reconvenes in January 2009 that would require married couples to wait two years before a divorce can be finalized. This “cooling-off” waiting period would be waived if both parties agree to take part in a ten-hour, two-day course that is intended to save the marital relationship. Under current Texas law, the parties must wait sixty days before finalizing their divorce.

While Rep. Chisum’s proposed legislation concerning divorce died in a House committee on its first go around last year, he did succeed in passing a law that will raise the cost of a marriage license in Texas from $30 to $60, with the fee being waived if the couple takes a premarital class. This change goes into effect on September 1st of this year. As Rep. Chisum explained, "We're going to attack it at both ends — marriage and divorce — in an effort to keep families together. If this just saves one marriage, it'll be fine with me."

Other policymakers do not agree with the steps that Rep. Chisum is making to keep marriages intact. As Rep. Jessica Farrar said, "I don't think it's the government's job to force people to stay unhappily married." Advocacy groups, such as Texas Council on Family Violence, are concerned that husbands or wives might be forced to stay in abusive marriages in order to comply with the law. We will find out next year what the majority of Texas’ elected officials think about Rep. Chisum’s efforts on this matter.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who specialize in the emotional issues surrounding divorce, child custody and other aspects of family law. If you need legal advice in this area, please do not hesitate to contact our offices in Austin, Houston or San Antonio to discuss your situation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Houston Mailman Doesn’t Always Deliver

I have always thought that postal carriers have a fascinating job. Just like digging through someone’s trash or going through one’s medicine cabinet (neither of which I advise you do), you can learn a lot about people from the mail they receive. Catalogs for the newest electronic devices, repeated notices from credit card companies, magazines wrapped in the always mysterious brown paper … all of these items tell you about the person to whom that mailbox belongs. One mailman’s interest in his deliveries went beyond casual curiosity, and now he faces jail time.

Lorenzo Moreno, Jr., a former postal carrier from Houston, Texas faces up to five years in federal prison after investigators discovered that he stole more than 3000 pieces of mail from those on his route. Apparently, a suspicious pattern of people not receiving their gift cards and DVDs developed last year and an internal investigation ensued. Moreno pled guilty to charges of mail theft and will discover his sentence in September.

There is an entire agency, the United States Postal Investigation Service, which is dedicated to the protection and security of our mail service. One of the roles of the USPIS is to enforce US Code Title 18, 1709 which states, in part,

Whoever, being a Postal Service officer or employee, embezzles any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein entrusted to him or which comes into his possession intended to be conveyed by mail … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

I wonder if Mr. Moreno realized the potential consequences he faced when he decided to steal a copy of Lord of the Rings or a Talbot’s gift card for his personal use. If you find yourself facing federal charges of any kind, please understand that your situation is very serious. Please feel free to contact us at Bertolino LLP and let’s talk about how we can help.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Austin Police Officers to Be Armed with Guns … and Needles?

You have made the unfortunate decision to get behind the wheel of your car after having a few cocktails at your neighborhood bar. A police officer pulls you over for some questionable driving maneuvers. This fine member of law enforcement does not buy your story that you had “two beers … only two beers” and is not convinced by your slow and deliberate recitation of the alphabet. So, he pulls out the breathalyzer test. Having been advised by your buddies to refuse the test if you found yourself in this situation, you politely decline the request to blow. If the Austin police department has its way, you may still find yourself sharing your blood alcohol level with the law.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo is hoping to use money from a federal grant to train officers to take suspected drunk drivers to jail and, with a search warrant, draw a blood sample. As Acevedo explains it, this practice will save taxpayer money. Since the arresting officer will already be in court to testify concerning the arrest, he might as well also take on the duties of a jail nurse. Acevedo has stated that he has as many officers ready to train as the federal government can fund.

Austin DWI Attorney Ken Gibson shares a different perspective. He believes that, even with training, police officers are not qualified to stick needles in people’s arms. Both the police department and the city risk a great deal of liability if the procedure is not done correctly. Gibson says that people who exercise the right to refuse a breathalyzer test should not be worried that they will get stuck with a needle instead.

At Bertolino LLP, we have aggressive criminal defense attorneys who can assist you if you have been accused of a crime while under the influence. Please contact us if we can be of assistance to you.