Friday, January 30, 2009

Dallas Cowboys Tight End Fined for Derogatory Video


With sports fans and those who enjoy seeing new TV commercials completely focused on the upcoming Superbowl contest between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, you may have thought that the players on our Texas teams would be able to stay under the radar. The Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans both missed the playoffs this season, so you might hope that the players would use their free time to talk with school children, work on their golf game, or just spend quality time with their celebrity girlfriends. Instead, Dallas Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett rapped his way to a hefty fine from the National Football League.

Bennett posted two videos of his rhyming skills on YouTube, the first of which included Bennett's use of derogatory terms for blacks and gays, his assertion that he has Jerry Jones' money and the consumption of alcohol. All of this behavior was done while wearing a Cowboys helmet, so subtlety certainly was not the goal. The second video ends with an apology to his fans, but only after he insists that he did nothing wrong and makes the eloquent statement, "One crazy verse. It could’ve been worse. I mean, I did curse. But I didn’t see a hearse.” For his public antics, Bennett was fined $22,647. This payment is equal to one game's salary for the player who just completed his rookie season.

The law offices at Bertolino LLP have attorneys who practice sports and entertainment law. If you are an NFL player who simply was expressing himself on a video that was watched by millions of people and now you are being accused of inappropriate behavior, we can help. We understand your legal rights both on and off the field. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today and let's discuss your case.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Governor Perry Shares a Variety of Proposals During His State of the State Address


Across the country this month, governors are heading to their respective state houses to reflect on the past year's accomplishments and challenges as well as their plans for the new year. Yesterday, Texas Governor Rick Perry took his turn at the podium and delivered his State of the State address to the Legislature. As the governor prepares for a tough re-election bid last year, he was determinedly cautious in the proposals he set forth. He did not share many details about the current economic conditions in our state, which received immediate criticism from his Democratic opponents. However, there certainly were some ideas in his speech that should be highlighted for their possible legal impact on the residents of Texas.

Are you reorganizing your finances as you figure out how to send your child to college? Governor Perry has proposed freezing tuition for four years of a student's education. So, at least you would know the price you are paying as a freshman will be the same you can expect to budget for the senior year. As Perry explains, "This will help Texas families plan while giving students another incentive to finish on time." This change could impact your taxes, child support, and other financial matters that have a legal component.

If you are a business owner, you may be interested in learning more about the incentives that the governor has in mind for you. He wants to raise the business tax exemption to $1 million from the current $300,000 in gross receipts. This tax on gross receipts was established in 2006 and received a great deal of criticism from small business owners. Also, the governor asked the legislature for $260 million in additional funds to further his Texas Enterprise Fund, which encourages businesses to relocate to Texas. With the strongest job growth rate in this tough economy, Texas certainly should already be appealing to employers who are looking for some sense of stability during these difficult times.

These proposals are just a few examples of the ideas that the governor and legislature have in mind for our state, and I am certain that we will be detailing others over the next few months. At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who are able to assist with the wide variety of legal changes that may be facing Texans in 2009. If you have any concerns about how the decisions made in Austin may affect you, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office. We will make sure your family, your business and your home are adapting to the changes as needed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Texas Governor Rick Perry Proposes Amendment to Further Protect Private Property


Many people will remember the infamous Kelo ruling by the Supreme Court in 2005. The 5-4 decision allowed for local officials to condemn homes in poorer neighborhoods for private development as a possible way of boosting taxes revenue and improving the economy. Since then, advocates for private property rights have been fighting in state houses across the country to put protections in place for those who do not want to lose their homes or front yards to the government's desired purposes. One of the first states to fight the Supreme Court decision was our beloved State of Texas, with a 2005 law that would bar the acquistion of private property for public use. Now, Texas Governor Rick Perry wants to strengthen this existing law with a new constitutional amendment that he proposed. The governor wants to forbid taking land for nonpublic uses through condemnation proceedings. The question is, will this amendment go far enough for some Texas voters?

Some groups, including the Texas Farm Bureau, criticize the fact that Perry's proposal does not address the problem of compensation for "diminished access," which has been a hotly debated issue since the initial legislation was passed four years ago. As state law now stands, property owners can be compensated for diminished access if condemnation proceedings result in a significant decrease in the owner's access to roadways. The Farm Bureau is one organization that believes home and business owners should be compensated for any lessening of road access, and want the proposed amendment to include this financial piece. Governor Perry maintains that such a law would be expensive to taxpayers, who would be forced to compensate property owners whose diminished access is minimal.

