Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dismissal of Charges in Yogurt Shop Murders

There are certain notorious crimes that leave a lasting impact even on the people that only read about the violence in the newspaper or see it on the news. Perhaps a high-profile celebrity gets killed and the details are fodder for the tabloids for months. Or, maybe the crime that is committed is done so against the most innocent and harmless among us, and the violence leaves everyone asking how such an act could occur.

Nearly eighteen years ago, the city of Austin was rocked by such a crime with the murders of four teenage girls at an I Can't Believe It's Yogurt Shop in North Austin. Two young men, Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen confessed to the crimes eight years later, but ten years they spent in jail may end up being the totality of their punishment with the admission of new DNA evidence.

Scott and Springsteen were released from jail in June of this year, under the order of State District Judge Mike Lynch, while awaiting a re-trial in light of new evidence and confessions that may have been coerced. The key issue? Investigators are now able to analyze DNA samples in ways that weren't possible nearly two decades ago.

DNA discovered in one of the yogurt shop victims does not match that of Scott or Springsteen, and today prosecutors moved to dismiss the charges against the two men until it can be determined the owner of the mystery genetic material. Prosecutors had hoped to obtain a continuance in the case while further DNA testing was done. When Judge Lynch made it clear that the trial must move forward, prosecutors decided the best option was to start over with a new trial at a later date.

As Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg shared in a statement, "I believe it is the best legal and strategic course to take and is the one that leaves us in the best possible posture to ultimately retry both Springsteen and Scott.”

As is shown by the state’s case against Scott and Springsteen, criminal cases are often complex and can turn on the smallest piece of evidence. If you are facing serious criminal charges, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you through the legal maze. Please contact the law offices of Bertolino LLP in Austin, Houston, or San Antonio and let's see if we can help you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Woman Sues Houston City Council Over Prayer

I am sure that everyone has heard that famous warning, "Never discuss politics or religion if you want to avoid a contentious conversation." When it comes to current events surrounding the idea of the separation between church and state guaranteed by the First Amendment, both of those taboo topics take center stage. Court cases are heard every year and on every level about whether or not people can pray in a particular location. And, politicians who are eager to secure a few more votes in the next election will certainly share their thoughts on the matter as well.

One such court case is unfolding right now in Texas, and it involves the Houston City Council. A local real estate agent and lawyer, Kay Stanley, is suing both the city and City Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck for what she believes is a promotion of the Christian faith during council meetings. Stanley alleges that more than 90% of the prayers spoken to open meetings are based in Christianity and specifically targets Councilwoman Clutterbuck for her recitation of the Lord's Prayer.

City Attorney Arturo Michel
believes that offering a prayer to open a council meeting does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, as the government is not endorsing a particular religion. Mr. Michel also referenced a Supreme Court ruling that supported the Council's decision to open in prayer.

Kay Stanley is no stranger to being a self-appointed watchdog for the separation of church and state. She successfully sued to have a Bible removed from the Harris County courthouse six years ago.

Whether or not you are not concerned about the prayer choices of your local elected officials, there may be other instances in which your livelihood is affected by your personal convictions. If you are currently working in an environment that either imposes a particular religious ideology on you or penalizes you for your religious beliefs, you should seek legal representation. The attorneys at Bertolino LLP are experienced in labor and employment law and will work with you to make sure you are receiving fair treatment. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Austin Man Uses Samurai Sword to Threaten Woman

When you are homeless, chances are that your current financial circumstances have left you with few material possessions. In fact, this struggling economy in which we live has many families deciding every day the next item they can do without in order to afford the payment that will keep a roof over their heads. For this reason, I was somewhat surprised to discover that a homeless man threatened violence in Austin earlier this week with his very own samurai sword.

Paul James Guzman showed up at a friend's apartment in hopes of finding a place to spend the night. His friend's girlfriend was not amenable to the idea, perhaps because she was aware of Mr. Guzman's tendency to store a instrument of violence favored by warriors of the Far East under his coat. Whatever the reason, Guzman was not pleased by the refusal of accommodations and "unsheathed a samurai sword from his belt" while the woman placed a phone call to the police.

Guzman fled the scene before police arrived but was discovered nearby. He left the samurai sword on the living room floor, which pretty much breaks rule number one of recommended behavior for successful criminal activity. Mr. Guzman now faces a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and is hanging out in the Travis County Jail on $15,000 bail.

Strangely enough, a college student in Maryland killed an intruder with a samurai sword just last month. Who knew they were becoming so prolific?

If you make the poor decision to threaten or even harm someone with a three- to five-foot Japanese blade, you most certainly will need legal representation. The law offices of Bertolino LLP have criminal defense attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio ready to help you. Please contact us today and let's discuss your case.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Embezzlement Increases at Law Firms

There are several ways that you can enjoy the income that is earned by a successful attorney or law firm. First, there is the obvious route of completing law school and passing the bar exam. Or, you could follow your mother's advice and "marry a doctor or a lawyer." Unfortunately, there is a third method that is increasingly becoming the attempted avenue for those who want to share in the profit of a law firm ... embezzlement. While perhaps not a wise move to commit a serious crime while occupying the same space as men and women who are experts in the law, employees in law offices seem to think they can get away with it. Rest assured, they cannot!!!

Here's a snapshot of embezzlement from law firms just in August 2009: Norma Blackwell, a bookkeeper from a Virginia Beach legal partnership, stole $150,000 by putting fraudulent checks in front of her boss for signing during the busiest time of the day and illegally wiring money from the firm's account to that of her husband. A law firm office manager in Sacramento, California, embezzled $1.3 million from her law firm between 2003 and 2008. She used the firm's checks to pay her personal bills and used its computer system to inflate her salary and her bonus. In another instance of bookkeeper-turned-criminal, Claire K. Thurman of Nashville wrote unauthorized checks and forged signatures in her efforts to steal more than $50,000 from the law firm for which she worked.

As I do from time to time on this blog, I would like to offer a piece of free legal advice. Whether you work for a car dealership, McDonalds, or any other place at which there is money, do not steal from your employer! This tip should be taken with even stronger consideration when the place from which your earn your paycheck is a law firm. The people there are usually (or at least should be!) sticklers for not breaking the law. However, if you find the need to write a fake check in order to pay this month's credit card bill and you get caught in the act, you will need legal representation. I imagine the attorneys in your office won't want to help you, so please contact Bertolino LLP. We have offices in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio with criminal defense attorneys ready to help you.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Texas Judge Approves Request for Divorce of Gay Couple

An important decision was made by a Dallas judge today that may change the landscape of family law in the state of Texas. Two men who were married in a jurisdiction that recognizes gay marriage but live in Dallas now want a divorce. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott argued that since gay marriage is not permitted in Texas, the state cannot dissolve such a marriage. Judge Tena Callahan reached a different conclusion.

In 2005, voters in Texas overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage in the Lone Star State. Instead, both the Texas Constitution and the Texas Family Code define marriage as being only between one man and one woman. Judge Callahan, through today's ruling, stated that the state's ban on gay marriage violates a constitutional guarantee to equal protection under the law.

This ruling represents a huge shift in the way that gay marriage is viewed in the eyes of the law in our state. By issuing such an opinion, Judge Callahan has opened the door for other challenges to the definition and practice of marriage in Texas. Attorney General Greg Abbott has indicated that he intends to appeal the ruling "to defend the traditional definition of marriage."

At Bertolino LLP, we have experienced family law attorneys who are ready to work with you through all of the sensitive issues associated with marriage and divorce. And, we certainly will be following today's ruling to see what it may mean for future clients. If you are in the need of any legal assistance regarding your marriage, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.