Friday, August 29, 2008

Head of Shipley Donuts Pleads Guilty Following Immigration Raid

We have seen a flurry of immigration raids across the country in recent months, with effects ranging from changed demographics to entire communities to a need for new business tactics by factory and farm owners whose hiring practices had been unchallenged for decades. Texas certainly has not been without its own immigration controversies, and the makers of those delicious deep-fried treats that partner so perfectly with morning coffee have been caught in the net.

The President of Shipley Do-Nut Company, Lawrence Shipley (I'll bet that name isn't a coincidence), pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to the misdemeanor charge of employing undocumented workers. While the maximum penalty for this crime could have been six months in jail and $15,000 fine, Mr. Shipley received six months of probation and a $6000 fine. The company also has agreed to pay a $1.3 million fine in return for the federal government agreeing not to go after the housing owned by the company and used to house employees.

The charges answered by Mr. Shipley yesterday stemmed from a raid back in April at the company headquarters and warehouse complex in Houston. The request for proper immigration documents confirmed that forty percent of the workers caught in the raid were in the United States illegally. The efforts were led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has received mixed reviews from politicians and community leaders and has been the subject of previous blog posts here.

With the charged political environment right now in this country, you can expect that immigration raids will continue to occur and make headlines. At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who specialize in immigration law. If you find yourself involved in any type of immigration situation that requires legal counsel, please contact our Austin, San Antonio, or Houston office for assistance today.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Enzyte Founder Sentenced to 25 Years Hard Time

As reported on the WSJ Law Blog, the founder of Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals's subsidiary Enzyte, Steve Warshak, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for defrauding its less endowed opportunistic consumers. Hedging its brand on promised "strength" and "power," Enzyte used a fictional happy character named "Bob" to hawk natural male enhancement products during late night television for years.

On Wednesday, however, U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel sentenced Steve Warshak to 25 years in prison after he was convicted in February on 93 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering after the prosecution presented a story of deceptive ads, manipulated credit card transactions and refusal to accept returns or cancel orders. The sentence closely mirrors those received by WorldCom’s Bernie Ebbers and Enron’s Jeff Skilling. In addition to Warshak's prison sentence, Judge Spiegel also ordered both the company and Warshak to forfeit more than $500 million that the company's hard earned sales. .

The Fate of Hilary Duff's Birthday Party Determined in Houston Courtroom

Perhaps you consider yourself too mature be concerned with the latest gossip concerning Miley Cyrus, or you don't have ten-year-old daughter (like I do) who shares the latest news breaks with you. If you are looking for more grown-up current events, you instead have the option of following Miley's prequel in Disney superstar status, Hilary Duff. The entire Duff family has often found itself in the news recently, as Hilary's parents are battling through an unfriendly divorce in a Houston courtroom. The regular media disclosures of the nasty proceedings, which started two and a half years ago, remind all of us that celebrity status does not protect people from the painful realities of divorce.

Bob and Susan Duff sat on opposite ends of the courtroom yesterday with their attorneys battling over the fate of a critical issue ... who is going to pay for Hilary's 21st birthday party? Apparently, the Duff parents spent $25,000 on a present and party for Hilary's older sister a couple of years ago and her mother wants to make sure that the siblings are treated equally. When Bob Duff attorney's questioned how his client was supposed to produce that large sum of money, the estranged Mrs. Duff responded that he could "get it from the same place he got money to buy presents for his girlfriend's sons." Ouch. At the end of the hearing, Judge Thomas Stansbury ordered Mr. Duff to pay $12,500 towards the cost of his younger daughter's birthday extravaganza.

This birthday invoice was not the only painful piece of financial news that Bob Duff received yesterday. Until a final settlement is reached, neither party in the divorce is supposed to sell off assets. Mr. Duff was led away in handcuffs to serve ten days in jail for contempt of court after the judge learned that he sold over $350,000 worth of stock last month. That money must now be paid into a court repository.

When a couple enters into divorce proceedings with anger and resentment, every detail becomes a point of contention. You need a lawyer with knowledge and experience on your side. At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who specialize in the senstive details surrounding divorce and family law. If you are need of legal counsel for your divorce, please contact our Austin, San Antonio, or Houston office today.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fathers, be good to your daughters.

An analysis of child abuse cases in a nationally representative sample of 42 counties found that children from single-parent families are more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse than children who live with both biological parents. Compared to their peers living with both parents, children in single parent homes had:

- a 77% greater risk of being physically abused;

- an 87% greater risk of being harmed by physical neglect;

- a 165% greater risk of experiencing notable physical neglect;

- a 74% greater risk of suffering from emotional neglect;

- an 80% greater risk of suffering serious injury as a result of abuse;

- overall, a 120% greater risk of being endangered by some type of child abuse.

Source: Sedlak, Andrea J. and Diane D. Broadhurst. The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect: Final Report. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, D.C., September 1996.

"On behalf of every man looking out for every girl,
You are the god and the weight of her world."

"So fathers, be good to your daughters.
Daughters will love like you do.
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers,
So mothers be good to your daughters, too."

-John Mayer

San Antonio Mother Accused of Attempting to Prostitute Young Daughter

I hope that my blog readers (and non-readers alike) will agree that there are no crimes worse than those committed against children. The tragedy is multiplied when the offender is a parent who is supposedly responsible for the love and protection of these most innocent members of our society. The recent story that is unfolding in San Antonio, Texas has left many people in this area, and across the country, sickened by the details.