At Bertolino LLP, we have Austin eminent domain attorneys, Houston imminent domain attorneys, and San Antonio eminent domain attorneys who specialize in eminent domain issues. In addition to seeking maximum recovery for property taken in eminent domain proceedings, our eminent domain attorneys seek recovery for any damage to a client's business or remaining land. If you are a home or business owner who is facing the possibility of the government taking of your property, we can work with you to make sure you are receiving the settlement that you deserve. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today if you have any questions about how these laws may affect you.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama Brings Changes to Legal Landscape


Yesterday our country witnessed a historic day as we inaugurated the nation's first black president and only the 43th man (Don't forget President Cleveland claims two spots!) in our history to take this solemn oath. I congratulate President Obama and wish him the best as he embarks on the amazing task of leading our great nation. I also welcome President and Mrs. Bush back to Texas to begin their retirement from public life. More than 20,000 supporters were on hand yesterday to welcome the former First Couple back to Midland. Whoever you supported in this election (whether you are a Democrat or Republican), we can still be proud that the seamless, non-violent transfer of power that occurs in our country every four years is an example of freedom for the rest of the world. Now, with President Obama ready to get to work, we can look at how his stated priorities will affect legal issues in Texas.

I have already written about the changes that President Obama hopes to make to our immigration laws. If his goal of creating an easier path for undocumented workers to stay in our country succeeds, there certainly will be questions on how to proceed with the necessary paperwork. How will employers be responsible for participating in this process? What will the penalties be for the workers who choose to "come out of the shadows"?

President Obama often discussed his plans to change some of our tax policies as one way he wants to move the economy forward. One element he wants to reintroduce is the estate tax, known as the "death tax" by some of its detractors. Will this affect the steps you take in your estate planning, including the update of your legal documents? We also can expect some changes to the taxes placed on business owners. If you own a small business or a large corporation, you will need to know that your operations are structured correctly to comply with any new laws.

With these specific policy issues and many others, Bertolino LLP will be prepared to assist you with your changing legal needs. We have attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who are ready to help you. As 2009 unfolds and we learn more about the direction in which this new administration will take us, please contact us and we will make sure you remain in good legal standing through changing times.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bush Commutes Sentences of Two Texas Border Agents



As a president reaches the end of his tenure, there is always the careful watch to see if he grants any last-minute pardons or other alterations of a person's sentence. The controversial decision by President Bill Clinton to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich as one of his last acts in office resulted in great protest and still lingers as part of his legacy eight years later. With President George W. Bush having his last full day as our leader yesterday, would he make any similarly provocative decisions? Apparently not. However, his signature yesterday did result in commuted sentences for U.S. border agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean to end a case that received a great deal of attention both here in Texas and around the world.

Ramos and Compean were convicted of shooting an admitted drug smuggler as he attempted to escape across the Rio Grande. While the two agents claimed that the act was done in self-defense, the fact that the gun shot wounds were in the buttocks left some doubt in the story. The case for the prosecution was further strengthened by the fact that Ramos and Compean did not report the shooting and tampered with the scene by picking up spent shell casings. The two men were sentenced to ten years in prison. Now, with the commutation approved by the President, they will be released within two months.

This story has been a hot topic for several years and the two agents became symbols for those who are fighting for stricter efforts against illegal immigration. The names Ramos and Compean became commonplace on talk shows and blogs. The decision to commute the men, instead of providing for a full pardon, seems to be a satisfactory conclusion for those on both sides.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) was one lawmaker who agreed with the decision and said, "I do not condone the actions of these two men, but I believe the mandatory 10-year sentencing guidelines used in this case were excessive."

At Bertolino LLP, we make it a top priority to know the most current information concerning immigration law. As attorneys in the great state of Texas, we know that federal policies surrounding immigration have a direct effect on our communities. If you have questions or concerns in this controversial area, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today. Let's see what we can do to help.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Collapse of Mexico is Possible in Face of Gang Crime


As I mentioned in an article posted to our firm's website last week, immigration policy will be an important priority for the upcoming Obama administration. And, I know that residents in Texas have a particular interest in both state and federal laws that affect our border security as well as the status of those who enter our country. We certainly will be following all of the relevant news stories so that you have the most up-to-date information concerning how immigration legislation is affecting you. How about the possibility, for example, of Mexico failing to be a sovereign nation altogether? The scenario may not be as far-fetched as it first sounds.

The U.S. Joint Forces Command recently released a report stating that Mexico, along with Pakistan, was in danger of "rapid and sudden collapse." What is the reason for this asserted fear? The study goes on to share that "the government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels." Mob murders have doubled in the past year, with an amazing total of 5300 violent deaths at the hands of the mob in 2008. The beheaded and mutilated bodies left on the streets or in front of schools in border towns like Tijuana have certainly diminished tourist interest in such areas. The wealthy are fleeing to the United States to avoid high kidnapping fees. The cartels have reacted to the increased presence of government troops with escalating violence and an even tighter grip. The situation in Mexico is quite grim indeed.

