Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Texas Hosts Two Bowl Games Today

Along with Christmas trees, office holiday parties, and New Year's Resolutions, this time of year brings college bowl season. And, there seem to be more bowl games played every year, extending over a couple of weeks. For many players, this will be their last opportunity to prove themselves to recruits in the National Football League and they intend to make every snap count. While we won't get to know if Auburn or Oregon will win the BCS Championship Game for nearly two more weeks when that game is played in Arizona, tonight is the time for Houston and San Antonio to shine on the national sports stage.

The Alamo Bowl will be played tonight featuring No. 14 Oklahoma State and an unranked Arizona team. Both teams are known as high-scoring units and an offensive shootout is expected at the Alamodome. In Houston, Illinois and Baylor will square off in the Texas Bowl, a game that will feature the high-profile Big 10 and Big 12 Conferences. There are large numbers of fans representing all four teams in Texas this week and I hope they are having a wonderful time in our great state!

Once the bowl games tick down to their final moments, these young men will have some decisions to make about their futures. If juniors, do they return to school for one more year or take their chance on the draft? For those whose years on a campus have come to an end, are they good enough to be selected at the next level? Or, is it time to plan for a professional future that does not involve a football field?

If you an athlete with potential to play professionally, you want to know that your talents and your finances are protected. The sports law attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help you with contract negotiations, work schedules, and future licensing deals. You need to have someone experienced and trustworthy by your side for these important decisions. If you may be facing these exciting opportunities soon, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Synthetic Marijuana Substitute Under Federal Review

Many of you are probably already familiar with the scandal that was created when a home video was released showing teen superstar Miley Cyrus smoking what at first was assumed to be marijuana from a bong. Cyrus' publicist quickly shared that she actually was smoking Salvia, a plant that is legal in most states and does have hallucinogenic effects on users. The incident once again raised the question over whether Salvia and other similar substances should become banned or at least more carefully controlled.

An article in yesterday's Houston Chronicle revealed the increasing use of a synthetic marijuana substitute, both in Texas and around the country. Harris County has recorded the most calls of any area in the state to the Texas Poison Center Network, with the effects of smoking the substance including hallucinations, vomiting, and rapid heart rate. The five primary substances used to make the chemically sprayed herbal incense are now receiving a closer look from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the government organization announced it will ban the chemical compounds while they are being studied over the next year, with the possibility that they will become permanently controlled substances.

As efforts are considered to control some of these marijuana substitutes more closely, there are conservative activists such as Rev. Pat Robertson who are advocating for less harsh punishments for those who use marijuana. What do you think of these two differing positions concerning drug use in our country?

The criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP make it a priority to stay on top of all local, state, and federal laws that may affect you and we certainly are following any changes to our drug laws. If you have been accused of creating or possessing a controlled substance, our experienced lawyers can help. Please call our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

President Obama Signs Repeal of DADT

President Barack Obama put his pen to a landmark piece of legislation today when he signed a repeal of the seventeen-year-old Don't Ask, Don't Tell legislation. As he declared during the signing ceremony, gays and lesbians who wish to serve in the United States military will no longer have to hide or lie about their sexual orientation in order to keep their jobs. Officials with the Pentagon now must develop an implementation plan for this change in policy and the chairman of the joint chiefs must testify that the repeal will not damage combat readiness. Once these pieces are in place, the military will be changed in a way that has not been seen in decades.

Critics of the repeal are concerned that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly will hurt the morale of other service members and weaken overall cohesion in units. They point to surveys that show there is not strong support for repeal within some areas of the military. Supporters of the repeal say that they are fighting discrimination and believe that we need to encourage any man or woman who wants to join the military and serve our country.

There are men and women in every profession who face discrimination based on sexual orientation and, in many instances, there is legal recourse available if you have lost a job, been passed over for a promotion, or faced harassment in the office. If you believe that you have faced unfair treatment based on your sexual orientation, one of our employment law attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today to discuss your case.