Mother-of-the-year nominee Jennifer Richards, 25, is charged with using interstate facilities to transmit information about a minor. Her married (to someone else) boyfriend, Sean Michael Block, is charged with distributing child pornography. The specifics behind these federal charges? Richards offered her five-year-old daughter for sex in exchange for an apartment and a used car, with her ten-month-old daughter being promised as an eventual offering for child rape as well. According to the affidavit, Richards actually believed that the sexual experience would be positive for her young daughter. For his part, Block allegedly advertised his girlfriend's child through text messages and emailed links to child pornography sites.

Richards' attorney claims that the internet conversations were nothing more than fantasy and that the girls were never actually harmed. I'll leave it to those involved in the trial to determine the plausibility of this explanation, but I imagine these two co-workers at The Cheesecake Factory are going to have difficulty fighting the evidence the FBI has gathered against them.

The charge against Richards is part of the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, which prohibits the use of mail or computers to transmit information about a minor under the age of eighteen for criminal sexual purposes. If found guilty, she faces a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

The attorneys at Bertolino LLP believe that everyone is entitled to aggressive representation under the United States and Texas Constitutions, regardless of the nature of the crime. If you need legal counsel, please contact our Austin, San Antonio, or Houston offices today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Houston Teen Pleads Guilty to Using Skull as Drug Accessory

There are times when Houston receives international attention and we are all very proud. We welcomed those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Just three years ago, our Astros made it to the World Series (I forget who won ...) And, let's be honest, what is one of the first words you think of when you see an astronaut? But then, there are other moments when some residents of the Houston area makes us all cringe. One of those instances happened in March when three teens were charged with the misdemeanor of abusing a corpse. The reason the young men found it necessary to disturb the long-resting skeleton? They wanted to use the skull as a bong.

According to Texas law, a person is guilty of abusing a corpse if he "without legal authority, knowingly disinters, disturbs, damages, dissects, in whole or in part, carries away, or treats in an offensive manner a human corpse." In the particular case involving these fine Houston youth, the corpse disturbed was that of an eleven-year-old boy who was buried in 1921.

One of the teens, Kevin Wade Jones, pleaded guilty to the charge yesterday and is now preparing to spend 240 days in county jail. Perhaps it's fitting that Jones is the first of the trio to admit to the crime, as it was his discussion with police that led to the grave site investigation. Jones was being questioned about a stolen credit card when he decided that the moment was right to share his other illegal activity as well. Was an attempt at distraction? Certainly after someone tells me, "I ripped the head off a dead person to smoke some dope," I might forget about the video games purchased with someone else's MasterCard.

We have criminal defense attorneys on stand by at Bertolino LLP who are ready to deal with any unusual charges you may be facing. Please feel free to get in touch with us at our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office if we can be of service to you.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Texas Agency to Crackdown on Collegiate Bootleggers

When you hear the word "bootlegging," you probably think of some Great Gatsby-era speakeasy at which revelers downed whiskey until that dreaded knock on the door from law enforcement. However, you don't need to be a flapper or an expert at dancing the Charleston to be considered a bootlegger in Texas. And, if the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has its way, that unexpected reality is going to be discovered by college students across the state this fall.

According to state law, bootlegging occurs whenever someone charges admission to a private, unsanctioned party at which alcohol is being served. This practice is considered equivalent to operating a club illegally, and the consequences are serious. So, a word of caution to all of my college-aged readers ... that $5.00 cup fee you are charging at this weekend's keg party may become more than a means to make up the costs of the festivities. You may be hosting your way to a criminal record, as well as $2000 fine and six months in jail. Take the time to get a temporary permit to sell alcohol and your legal worries can be eased.

This little-known bootlegging law has not often been enforced in recent decades, and therefore came as a surprise to those already arrested in the recent crackdown. However, perhaps due to the element of surprise, the TABC has decided this new approach is worth a try. The hope is that the arrests will minimize the noise and underage drinking at the annual parties that surround the return to college campuses every fall.

At Bertolino LLP, while we certainly do not support underage drinking or any crime that flourished during Prohibition, we have attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who can help you if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law. Contact our offices and speak with one of our criminal defense attorneys today.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Florida Accident Mirrors Mexican-Texas Border Accident

Early this morning, a Miami Beach cabbie plowed into a group of cyclists in an accident eerily similar to an event that's photograph flooded e-mail accounts earlier this year. The accident happened on the MacArthur Causeway at approximately 8:00 am as a group of cyclists were out for a leisurely ride. The Miami Herald reports:

The 8 a.m. accident left many of the riders sprawled on the pavement in the eastbound lane and sent six to the hospital. The most seriously injured was a 48-year-old rushed to Ryder Trauma Center in critical condition. Five others were brought to the hospital in stable condition. Some were later released.

The alleged driver, Hebert Morais, worked for Checker Cab and apparently openly admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel of the car. If true, Morais is likely to be hit with a variety of charges and find himself in need of a Miami criminal defense attorney. As of late Sunday, however, Morais had yet to be charged.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Houston Texan Jameel Cook Arrested for Drug Possession

The season hasn't even started yet and the Houston Texans will be competing in what is arguably the most difficult division in the National Football League. And, now the team is facing the possibility that it may be taking the field on Opening Day without one of its players. In this instance, the cause for the absence is not an unfortunate injury during practice or the birth of a child (we didn't acquire Travis Henry, right?). Instead, the Texans are dealing with the increasingly common occurrence of an athlete mugshot.

Fullback Jameel Cook was arrested and jailed on Wednesday for possessing marijuana in his car. How did the police discover this illegal narcotic in Cook's Mercedes? The car was missing a front license plate and registration sticker. That's not exactly the best way to travel unnoticed. When the officer asked Mr. Cook for the standard "license, registation, and proof of registration, please" items, he failed on all three counts.