What are the possible solutions to this horrible mess that threatens lives on both sides of the border every day? Many Mexicans believe that the situation can only improve with increased assistance from the United States and the allowance for more migrant workers to come across the border for jobs instead of turning to drug gangs for income. Will President-elect Obama agree with one or both of these proposals and work to make the necessary adjustments to current policy? If so, what will be the effect on Texans? As 2009 unfolds, the direction of the country on this matter will become more clear. Certainly if any changes are made to the flow of immigrants permitted into the United States, the impact will be felt first here.

We have attorneys at Bertolino LLP who specialize in the controversial and sensitive area of immigration law. If you have concerns about your status in this country or questions about how state and federal immigration laws apply to you or your business, please contact us today. We have offices in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio and we are ready to help.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Texas Doctor Charged with Health Care Fraud Ordered to Remain Behind Bars


People literally put their lives in the hands of doctors and nurses every day. We make appointments with the local clinic or rush to the emergency room with pain or other concerns that require an expert medical opinion. And, we usually trust that our diagnosis comes from someone with a knowledgeable and honest background. Unfortunately, there are some doctors who take advantage of this important position for personal gain. One such doctor in Texas, Dr. Fabian Aurignac, now faces indictment on federal charges that could lead to serious jail time.

Aurignac was indicted back in October on twelve counts of health care fraud. He is accused of charging Medicaid for unnecessary procedures, charges for procedures he never performed and subjecting patients to unnecessary procedures. He was arrested by the FBI on December 1 while appearing before the Texas Medical Board in Austin for a hearing regarding the suspension of his medical license. He has remained in jail since that time, and faces a sentence of up to ten years in prison a maximum fine of $250,000 if convicted.

The good doctor, a specialist in cardiology, made his first appearance before
U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos today in Austin hoping to be released pending his trial. The Texas Attorney General's Office has announced that Judge Ramos did not see it Aurignac's way and he will remain behind bars. As the case moves forward, the prosecution is being handled jointly by the Texas Attorney General's Office, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

With an office in our state's capitol, the attorneys at Bertolino LLP are experienced with the issues that come before the medical board. If you are a doctor or nurse who has been accused of medical wrongdoing, we can help. Please contact our Austin office today to share your concerns and learn how we can help.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Austin Man Arrested for Possessing Child Pornography


The college football season is now behind us and we all have several months before the annual debate concerning the BCS versus a playoff system returns again. The University of Texas Longhorns certainly had a legitimate role in that discussion this year and I congratulate them again on a great 2008 season. I wish that I could turn our attention to another light-hearted subject as the work week draws to a close, but the reality of current events does not always allow for such topics. Instead I bring you Ross Huffman, a 24-year-old Austin resident who was arrested earlier this week on charges of possessing child pornography.

Huffman invited the wrong friend over to his house on December 23. Instead of being impressed by the illegal collection amassed by the alleged kiddie porn fan, the guest headed home and called the police department. He reported that Huffman showed him videos depicting juvenile males engaged in sexual acts, and that Huffman admitted the movies were purchased from a man in Russia who had sex with the boys. A search of the apartment by authorities led to the discovery of thirty-four videos of minors, with twenty of these tapes including boys under the age of fourteen.

Huffman has been charged with the third-degree felony of possessing or promoting child pornography and faces up to ten years in prison. He was released from the Travis County jail yesterday on a $10,000 bond. If Huffman is found guilty and eventually ends up back behind bars, I am sure no one needs to remind him of the reception that those involved in crimes against children earn from fellow inmates.

I have stated repeatedly on this blog that there is no more of a hideous crime than one in which a child is the victim. However, every person who enters a courtroom accused of a crime does so as innocent until proven guilty and deserves the full set of rights afforded in such a situation. At Bertolino LLP, we have experienced criminal defense attorneys who are ready to help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today if you find yourself charged with such a serious crime.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Houston to Crackdown on Parking Meter Time Limits


One of the most endearing aspects of living in a major city is the time-consuming search for a convenient parking spot every time you have a need to be downtown. I remember multiple episodes of Seinfeld in which George would find the perfect spot for his vehicle and either be met with the threat of physical violence from a much larger man interested in the same piece of real estate or refuse ever to leave his destination out of the realization that he would never discover such an ideal spot of asphalt again. Perhaps to much less dramatic extent, I am sure we have all experienced some type of parking confrontation. Just check out any shopping mall the day after Thanksgiving. With the new year, Houston has developed a new way to add to the frustration of those who park downtown.