What do you think about the recent repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Austin Commission Opposes Airport Body Scanners

I am sure that many of you who do not already travel regularly for business are taking to the skies for holiday travel during this time of year. If so, perhaps you already have seen the full-body scanners that have been installed in some airports around the country. Finally, you have the opportunity to see an image of yourself in somewhat of a jumping jack pose as your body is scrutinized for dangerous objects. If you are a resident of Austin and are planning to use the airport of this great city, though, you should know there is an effort to prevent such visuals from ever taking place.

The Austin Airport Advisory Commission unanimously passed a resolution last week opposing the installation of full-body scanners at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. These scanners, already in place at around 70 airports around the country, are scheduled to make an appearance in Austin next year. The Commission is urging the City Council to oppose this new security measure, on the grounds that the practice is questionable in its constitutionality, is overly invasive, and has already been the cause of great embarrassment for travelers in other cities.

While the Austin City Council does not have direct control over decisions that are in the hands of the federal government, its members can appeal to Congressional representatives and share the concerns of local residents.

I am certain that the body scanners will be put up against the Constitution and its legality ultimately determined in our courts. For now, their presence is a fact of life for many who travel by air.

For those of you who have encountered one of these machines, what was your experience like? Whether or not you have flown recently, what are your thoughts on the new security measures being implemented by the Transportation Security Administration?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

DREAM Act Stalls in the Senate

The DREAM Act, proposed federal legislation that has been followed closely by activists across the country and has been discussed on this blog, failed in the United States today. The inability of the Democrats to end the Republicans' filibuster, by a vote of 55-41, means that efforts to pass this major immigration bill have been stalled for the year.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act would have offered a path to citizenship for the many illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Those applying under this act would have to complete a college degree or provide two years of military service, in addition to passing other standards regarding character and their length of stay in this country.

Republicans successfully fought against the DREAM Act for a variety of reasons. Senator John Cornyn pointed out that his opposition was due in part to the fact that there was no opportunity for amendments or hearings. Texas' other senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, took issue with the fact that the bill expanded its scope beyond the intended beneficiaries of children who came to the United States as minors and who were educated in schools in our country.

President Obama and leading supporters of the DREAM Act in the Senate, including Sens. Harry Reid and Dick Durbin, expressed their disappointment in the fact that the measure had stalled and argued that the DREAM Act is needed to improve our economic competitiveness, maintain a strong armed forces, and offer fair treatment to young people who did not come to this country of their own choosing and who simply want a good education.

The immigration law attorneys at Bertolino LLP will continue to follow the efforts to pass the DREAM Act, as well as track other proposed legislation at the local, state, and federal level that affects immigrants. If you are in need of some legal help regarding your immigration paperwork, employment status, or possible discrimination, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

What are your thoughts on the failure of the DREAM Act to escape a filibuster in the United States Senate today?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anti-Cheeseburger Ads Won't Run in Houston

By now, many of you have heard or read about the controversy surrounding the television advertisement that features a corpse clinging to a cheeseburger. The group that developed the spot, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, offered $5000 to four Houston stations to run the ads, but they declined. The program director for KHOU, Lisa Shumate, expressed the concern that the commercial did not meet their standards and practices guidelines.

The advertisement, which has aired in Chicago and Washington, shows a grieving woman and a doctor standing over the corpse, alludes to McDonald's with the restaurant's logo and the slogan "I was lovin' it," and then suggests to viewers that a vegetarian option may be the way to avoid high cholesterol and heart attacks.

McDonald's obviously is not pleased with the advertisement and its officials have spoken out against the efforts by the physicians' group. But, this is not the first time that PCRM has spoken out against large companies and the negative influence they believe these companies are having on our dietary choices. Kraft Foods was the focus of their disapproval just earlier this year.