Cook still holds a Florida driver's license, which was suspended three months ago. Let's cut the guy some slack, though. He only got traded from Tampa Bay two years ago. A man needs time to attend to all those details associated with moving. The car's registration (which was done in Texas ... point for Cook!) expired in July of last year. And, he had no proof of liability insurance. All of these problematic details gave enough cause for the officer to search Cook's car.

Mr. Cook is free today on $500 bond, with future consequences to be learned over the next few months. Texas has some of the harshest drug laws in the country, with even the smallest amoung of marijuana possession leading to the possibility of six months in jail.

If you are concerned that an alleged recreational drug hobby will prevent you from suiting up for your livelihood as a professional athlete, or even if your work is not broadcast on national television every week, Bertolino LLP can help. We have criminal defense attorneys who will provide you with assertive and thorough representation in court.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Man Charged With Illegally Dumping a House in Austin

Anyone who travels along busy roads will see the ugly results of a person's decision to litter. Food wrappers, cigarette butts, or a random shoe (how exactly does that happen?) are not uncommon sights along the shoulder of any interstate. The cute signs, something like "STOP" L"IT"TERING, are usually posted with the accompanying fine for those who choose to use the highways as a convenient trash receptacle. Paul Morris Miller decided not only would he ignore the littering laws of Texas, but he would flaunt his defiance. He dumped a house!

Mr. Miller was stopped by members of the Travis County Sheriff's Office back in April because the two-story house he was hauling was so large that traffic was prohibited from passing his vehicle. The police quickly learned that Miller did not have a driver's license nor the necessary permit to transport such a large item. Miller left the nomadic home in an open lot with the promise that a person with the legal paperwork would return the following day to complete the house's journey. This promise has remained unfulfilled because the house still sits in the same lot, travels aborted.

Amazingly enough, Miller is a repeat offender when it comes to illegal house dumping, as he has been charged with this crime twice before. I cannot imagine Miller has a stellar rating from the Better Business Bureau based on this propensity to leave people homeless. If convicted of illegal dumping in this instance, Miller faces up to two years in a state jail.

Bertolino LLP has attorneys ready to assist you if you find yourself charged with any crime, whether or not a large, abandoned structure is involved in the charges. We promise experienced and intelligent defense for all of our clients. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office and let's discuss your case.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Houston Teacher Leads Double Life as Prostitute

We have all read the stories about how our public school teachers are deserving of higher pay. From the halls of Congress to the smallest of city councils, elected officials have struggled with how to provide fitting salaries for those who impart wisdom on our children. Growing up, I had teachers who held second jobs as sales clerks, tutors, and even bartenders just to pay the bills. I must admit, however, that I never (at least knowingly) had a teacher who earned additional income through the same means as Laurie Lewis.

Ms. Lewis, a theater teacher and student council advisor at Cleveland High School, was arrested earlier this week on charges of prostitution. She got caught as part of a greater police operation that was infiltrating escort chat rooms. She agreed to meet an undercover officer at the Four Seasons for $300 with the agreement that she would participate in "sexual conduct." According to Texas penal code, a person is guilty of prostitution if she knowingly "offers to engage, agrees to engage, or engages in sexual conduct for a fee." Ms. Lewis faces a $2000 fine and six months in jail, as well as the likely need to find a new legitimate career, if she is found guilty.

Understandably, Laurie Lewis' students and their parents are a bit shocked by the news. As parent Susan Swearingen said, "They [the students] are already influenced by some of the younger teachers, and to have something like that ... that's not right." To any students who may be reading this blog, let me offer you some free legal advice. Do not allow yourself to be influenced by your teacher in this instance! Good things will not happen.

At Bertolino LLP, we believe that every person who has been accused of a crime deserves an aggressive and experienced defense attorney working on his or her behalf. If you are a teacher who has been working from a more mature lesson plan after dark, or if you are facing any other criminal charges, please contact our offices in Austin, Houston, or San Antonio and let's see how we can help.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some Teachers in Texas Can Now Pack Heat

A tiny school district in Texas has garnered national attention with its recent decision that teachers and staff will be allowed to carry guns. With Governor Rick Perry now announcing his support for the decision made by the Harold Independent School District, can other school systems in Texas be far behind? It may not be long before mean, old Ms. Smith taps more than a ruler on the chalkboard when you miss that algebra problem. So much for Mr. Hunter using that silly cap gun to start the sprints during gym class!

The weapons aren’t actually intended to be used as a teaching accessory, although the scenarios above are rather amusing to imagine. Instead, the concealed firearms would serve the purpose of deterring and protecting against school shootings. The schools in this district are located more than a half-hour from the nearest law enforcement, so the faculty must rely on themselves in a security crisis.

As the district superintendent, David Thweatt, said, "We have a lock-down situation, we have cameras, but the question we had to answer is, 'What if somebody gets in? What are we going to do? It's just common sense’."

Texas law, while outlawing firearms on school campuses in general, does allow for exceptions when there is “written authorization of the institution." In its new policy, the district has determined that teachers must have a concealed handgun license, be authorized to carry the weapon, have crisis management training, and … this is my favorite part … use ammunition that will bounce around the school hallways as little as possible.

If you have been accused of carrying a firearm in a location not allowed under Texas law, the criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Please contact us and let’s discuss your situation.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Suspect in Slaying of Austin Cabbies Faces Death Penalty

Preparations are underway in Austin for a trial that involves issues of murder, illegal gun ownership, and the sentencing laws of Texas. Each one of these controversial points will provide plenty of material for both legal scholars and amateur analysts to dissect, and the local blogs are already buzzing with heated opinions.