Yesterday, the Houston City Council approved tight enforcement of the time limit on the city's parking meters. If the meter has a limit of an hour, your car better not call that spot home for longer than the designated time. Even the time-honored tradition of running out to feed the meter just before it expires will no longer be allowed. This practice foils the intention of the time limit, which is to keep traffic moving in and out of certain areas. Local businesses believe this crackdown will provide more available spots for potential customers. Other high traffic areas, like the courthouse, also should have more spots opening on a regular basis. So, you should have an easier time parking your car if you need to visit the court to fight a ticket you received at some other meter.

There will be a one-month grace period during which warnings will be given to those who do not obey the posted time limit. After that, $25 tickets will be issued. Of course, all of us at Bertolino LLP hope that you respect the new ordinance and act accordingly. However, I know that finding a ticket on your windshield can be frustrating after a long day. If you make the unfortunate decision to damage public property by repeatedly smashing a hard or sharp object against the meter, you will need legal representation. Please visit our Houston office to discuss your case. Don't worry ... we validate.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

UPS Truck Hijacked in Austin


When I think about a UPS truck, which doesn't happen very happen, there are several characteristics that come to mind. They are brown and boxy, much like most of the contents they transport. They are used to deliver both important business packages and exciting birthday presents. And, finally, I recall how these fine delivery vehicles sometimes impede my vision when I am trying to check the status of the traffic ahead of me. I can promise that I have never thought about how exciting it would be to take such a truck for a joy ride. For that purpose, the UPS machinery cannot exactly match the thrill of a Corvette. Yesterday in Austin, one man decided to give it a shot anyway.

The gentleman, whose name has not been released, ditched his Ford Explorer at the intersection of Red River and 38th Street in Austin when he spotted a UPS truck in his vicinity. He threw the driver from the truck and drove off, only to get into a collision shortly thereafter. His attempts to escape by foot were short-lived, as police officers captured him a few minutes later.

If this guy had put some forethought into his decision to hijack a UPS truck, he might have realized that December would have been a better option. I can't imagine that the deliveries are nearly as bountiful as they were leading up to Christmas. So, maybe his goal really was just to spend a few minutes behind the wheel of his dreams with desire for package theft never even entering his mind.

Have you been accused of taking command of a UPS truck, a FedEx van, or perhaps a Merry Maids car? The attorneys at Bertolino LLP can provide you with the defense you will be needing. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today to discuss your options.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Austin Woman Sentenced for Dropping Mothballs in Soup


Depending on the type of soup you are enjoying at your dinner table, some additional garnish can add to the flavor of the liquid creation. Cheese is commonly sprinkled on top of French onion soup, for example. Who doesn't enjoy a few oyster crackers floating on top of a hot bowl of New England clam chowder? Even a sprig of parsley makes for a nice finish for tomato basil. On the other hand, what are some ingredients that should never be included in your crock pot? I think everyone would agree that mothballs definitely needs to be placed at or near the top of that list. Unfortunately, some customers at a Randalls supermarket in Austin received such an inedible product in their to-go containers.

Lea Suzan Sechler was arrested last year for dumping mothballs in the soup cart at Randalls on at least two separate occasions. Luckily, in both instances, the strong odor emanating from the chicken noodle was enough to warrant concern from both employees and customers and no one suffered serious injury from the mothballs. Taken in high doses, the primary components can cause such lovely side effects as stomach irritation, vomiting, and liver damage.

Sechler apparently had been hearing threatening voices for years and believed, based on what her delusions were telling her, that the harassment would stop if she dropped mothballs in soup. She was caught in this dangerous act through both video surveillance and purchases made on her frequent shopper card, which proved she was in the store each time the ball drops occurred. Sechler pled guilty to tampering with a consumer product yesterday in an Austin courtroom and, due to her mental illness, received ten years of deferred adjudication and thirty days of inpatient treatment.

Diseases such as
schizophrenia, from which Ms. Sechler suffers, are serious matters that require thorough and ongoing medical attention. If you or someone you love is suffering from any mental ailment and this condition has resulted in criminal activity, the defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today to discuss your case.