Whether you are a global entity like McDonald's or a small store with one location in your hometown, you certainly do not want unpleasant messages about your products to be distributed over the airwaves. And, sometimes, a business is the victim of slanderous attacks that can damage its reputation and its earnings. If you are facing such a situation, the business litigation attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Houston Was Home Base for Money Laundering Operation

There are plenty of people in Texas who, understandably, are looking for ways to make extra money. The economy is still struggling and even those with jobs are finding it difficult to pay their bills every month. As you consider the various opportunities that may come before you, allow me to offer one small piece of advice. If someone offers you $500 simply to put some money in the bank on his behalf, walk away. You may end up spending a year behind bars -- just ask Gloria Cuero.

Cuero was a security guard at a courthouse in Florida who ended up a part of a drug money laundering ring based out of Houston. She agreed to deposit the cash for a friend who turned out to be a heroin dealer from Colombia, and her action was just one that developed over a series of transactions in South America, Houston, Miami, New York, New Jersey, and Detroit. The United States Justice Department estimates that anywhere from $18 billion to $39 billion belonging to drug traffickers is stashed in our country every year.

The kingpins of the operation worked out of Houston, working behind the disguise of legitimate businesses such as a car auction and a tire shop. After six months of tapping their phone lines, the federal authorities had enough evidence to move forward with the arrest of six Colombians in Houston, all of whom were convicted.

Involvement in drug trafficking or money laundering are offenses that usually will result in serious jail time in a federal prison. If you have been accused of involvement in such an international crime ring and you need to clear your name, the experienced attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. We have criminal defense attorneys and immigration attorneys who have worked in federal courtrooms and are ready to work with you. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Friday, December 10, 2010

San Antonio Man Gets Forty Years in Prison for Death of Toddler

As a parent myself, I cannot help but have a particularly strong reaction when I hear about violent crimes in which children are the victims. When these young and defenseless members of our society find injury or even death at the hands of the people in whom they should find ultimate trust and security, it is simply heartbreaking. One of those cases was back in the news yesterday in a San Antonio courtroom.

Back in April, Lorance Dontae Hill pleaded no contest to the charge of injury to a child resulting in serious bodily injury in the death of his girlfriend's one-year-old daughter. Serenity Price died four years from massive brain trauma, which her mother argued took place when the girl was briefly left alone in Hill's care. On Thursday, Hill was given a forty-year sentence for his crimes. His plea ended the initial efforts by the prosecution to push for the death penalty.

Prosecutors agreed to the lesser charge and sentence due to the fact that there is evidence to suggest the mother was involved in the crime as well and there were older injuries to the little girl that indicated abuse over a long period of time. The mother is facing the charge of injury to a child and was not present to observe Hill's sentencing yesterday.

I certainly hope that all men and women who are accused of abusing children are brought to justice and have their day in court. No matter the crime, though, these defendants are due certain rights under the law. After all, everyone has the important distinction of being innocent until proven guilty. The criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP can work with you to make sure that you receive aggressive and thorough representation during your trial. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Court of Appeals Upholds Judgment against Austin Architect

In July 2004, two women in Texas stepped out onto the balcony of a private home and quickly plummeted to the ground as the structure collapsed beneath their feet. One of the victims, Lou Ann Smith, sustained injuries that left her paralyzed from the waist down. The question then became, who is responsible for the pain and suffering inflicted on Ms. Smith and how will compensation be made?

Last year, jurors in a Travis County courtroom split the liability between three groups of people--the general contractor, the subcontractor, and the architectural firm that has been hired to design the balcony. Austin architect Sinclair Black and his firm, Black + Vernooy, were blamed with ten percent of the balcony's collapse and ordered to pay Ms. Smith accordingly.

Black appealed the decision, claiming that his agreement with the client only required that he report any defects or deficiencies, not search for these potential problems himself. In addition, he asserted his obligation was only to the homeowners and not to those who visited the property. In a two-to-one decision, the 3rd Court of Appeals upheld the roughly $410,000 judgment against Sinclair Black and others in the architectural industry are already speaking out about what they believe to be a dangerous precedent made by this decision.

Is the court going too far in holding professionals accountable for problems that were caused by another party? Or, did the architect have a responsibility to more closely examine the work being created from his designs?