Alberto Garcia has been charged with killing two Austin cabbies eighteen years ago. He allegedly shot the men with a weapon that was purchased despite his prohibitive status as a felon. Garcia had a long rap sheet, including multiple aggravated robberies and a theft, but an upstanding shop owner still decided that he should be allowed to walk away with two guns. Garcia has already been found guilty of using these guns to rob three Austin banks in 2000 (which led to his current residence at a federal prison) and over the past few years the Travis County Police Department has discovered pieces of evidence to tie him to the cabbie slayings as well.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle originally announced that he would not seek the death penalty for Alberto Garcia. However, prosecutors soon learned that the death penalty option could not be waived under 1990 law, when the crimes were committed. So, both crimes will be combined into one trial to show that Garcia murdered "pursuant to the same scheme and course of conduct," therefore making the death penalty a strong possibility.

The jury will use the sequence of questions that were applicable in 1990 to determine Garcia's guilt. Did he act deliberately knowing that death could occur? Is Garcia likely to commit further violent acts? Was the violent act in question unreasonable considering any provocation by the deceased? If the jury answers "yes" to all questions, then Garcia gets the death penalty.

At Bertolino LLP, we have criminal defense attorneys who are aggressive even in these most serious of circumstances. If you find yourself in need of legal representation, please give us a call.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Texas Mother Uses Daughter as Designated Driver

Texan Jennifer Rosenberg allegedly had her 12-year-old daughter be her designated driver as she celebrated her 35th birthday at a Longview bar. Rosenberg was arrested on charges of child endangerment - a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in a state jail facility - after her daughter was pulled over by police for failing to use a turn signal while driving her mother's blue mini-van home. When questioned by officers, the younger Rosenberg told officers that she had just dropped her mother off at a bar. A copy of the probable cause affidavit is available here.

Like most criminal defendants in child endangerment cases, Rosenberg is also likely to be the subject of an investigation by various other agencies.

In Texas, you can generally leave your child at home as long as they are capable of taking care of themselves. However, when you begin allowing your 12 year-old to drive around town unsupervised, you are obviously going to have problems.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Texas Preteen Drives Mother to Bar for Birthday Celebration

The competition for Mother of the Year is going to be quite fierce this year. There's frontrunner, Casey Anthony, who waited a year to report her still-missing little girl in Florida. We cannot forget the Wyoming mother who left her three children in her card at 1:ooam so that she could play Texas Hold 'Em at a local bar. And now, Jennifer Lynn Rosenburg of Longview, Texas can add her name to the list of serious contenders.

I suppose one could argue that Ms. Rosenburg was being responsible. Instead of driving while intoxicated, she handed over her keys and allowed someone else to drive her to the neighborhood bar. Unfortunately, the designated chauffeur was her twelve-year-old daughter. The brilliant scheme unraveled when police stopped a blue minivan that turned into a driveway without a signal and then proceeded to roll slowly into the unsuspecting home. The preteen who was removed from behind the steering wheel admitted that she had left her mother at Leon's Steak House to celebrate her thirty-fifth birthday in style.

Ms. Rosenburg spent Wednesday night in jail on $2500 bond facing charges of child endangerment--not such a happy birthday after all. Endangerment laws make it a crime to risk the health or life of a child through an adult's recklessness or indifference. Texas has one of the strictest punishments, up to twenty years in prison, for those convicted of the serious instances of endangerment.

Please do not use your children as transporation to your favorite watering hole. Call a taxi or, even better, just invite your friends over to your place for a relaxing evening of board games and charades. Very little criminal activity has stemmed from such pasttimes. However, if you do find yourself dealing with such charges, Bertolino LLP has criminal defense attorneys who are ready to help.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I said, where were you born, boy?

Recently, our firm was retained by a client who, though having been born, raised and living his entire life in Austin, Texas, was having difficulty obtaining a certified copy of his birth certificate from the Bureau of Vital Statistics, a division of the Texas Department of State Health Services. Because he could not get a copy of his birth certificate, he was unable to also get a passport, something that any U.S. resident should be able to do freely.

At first blush, this client's problem seemed to be merely a misunderstanding and would be easily resolved with a couple of phone calls. My first impression was wrong. As a result of the events of September 11, 2001, and the collective response to those events, including passage of the Patriot Act, the "war" on terror, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc., life for most of us has become ridiculously complicated.

Even though our client had a signed court order from the 1950's declaring who he was, who his parents were, and where he was born, the Bureau of Vital Statistics refused to issue a birth certificate based on the order because the agency did not regard the court's order as authoritative or binding on the agency. When pressed, the agency said that they were actually doing our client a favor in that even if the agency did issue the birth certificate we requested, the U.S. Department of State would likely not issue a passport to our client based on the fact that he was born at home and the original birth certificate application filed on his behalf was filed by a midwife, or a partera as they are known as Mexican-American culture.

Apparently, according to the Wall Street Journal, our client is not the only American having trouble getting the Bush Administration and the U.S. Department of State to act like "civil" servants. It seems that in the early 1990s, dozens of midwives along the Texas border were convicted of forging U.S. birth certificates for about 15,000 children born in Mexico as far back as the 1960s. As a result, the U.S. government no longer trusts that anyone born in southwest Texas who was delivered by a midwife is an American citizen. In such cases, the government demands additional proof -- a demand that has applicants scouring school warehouses and church offices to document their pasts.

Is it indignity enough that anyone has to endure their own government denying their individual citizenship. Imagine trying to prove that you are who you say you are without a birth certificate! If you are suffering at the hands of the U.S. Department of State as many others apparently are, don't remain silent. Let someone know that this kind of behavior by one's own government is completely unacceptable.

Texas Woman Ticketed for Foul Language at Wal-Mart

What are the first words or phrases that come to your mind when you think of Wal-Mart? Perhaps “unbeatable prices” is your initial thought. Or, maybe “convenience” is your word of choice. After all, where else can you buy a rifle, a Garth Brooks CD, a head of lettuce and socks at 2:00am? Still others may answer with an image of the sophisticated and refined customers that frequent the megastore. If you fall into this last category, then your perception of Wal-Mart is about to be shattered. Last week, a female shopper was ticketed for using foul language loudly and repeatedly while inside the LaMarque, Texas location of Sam Walton’s little dream.

