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Thursday, September 30, 2010

CONVICTION: Movie Review

I normally wouldn't take the time out to "blog" about a movie, but after an amazing preview screening last night, I had to quickly write my review to help promote this movie about the American legal system.

FYI - "Conviction" hits general theaters on October 15, 2010.

I have free passes for all interested to a screening next Thursday, 10/7/2010, 7:30 pm, at the Grove. Please email me if you are interested.

Conviction Movie Review
by Attorney Kelly Chang Rickert

It starts with his, and ends with hers.

"Conviction" is an aptly-named movie about an innocent man, Kenneth Waters (Sam Rockwell), who endured and lost a criminal trial for murder, and subsequent appeals. With no money (so no lawyer), his baby sister Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), takes on the job - finishes high school, college, law school and passes the bar, to become his attorney. With newly-established DNA law and evidence, she is able to release him.

It only took 18 years, but Betty Anne was able to successfully set aside the wrongul conviction.

The legal system isn't all too easy on folks with modest means (my favorite line in the movie is by Abra Rice, played by the beautiful Minnie Driver - "The legal system is so f'cking inconvenient!!")

Inconvenient, yes. Not for the weak, yes.

But justice IS served at the end - and that is my favorite part of the movie.

I have practiced law for over a decade (and will likely practice for 2 more), and this is by far one of my favorite law movies of all time. It presents a naked version of the legal system - hoop-hopping, paper-pushing, and sometimes corrupt.

The many obstacles faced by Kenneth and Betty Anne can really put a damper on the legal system. But the movie ends the way it should - with justice, and teaches us that fierce determination and a strive for justice will defeat any travesty.

The movie speaks loudly to me as an attorney. I distinctly recall June 5, 2000 - the day I was sworn to practice law for the good. I took an oath to fight for justice. Without movies such as "Conviction", it is very simple to see how that message gets eroded over years of paperwork, deadlines, and procedural BS. It reminds me to look past all that - and DO GOOD.

The movie also speaks to me as a tax-paying citizen, a wife, and a mother. I loved the inspirational message of hard work overcoming any difficult circumstances. (Law school was hard for ME, and I was 21 years old, unmarried, no children AND receiving subsidies from my parents!) I am very fond of the message that ANYONE, even a poor single mom of 2 can become an attorney, and FIGHT for justice.

Finally, I loved the very real portrayal the American legal system. It can be big and scary, but you can work your butt off, and it JUST may pay off.

The title was very clever - a true double-entendre, and the movie came full circle - beginning with his conviction, ending with hers.

I've always loved my job, but damn, after seeing this movie, I gotta stand up and say, "I AM PROUD TO BE A LAWYER".

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mediation for the McCourts

Mediation scheduled in McCourt divorce case

LOS ANGELES — Divorce lawyers for Frank and Jamie McCourt are planning to go into mediation as soon as Friday over who owns the Los Angeles Dodgers, The Associated Press has learned.

A person familiar with the case who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about settlement discussions told the AP late Tuesday that the two sides would meet in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom on Friday.

The mediation talks were first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Jamie McCourt contends that she deserves a part of the team, while Frank McCourt argues that he is the team's sole owner. Earlier this week, she testified that she didn't read a postnuptial marital agreement which gave her estranged husband sole possession of the Dodgers.

An attorney who represented the couple and drafted the agreement said he replaced an addendum that excluded the Dodgers from Frank McCourt's separate property with wording that included the team and didn't notify Jamie McCourt about the switch.

Larry Silverstein, who is expected to resume his testimony Wednesday, said he made a "drafting error" when he prepared the agreement that didn't include the Dodgers, the stadium and the surrounding land, worth hundreds of millions of dollars from Frank McCourt's side of the ledger.

When Silverstein gave the documents to the McCourts to sign in March 2004, three had the team as Frank McCourt's separate property, and three others didn't. Jamie McCourt ended up signing all six; Frank McCourt signed three at the couple's Massachusetts home and the remaining three a couple of weeks later while he was in California.

The agreement is at the center of the dispute between the McCourts and could decide who owns the Dodgers. Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon must decide whether the pact is valid. He also could order the sale of the team.

Silverstein said the original plan was to have three copies of the agreement, one each for Frank and Jamie McCourt and one for himself. However, he decided at the last minute before the couple signed them to produce three other copies out of an abundance of caution.

"I was simply trying to have a set of protective documents," he said.

Silverstein said he doesn't recall switching the versions Frank McCourt signed in California that excluded the Dodgers with wording that did include the team, but believes he did so shortly thereafter after he looked at company records.

It wasn't until a few months ago, after forensic analysts were hired by both sides to examine the six copies, that it was determined Silverstein made the changes.

Jamie McCourt's attorney David Boies asked Silverstein if he thought it was OK to switch a legal document after it had been signed and notarized.

"In certain circumstances, yes," Silverstein replied.

Boies asked his fellow litigator, who has practiced law for more than 30 years, if he ever recalled a situation where an attorney had removed part of a legal document and replaced it with something else without the written permission of both parties.