We know that as you develop your career, your professional reputation is essential. What clients, peers, and leaders in your field have to say about work is critical to your success. If you are facing a legal issue that threatens the good name your business has established, the business attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Supporters of DREAM Act Continue Hunger Strike in San Antonio

In San Antonio, a dozen men and women began a hunger strike twenty-six days ago as an act to encourage federal legislators to support the DREAM Act. Seven of the participants are still engaged in the strike, living only on water and juice. Mayor Julian Castro has asked to meet with those involved in the protest in hopes of encouraging them to eat again. Castro also wants the meeting to emphasize publicly his support of the changes that would be enacted by the DREAM Act's passage.

The DREAM Act, which was created as a bipartisan effort by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), would provide a six-year plan to earn citizenship for those who were brought into this country illegally when they were minors. Those applying for American citizenship would need to earn a college degree to complete at least two years of military service.

First proposed in 2001, the most recent version of the legislation was reintroduced on March 26, 2009. According the 2009 Senate bill, applicants would need to have arrived in the United States before the age of sixteen, be between the ages of twelve and thirty-five at the time the Act goes into effect, have a high school diploma or GED, and meet several other criteria.

Immigration issues are always heated in Texas, and the laws that affect immigrants are vital to our population. The immigration law attorneys at Bertolino LLP stay informed of all local, state, and federal legislation and are ready to help you navigate through the paperwork and processes of verifying your immigration status. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today if we can be of assistance.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Employment Numbers for November are Not Encouraging

The unemployment figures coming out of Washington, D.C. this week are anything but festive as we move further into the holiday season. A new report shows that unemployment in our country rose to 9.8% in November, which is a seven-month high that no one was hoping to achieve. This means that 15.1 million people in the United States did not have a job last month. When you add those workers who have part-time jobs but wish to be working full-time and those who have given up on the job search altogether, this country is looking at a 17% "underemployment" rate.

The numbers concerning jobs in Texas will not be released until later this month, but our state tends to fare better than the nation as a whole. In October, our unemployment stood at 8.1%, as reported by the Texas Workforce Commission. Even though this looks better than the numbers in other parts of the country, the figure is no consolation to the many families in Texas that are struggling to find work and pay their bills every month.

If you are fortunate enough to have a steady job in this difficult economy, you certainly don't want anything to threaten your financial security. If your job is in danger or has been terminated for reasons that you believe to be discriminatory or unjust, an employment law attorney may be able to help you.

While most employers want the best for their workers and are distraught by the idea of having to let people go, there are a few bosses out there who may use false pretenses to cut down their workforce. If you have been the victim of wrongful termination, the attorneys at Bertolino LLP are here to defend your rights. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Texans Believe Roads are Less Safe Than Five Years Ago

Are you a driver who engages in that dangerous act of texting while driving, or maybe checking your email messages on your Blackberry as you speed down the highway? If so, there are a growing number of Texans who are frustrated and frightened by the fact that you are behind the wheel. State legislators will be returning to Austin next month and several bills aimed at further limiting cell phone use in cars have already been filed.

The Texas Transportation Institute conducted a survey earlier this fall to determine people's opinions on some common driving behaviors. They discovered that fifty-two percent of drivers in Texas would favor a law that bans cell phone use in cars altogether. And, even though roadway deaths are down significantly over the past several years, an overwhelming number of you believe that texting and talking while driving is getting worse.

The good news of this survey is that drivers seem to be giving more thought to their own decision concerning whether or not to use a cell phone while their car is in motion, and are also more aware of what is happening in the cars around them. I think that being on alert while on the busy roads of Texas is smart no matter what accessories may be distracting the drivers in the next lane. With more than a third of Texans believing that the roads are less safe than they were five years ago, our increased focus on the task of driving is a positive change that hopefully will bring that number down.

If you were injured as a direct result of someone's decision to send a text message or otherwise lose focus while driving a car, you need a personal injury attorney who will help you receive the compensation you deserve. Please contact the law offices of Bertolino LLP in Austin, Houston, or San Antonio to discuss your case today.