Kathryn Fridge was overheard using the “f-word” while perusing the aisles of Wal-Mart the night before Tropical Storm Eduardo. Little did this young mother know that LaMarque’s assistant fire marshal, Alfred Decker, was within earshot and he did not appreciate her foul mouth one bit. Decker approached the wanna-be sailor and said, “Ma'am, please refrain from using that language. You're not allowed to cuss in public like that.” This request was only met by Fridge with more emphatic expletives.

Mr. Decker determined that a ticket for disorderly conduct was needed. And, when Fridge refused to calm down after the altercation was moved to the parking lot, Decker found it necessary to cuff her. Were Decker’s actions excessive and an infringement on free speech? Or, do we rightfully rely on our members of law enforcement to maintain a certain level of politeness and civility in public places? According to Texas penal code, Decker did not extend past his rights as an officer of the law. One instance of disorderly conduct is defined as someone who “intentionally or knowingly uses abusive, indecent, profane, or vulgar language in a public place, and the language by its very utterance tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”

If you have been accused of screaming words banned from network television or a more serious offense, Bertolino LLP has criminal defense attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio ready to help you. Please contact us today.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Paris Hilton Sued in Miami Federal Court for Refusing to Promote Movie

Even though she became a household name as a result of a movie in which the acting was lackluster and the direction questionable in its technique, Paris Hilton has refused to take part in publicity for another bad production in which she starred. Ms. Hilton played a sorority queen at fictional South Beach University in the 2006 masterpiece National Lampoon’s Pledge This. When the time came to work the interview circuit, she refused to promote the film because she was angry that a lot of nudity ended up as, I am sure, integral moments in plot development (the irony in her indignant protest is quite amusing). Paris Hilton is now being sued in Miami federal court by The Entertainment Group Fund. The alleged breach of contract cost the company lost revenue and profits and they are suing Ms. Hilton for an undisclosed sum.

The Entertainment Group Fund has a strong incentive for seeking money from Paris Hilton. It is an affiliate of Worldwide Entertainment Group, which is being accused of stealing $300 million from investors. The Securities and Exchange Commission first sued Worldwide Entertainment on these charges in 2005, and Ms. Hilton’s settlement money sure would be handy in paying off at least a slice of that debt. Perhaps Ms. Hilton can continue the chain of suing someone in hopes of paying for another suit … I’m sure Nicole Richie has done something worthy of a small claims court appearance.

Personally, I do not understand why Paris Hilton needed to do any publicity for Pledge This. I would imagine that a woman who has proven her acting chops in films such as House of Wax and The Hottie and the Nottie would drive people to the theaters based on reputation alone. I guess Meryl Streep is safe in her respected position among American actresses, at least for now.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who specialize in celebrity and entertainment law. If you don’t feel like promoting your next straight-to-DVD movie, give us a call and we will help you resolve the situation.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Houston Man Arrested for Photographs of Topless Sunbathers in Austin

What’s a fellow to do when he walks into his local convenience store with hard-earned money only to discover that his favorite “gentleman’s magazine” is sold out? Does he go home disappointed, the well-developed plans for a perfect evening thwarted by the inability of the store’s manager to maintain a full inventory? Not if you’re Phu V. Nguyen! He took matters … and a camera … into his own hands.

Mr. Nguyen, a resident of Houston, has been charged with improper photography after he was spotted taking pictures of two topless female sunbathers at Lake Travis in Austin. According to the park ranger who arrested Nguyen near Hippie Hollow Park (perfect setting for such an incident), the shutterbug seemed to be “fixated and overly interested in the two females.” And, although Nguyen first insisted he had nothing more than binoculars, the ranger requested a search and found a camera containing photos of both women.

Texas defines improper photography as “taking a photograph of someone or visually recording them without the person's consent and with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.” If convicted, Nguyen could face up to two years in jail for his recorded fixation. However, Nguyen’s guilt is not so clear. The issue of intent must first be proven. Perhaps Nguyen appreciated the artistic beauty of the female form, nothing more. Or, maybe he was trying to capture the perfect photograph of a rare butterfly and the two women just happened to be nearby every time. The location chosen by the sunbathers also could raise some questions. Lake Travis is a public setting and a court could decide that implicit consent was given once the two ladies decided to remove their tops in a location accessible to anyone.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who are ready to help you with any criminal charges you are facing. Make an appointment to visit with us and discuss your case … but leave the cameras at home.

Monday, August 11, 2008

First of “Texas 7” Escapees to Be Executed This Week

Another Texas criminal case that received national attention will be reaching a new stage this week. Most readers will recall the infamous “Texas 7” who escaped from state prison eight years ago with grand plans to travel to Vegas and rob a casino. The men were captured in Colorado, short of their Sin City destination, and the first of the six surviving members (one committed suicide as arresting officers approached) will be put to death in the next few days.

For those not familiar with the story, the soon-to-be-executed Michael Rodriguez and six companions overpowered workers at the prison system’s Connally Unit in South Texas. After retrieving a getaway car left by Rodriguez’s father (now there’s a dad who helps his kid pursue a dream), the seven convicts decided to rob a sporting good store in Irving, Texas. It was at this location that they murdered police officer Aubrey Hawkins (pictured above). While their crimes up to this point were certainly severe, this fatal act of violence sealed their sentence upon capture.

According to Texas state law, the death penalty may be imposed on those found guilty of a capital felony, which means that someone "intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual under special circumstances.” The Texas 7 qualify for more than one of the determined circumstances, since they committed both “murder of a public safety officer” and “murder during the commission of specified felonies (robbery).”