"Express permission or implicit permission, no," Silverstein added.

Silverstein said he didn't tell Jamie McCourt about replacing the addendum that gave her husband the Dodgers. On Monday, she testified she never read the agreement, nor did anyone tell her, namely Silverstein, that she would be giving up her purported ownership stake in the team.

However, another attorney who worked at the same firm as Silverstein said he was directed by Jamie McCourt to come up with the marital agreement during a meeting at Dodger Stadium shortly after the team was bought in February 2004 for about $430 million.

Reynolds Cafferata said in conversations he had with Jamie McCourt, she asked him questions about California's community property provision and told him it was a family practice to keep assets separate.

"She said 'We do things differently. I own the houses, Frank owns the businesses,'" said Cafferata, who added Jamie McCourt wanted a draft agreement created quickly. "She was interested in having this done immediately."

Gordon on Tuesday excused several witnesses from testifying at the trial, including Major League Baseball general counsel Thomas Ostertag. The trial could end early next week. Gordon then has 90 days to make a ruling.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Conviction Movie

Conviction is an upcoming drama film directed by Tony Goldwyn. It stars Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters and Sam Rockwell as Kenneth. The film is scheduled to premiere September 11, 2010, at the Toronto Film Festival and to be released in U.S. theaters on October 15, 2010.

The film is based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters, an unemployed single mother who, with the help of attorney Barry Scheck from the Innocence Project, exonerated her wrongfully convicted brother. In order to do this she earned her GED, then her bachelor's, a master's in education, and eventually a law degree from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. She accomplished this while raising two boys alone and working as a waitress part-time. While in law school she began investigating her brother's case.

Kenneth Waters, her brother, was convicted of murdering Katharina Brow in Ayer, Massachusetts, in 1983 (the murder occurred in 1980). His sister Betty Anne located biological evidence and then worked with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to overturning wrongful convictions, to obtain DNA testing on the evidence-- proving Waters' innocence and leading to his exoneration on June 19, 2001.[1] Betty Anne Waters now lives in New England and continues her work in freeing wrongfully convicted criminals, as well as fighting for the rights of prison inmates.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

TEXAS: NO gay marriage; NO gay divorce

DALLAS — Gay couples legally married in other states cannot get a divorce in Texas, where same-sex marriage is banned, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The 5th Texas Court of Appeals ruled that a Dallas district court judge didn't have the authority to hear a divorce case involving two Dallas men who married in Massachusetts in 2006. Republican state Attorney General Greg Abbott's office had appealed after Judge Tena Callahan, a Democrat, said she did have jurisdiction and dismissed the state's attempt to intervene.

"Today's court of appeals decision overruled the district court's improper ruling, confirmed the constitutionality of Texas' traditional definition of marriage and correctly found that Texas courts lack the legal authority to grant divorces to same-sex couples," said Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland.

Callahan also had ruled Texas couldn't limit marriage to a man and a woman, but the appeals court said the state's same-sex marriage ban was constitutional.

"A person does not and cannot seek a divorce without simultaneously asserting the existence and validity of a lawful marriage," Justice Kerry P. Fitzgerald wrote on behalf of three Republican appeals court justices. "Texas law, as embodied in our constitution and statutes, requires that a valid marriage must be a union of one man and one woman, and only when a union comprises one man and one woman can there be a divorce under Texas law."

The appeals court ordered the case be sent back to Callahan, who must vacate her order.

The men, known only as J.B. and H.B. in court filings, separated amicably two years after getting married.

J.B.'s attorney, Peter Schulte, has said the two men had no children and weren't arguing over how to divide their property, but wanted an official divorce. Schulte said Tuesday they had not yet decided whether to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

"We obviously disagree with the justices' ruling, but we respect the process and respect the court," Schulte said.

Abbott's office had argued before the three-judge appeals court in April that the couple was not eligible for a divorce in Texas because the state didn't recognize their marriage. Jody Scheske, another lawyer for J.B., argued his client was entitled to a divorce because he had a valid marriage.

The appeals court agreed with Abbott that such unions could be dissolved by having the marriage declared void.

Among the reasons J.B. argued for a divorce rather than a voidance was that spousal support and community property laws only apply in divorce cases. The appeals court said those issues are policy arguments that must be addressed by the Legislature.

"It's deeply disappointing to see courts deny same-sex couples equal treatment under the law," said Jennifer Pizer, a lawyer for Lambda Legal, which promotes equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Texas voters passed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage by a 3-to-1 margin in 2005 even though state law already prohibited it. Kelly Shackelford, president of the conservative Plano-based Liberty Institute, said the Tuesday ruling "strikes down an activist judge's attempt to take the law into her own hands."

Abbott's office also appealed a gay divorce case in Austin after a judge there granted a divorce earlier this year to two women who married in Massachusetts in 2004. The Austin appeals court has not yet heard arguments in that case.

One of the women, Angelique Naylor, told The Associated Press in April, "We didn't ask for a marriage; we simply asked for the courtesy of divorce."

She referred requests for comment about Tuesday's ruling to Scheske, who also is her attorney.
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