Finally, I must congratulate the University of Texas Longhorns on their great victory last night in the Fiesta Bowl. Hook 'em Horns!!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Texas Man with Five Kids in Car Tries to Outrun Cops


From time to time, I like to offer some free legal advice on this blog. I have advised against stealing treasured artifacts from national monuments, asking your underage offspring to drive you home from a night of mechanical bull riding while intoxicated at a local hot spot and using a skull as an accessory in ingesting your chosen narcotic. If these common sense tips have kept you out of trouble ... you're welcome. I have a new recommendation to add to the list. Do not try to outrun the cops. It can only make your situation worse. At the very least, you eventually will run out of gas and hope to stall in a location that is amenable to testing your marathon skills. More severe consequences may be a collision that injures property, innocent passengers or bystanders, or yourself. Your decision to flee when pulled over for a simple traffic violation will undoubtedly result in greater punishment than a $75 ticket.

If Douglas Donaldson is a reader of this blog, I apologize that this advice is reaching him too late. Mr. Donaldson was arrested on New Year's Eve for driving more than 90 mph in his Southeast Travis County neighborhood. Police were interested in speaking with Donaldson after seeing that his vehicle was missing those all-important adornments of a license plate and registration stickers. He was not in the mood for this conversation, so he hit the accelerator and ran through five stop signs before slamming into a fence. The scariest part of this scenario is that Donaldson had five children in his car whose lives were put in danger by his reckless behavior.

After the crash, Donaldson tried to run but was stopped by a Taser dart in his back. He now faces charges of endangering a child and evading. At Bertolino LLP, we certainly hope that you will make a wiser decision in this type of situation and simply allow law enforcement to address your legally questionable activities. However, if you do make choices that result in the need for representation in the courtroom, our attorneys can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today to discuss your situation. And, please do not speed ... we will be here all day.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Years Revelers Land Stray Bullet in Home of Houston Man


There is no doubt that excessive alcohol consumption is the number one concern among law enforcement during the New Year's Eve holiday. As they do every year on December 31, the Houston Police Department stepped up its patrols and road blocks checking for those who were unfit to drive or otherwise causing drunken mayhem. This problem, not surprisingly, is a global one. I read earlier today that the police in London responded to an alcohol-related emergency call every seven seconds as young Brits rang in the new year! After an incident in Houston on Wednesday night, maybe more focus needs to be placed on those revelers who think that randomly shooting bullets into the air is the best way to celebrate that exciting time of year when they get to purchase their new "Joke a Day" desk calendars.

Apparently, some people took to the streets in the western part of Houston's Harris County and fired their guns to acknowledge the promise and new opportunities that 2009 offers to all of us. It's only natural. I have always found that deadly weapons and holidays make for a fantastic combination. Unfortunately, the good-natured fun led to a bullet through the home of a Houston man. This innocent man was probably sitting on his couch watching Dick Clark and waiting for the ball to drop with no clue that he would soon be shot as part of a celebration. He is now in serious condition at a local hospital.

At Bertolino LLP, we do not think that pulling a trigger is ever an appropriate way to enjoy an important date, be it a bar mitzvah, Thanksgiving, your birthday, or the start of a new year. If your finger does somehow twitch out of uncontrollable excitement, however, and someone is injured as a result, our criminal defense attorneys can help. If you find yourself facing such charges, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Need Some Ideas for New Year’s Resolutions? Bertolino LLP Has a Few Suggestions

The new year has officially arrived and all of us here at Bertolino LLP hope that the first few hours of 2009 have been good ones for you. For many people, the start of a new year inspires reflection on the events of past twelve months. Also, most of us make resolutions to improve our behavior. These well-intended promises to eat better, visit the gym more often, or quit smoking are often forgotten by the end of February. Based on my writings here over the past year, I would like to recommend several items to add to your resolution list that you should make a genuine effort to maintain until the ball drops on 2010. These actions may not be good for the business of our law firm, but they certainly are important for your legal standing.

1. Be a better parent. This is something we all strive to do, myself included, every day. We are given no more important task than raising the next generation. A good start would be no longer encouraging your child to rob and murder elderly men, paying the child support you owe instead of hiding on a tropical island, and finding someone other than your preteen daughter to drive you home when you are intoxicated.

2. Limit your drinking. This is a timely resolution considering what many revelers are experiencing this morning after a night of champagne. When you make the smart choice to cut back on your alcohol consumption, you lessen the chance of striking a police officer's horse with your high-heeled shoe or getting arrested following a flight during which you threaten fellow passengers with lines from a hit movie featuring a cannibal.

3. Refrain from the act of murder. I know this seems like an obvious one, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to provide the most basic of reminders. Whether it be a girlfriend who had the audacity to steal your cell phone, an innocent deer who provided joy to thousands of visitors at a local park, or a cabbie who did not take your recommended route to the airport, just walk away before the situation escalates into violence.

I hope you take these resolutions seriously and have a crime-free 2009. However, if you do fall on the wrong side of the law and need representation in court, the attorneys at Bertolino LLP are here to help. Our offices in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio will be open all year!