Rodriguez is ready to face the death sentence. He worked for more than a year to cease attempts at any further appeals. In his only interview with the press, Rodriguez said, "I think it's a fair sentence," he added. "I need to pay back. I can't pay back monetarily. This is the way." Understandably, the wife of slain officer Hawkins replied that the apology and feelings of remorse come more than a little late for her husband.

Regardless of the crime for which you have been accused, you are entitled to a strong and aggressive defense. At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys in Austin, Houston and San Antonio who can protect your rights in court. Contact us and let’s discuss your case.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Aspiring Bail Bondsman Jailed in Miami for Presidential Death Threats

Raymond Geisel was detained by Secret Service agents on Saturday after he allegedly made a death threat against Presidential candidate Barack Obama during a bail bondsman class in Miami, Florida. The alleged threat was, "If he gets elected, I'll assassinate him myself." Geisel also is rumored to have made a generalized threat against current President George W. Bush and stated that he would "put a bullet in his head."

A sworn affidavit filed with U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida states that Geisel has denied making the threats. During interrogation he purportedly joked that if he were to shoot Senator Barack Obama he would do so with a sniper rifle. The affidavit also contains a laundry list of items seized from Geisel's vehicle after his arrest, including armor-piercing bullets, nnumerous military fatigue uniforms, a machete, numerous hand-held radios, police-type emergency lights, a handgun, 9mm ammunition, a small knife, police-type raid vest, and .223 caliber ammunition.

Geisel won't be able to put any of the knowledge he gained from his bail bondsman class. U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen T. Brown denied Geisel's request for bail and ordered that he remain jailed until his trial, finding Geisel a danger to the community and a risk to run away before his date in court. Geisel is next scheduled to appear for court on August 18 when he will enter a plea if he has been officially indicted.

Geisel's girlfriend on the otherhand is getting creative with possible theories for her love's defense. She suggests that Geisel must have confused the name of the al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden with that of the Presidential candidate.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Attorneys for Clemens Argues to Keep Defamation Case in Houston

As we all remember, Congress put aside those petty issues of high gas prices and immigration policy to question professional baseball players (both former and current) concerning the use of steroids in their sport. As a result, dozens of athletes were publicly accused of using some concoction in a needle to enhance their play. Roger Clemens, formerly of the Houston Astros, was one of the men whose superior pitching arm was attributed to more than natural talent. In defense of the body he claims was developed from hard training, Clemens has filed a defamation suit against his former trainer, Brian McNamee.

McNamee and his attorney have been advocating for a change of venue away from the city of Houston. I guess the threat of facing a jury box filled with Astros fans waving those big foam fingers was not an appealing thought for the defendant.

Clemens’ attorney, Rusty Hardin, on the other hand, wants the trial to stay in Houston. In fact, he will be filing a motion in federal court tomorrow to keep the high-profile case in his client’s place of residence. In explaining this recent legal action, Hardin said, “We basically filed a brief that says if you injure someone in Houston, Texas, you should properly be held accountable in Houston. McNamee slandered Roger in Houston, and that’s where the injury occurred.”

It’s only natural … who doesn’t like home-field advantage? Perhaps, in honor of Clemens’ former team, Hardin will find a courtroom that has a retractable roof and then insist that the roof remain closed while he pipes in deafening sounds of people cheering. Of course, even without such advantages, Clemens makes a compelling case on his own behalf. As the All-Star said in an interview from his home in Katy, TX last year, "If he's doing that to me, I should have a third ear coming out of my forehead. I should be pulling tractors with my teeth." Now, there’s a man who has been reading his Alarming Side Effects of Steroids manual.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who specialize in celebrity, sports and entertainment law. If you have been accused of steroid use, injured by an overzealous member of the paparazzi, or decided that your new contract is not worthy of your talents, please get in touch with us!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dixie Chick Finalizes Her Divorce from Austin Singer-Songwriter

News outlets reported today that popular Austin singer-songwriter Charlie Robison and Dixie Chick Emily Robison finalized their divorce on Wednesday. In an e-mail to the Associated Press, a Charlie Robison representative confirmed that Charlie and Emily will remain very close friends and keep their family their priority. Charlie and Emily had been married nine years and have three children together: Charles Augustus, 5, and 3-year-old twins Julianna Tex and Henry Benjamin.

Charlie Robison's divorce attorney filed his petition for divorce in Bexar County in January on the grounds of insupportability due to discord or conflict of personalities. The divorce was presumably filed in Bexar County because the couple own a ranch near Medina, Texas, just northwest of San Antonio, Texas. It is believed the parties were able to reach an agreement regarding both conservatorship and division of property and both parties attended the prove-up hearing together with their family law attorneys on Wednesday.

A sampling of Charlie's music can be found on his official MySpace page. Good times can be had at either of Charlie's upcoming shows at Gruene Hall on August 30th or 31st.

Jury Seated in Trial for Wife of Houston Pastor Joel Osteen

Texas, and particularly Houston, is known for its growing trend of mega-churches. Among the current crop of charismatic preachers who have garnered substantial attention, perhaps no one has enjoyed more national success than Joel Osteen. As pastor of the Houston-based Lakewood Church, his sermons are televised across the country every week. He also has been interviewed on all of the major news programs and his books are huge bestsellers. However, Osteen’s latest media exposure is not of the inspirational sort.

Victoria Osteen, Joel’s wife and co-pastor of Lakewood Church, is being sued by Continental flight attendant Sharon Brown over an alleged altercation that took place before a flight from Houston to Vail, Colorado. According to Ms. Brown, Victoria Osteen insisted that a flight attendant clean some liquid on her armrest and, when her request was not promptly addressed, she then tried to get into the cockpit (an act that is mildly frowned upon these days) and plead her case to the pilot. Brown got in the middle of the attempted discussion and, at that point, was allegedly assaulted by Mrs. Osteen.

Osteen’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, claims that nothing more happened than a request for napkins by his client followed by a brief verbal confrontation. Osteen has already paid a $3000 fine to the Federal Aviation Administration for interfering with a flight crew member, which lends itself to some evidence of guilt.

Brown is asking for a large chunk of change in her suit. She wants Osteen to pay for her medical bills (due to hemorrhoids … yikes!) and counseling sessions (due to loss of religious faith), as well as to hand over 10% of her substantial net worth as punitive damages.

If you have experienced pain and suffering at either end of your body (or somewhere in between) due to the acts of another person, please contact one of the personal injury lawyers at Bertolino LLP. We will work with you to find the justice you deserve.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"That's what you come to civil court for..."

This week a jury was seated in order to hear the personal injury claim of Sharon Brown, a Continental flight attendant who claims she was the victim of an incident of "air rage" at the hands of Victoria O'Steen, wife of Joel Osteen and, with her husband, co-pastor of Lakewood Church, one of the largest churches in the United States.

Ms. Brown claims that she was assaulted by Ms. O'Steen. It seems Ms. O'Steen had asked two other members of the Continental flight crew to clean a spill on her seat before she sat down, to no avail. Ms. Brown claims that Ms. O'Steen then threw her against a bathroom door and elbowed her in the left breast during an angry outburst that ensued. Ms. Brown has brough suit, claiming that she suffers from anxiety and hemorrhoids because of the incident and said her faith was affected. Ms. Brown is seeking a personal apology from Ms. O'Steen, compensatory medical damages for psychological counseling, and punitive damages amounting to ten percent of Ms. O'Steen's total personal net worth. Who says there is no such thing as a free lunch.

I can assure you that I am the last person to go around protecting televangelists, but Ms. Brown is not the first person to have her faith tested as a result of being forced to endure air travel these days. It is next to impossible to board a plane, fly to one's destination and disembark without being the perpetrator or the victim of some kind of assault. Further, after enduring all that it took to put my eleven-year old daughter on a plane last weekend to go see her grandmother, I can truthfully assert that the ground personnel (TSA staff, ticketing agents, gate agents, etc.) are doing absolutely nothing to make the process run more smoothly or make your travels less stressful.

If Ms. Brown is so severly affected by such a seemingly minor incident, she should probably find a different line of work, something less stressful. The last thing I want in the event of an air emergency is a flight attendant who has an anxiety attack and soils herself. In the end, if you believe what Rusty Hardin, the attorney for Ms. O'Steen, has to say about the case, Ms. Brown is probably doing just that, looking for a new line of work - independent wealth manager.

Mexican National Executed Last Night in Texas

When you bring together such controversial subjects as the death penalty, immigration and the United Nations, you are certain to create a circumstance that garners a lot of attention. The execution of Jose Ernesto Medellin in a Texas prison last night was the culmination of a case that had received the international spotlight for many years.

Mr. Medellin was found guilty for his role in the gang rape and murder of two teenaged girls back in 1993 and was sentenced to the death penalty. While every death penalty case gets a certain amount of media attention, the fact that Medellin was a Mexican national captured the attention of lawmakers and activists across the globe. His attorneys filed a last-minute appeal stating that their client had been denied the opportunity to meet with the Mexican consulate. According to a 1963 treaty signed by the United States and 165 other countries, foreign nationals are to be given the right to meet with the consulate when facing criminal charges.

The United States faces plenty of international pressure concerning the death penalty, as its use of the practice is rare among industrialized countries. So, the high court of the United Nations used this opportunity to declare that Medellin’s rights had been violated and that there should be a stay to his execution. The United States Supreme Court thought otherwise, and Jose Medellin was declared dead by means of lethal injection at 9:56 p.m. on Tuesday night.

The concern among some attorneys is that this execution will place Americans in danger when they are in foreign countries. Will other governments now feel that they do not have to abide by the 1963 treaty? Sandra Babcock, a law professor at Northwestern University and an attorney for Medellin, said, "[This decision is] also about ordinary Americans who count on the protections of the consulate when they travel abroad in strange lands. It's about the reputation of the U.S. as a nation that adheres to the rule of law." At this time, Congress is still considering legislation that would launch an investigation into the handling of Medellin’s case. Medellin insisted that he told arresting officers that he was a Mexican citizen. The governor’s office maintains that this detail was not shared, and therefore the state cannot be held liable for not providing access to the consulate.

At Bertolino LLP, we have experienced and aggressive attorneys who can help with issues surrounding immigration law. We can also assist you if you are a Mexican national and need to coordinate with the Mexican Consulate. In fact, our Austin office shares the same block with the Mexican Consulate in downtown Austin. Please contact us if we can be of assistance to you.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Appeals Court to Review Moment of Silence in Texas Schools

Oh, that tricky First Amendment. While a wonderful component of our country’s Constitution, the details of its wording have been at the center of some of our most emotional court battles. The debate concerning “freedom of religion” in Texas public schools will take center stage in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this fall.

The exact text of the First Amendment concerning religion states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Almost since the ink was dry on the parchment, Americans have been arguing over the point at which our government’s actions cross the line into “establishing” a religion.

In 2003, Texas legislators passed a law requiring that all students follow the morning pledge with a minute of silence. The purpose of this quiet time is to allow our children to “reflect, pray, (or) meditate” before diving into their daily studies. As expected, not much time passed before the allowance (whether direct or implied) of prayer in school sparked some controversy.

A North Texas couple is appealing a January decision by U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn which upheld the state law allowing the moment of silence. As the lawyer for the couple stated, the state’s assertion that the silence should be used to reflect on personal patriotism is simply "a cover for reinstituting organized prayer in schools."

While no one is denying that it was the intention of some Texas legislators to bring prayer back into the classroom, Judge Lynn ruled that the secular arguments had to be considered when determining the legality of the case. As she stated after making her decision, "Legislators repeatedly emphasized that students could stare at their shoes, think about upcoming exams, think about their pets, engage in other nonverbal activities during the moment of silence, as well as pray, if they wished." So, since the state is not endorsing or requiring the practice of a particular religion, the moment of silence was allowed to continue.

Both sides have strong supporters following them to the Court of Appeals, and many friend-of-the-court briefs have been written. In a few months, we will know if Texas students will continue to start their days in silence, or if this practice is determined to be an instance of government overstepped its bounds.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Texas School District Has Coveralls for Dress Code Violators

School administrators have tried countless tactics to control the behavior of the teenagers who occupy their buildings for seven hours every day. They have removed the soda and snack machines from the cafeteria to curb obesity. Students at some schools are now required to wear photo IDs around their neck or carry only see-through backpacks to improve security. Now, one school district in Texas is going even further … they are assaulting the adolescent sense of fashion!

The Gonzales School District, which is located about an hour outside of San Antonio, is implementing a new policy that will require students who violate the dress code to wear blue coveralls unless parents bring an approved outfit from home. Spaghetti-strap tank tops, miniskirts, extra baggy pants, cargo pants, T-shirts or clothes that reveal underwear can all be deemed cover-worthy.

Some parents do not like the idea of children being told to wear clothing that resembles the standard-issue outfit given to prison inmates. (Fun fact – the coveralls actually are being made by inmates in the Texas prison system!) However, if parents do not have time to bring a new outfit to school, students also can opt for in-school suspension instead of wearing the jumpsuit.

As expected, there are legal questions being raised surrounding this new policy. Fleming Terrell, a staff attorney from the ACLU of Texas, said, "Public school dress codes should be limited to what's necessary to guard against actual disruption to the educational process and threats to safety. The jumpsuits may be just as distracting as the clothing they're replacing."

Terrell may be right. Students are certain to be talking about their new prison gear as much as, if not more than, their English homework. Some students are even planning to violate the dress code on purpose just to have the opportunity to wear the jumpsuits. Forget sweatpants with words written on the backside or shaggy haircuts … faux prison outfits are the hot, new trend!

At Bertolino LLP, we have criminal defense attorneys available to help you if you find yourself in a real prison jumpsuit. If the allegations against you are more serious than wearing jeans without a belt, please contact us and let’s discuss your case.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Another Raw Deal?

Earlier this week a Boca Raton woman sued two University of Florida fraternity brothers for secretly videotaping a sexual encounter she had with one of them. The complaint alleges that fraternity brothers Ben Farias and Kyle Kraft conspired to videotape the encounter without her consent when she went to Farias's room at the fraternity house and engaged in "consensual sexual foreplay and were in a state of complete undress." The complaint is brought on the grounds of invasion of privacy, fraud, and negligence.

Another case of oversexed and entrepeneuring fraternity brothers, right? Not so fast.

You may recall the story of Lisa G, the exotic dancer who claimed rape at a 1999 Delta Chi fraternity party. The nights events were chronicled in Cocaine Cowboys director Billy Corben's Raw Deal: A Question of Consent which shows a lot of the events surrounding the time Lisa G was back at the fraternity house through the two home videos made by the fraternity members. Police relied on the two tapes in reaching their determination that the sexual encounter was consentual and not worthy of a criminal charge.

Perhaps Farias and Kraft had learned from their Delta Chi predecessors and the video tapes were intended to be used to rebut bogus rape allegations like those above. Under such a scenario, the tapes would help Farias disprove any claims that the sexual encounter was not cosentual and would not be intended for release to third parties. Such an argument, if supported by the appropriate factual evidence, could help the fraternity brothers defend forthcoming claims for punitive damages. Used properly, this theory could help negate the plaintiff's likely claim that Farias and Kraft acted maliciously and as such she is entitled to recovery of punitive damages.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Oil Company Cheating Consumers at Houston, Texas Gas Pumps

What are some of the first thoughts that come to your mind when you think about the prices you are paying at the gas pump these days? I imagine that many of your choice words cannot be written on this blog without sacrificing my professionalism. Would your frustrations be heightened if you discovered that an oil company was cheating you out of some of the expensive gas for which you were paying? Unfortunately, it was discovered recently that Petroleum Wholesale has been cheating consumers at their Sunmart gas pumps, with many of the violations occurring in the Houston area.

An investigation by the Texas Department of Agriculture discovered that the pumps at Sunmart had been calibrated to dispense less fuel than required. I’m curious … which board member decided that was a good idea at the last corporate meeting – “I know … let’s withhold some gas from our valued customers. It’s not like they are counting every drop of every gallon these days. I’m sure no one will notice.” With attention focused on fuel prices more than nearly any other topic in this country, this probably was not the wisest time to experiment with trickery at the pumps.

The lawsuit filed against Petroleum Wholesale accuses the company of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by deliberating rigging the gas pumps. So, what happens now … a slap on the wrist? Not even close. Each violation carries a potential fine of $20,000. With 985 pumps across the state, the company is looking at nearly $20 million a day in penalties. And, that’s if each pump is used only once! As Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said, Petroleum Wholesale is “facing a potential financial death penalty.”

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys in our Austin, Houston, and San Antonio offices who specialize in business and commercial litigation. If you are involved in such a dispute, please contact us and let’s discuss your situation.