Posts tagged as:

Paul Minor

August 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 23, 2012

  • Cross-examination could be awkward: “Top Nevada Court Says Attorney Son Can Represent Dad in Divorce From Mom” [ABA Journal]
  • “Phoenix Woman Ordered to Not Give Out Water in 112 Degree Heat Because She Lacked a Permit” [Doherty, Reason]
  • Admitting no guilt, Yale capitulates to feds’ Title IX probe, promises crackdown on sexual “climate” [YAM, earlier here, here, etc.]
  • Citing “egregious” ethics lapse, judge denies McGuireWoods fees in BarBri antitrust case [NLJ]
  • Foreign Corrupt Practices Act probe of retailers? [Reuters, FCPA Professor] FCPA piggyback shareholder suits falter [D&O Diary]
  • Obama has postponed a slew of new regulations until after November, and they’re a costly lot [Rob Portman, WSJ]
  • Fifth Circuit rejects challenge to sentencing in Paul Minor case [YallPolitics, background]

June 24 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 24, 2011

  • “Law Prof Threatens Suit over University’s Plan to Reinstitute Single-Sex Dorms” [ABA Journal, WSJ Law Blog; John Banzhaf vs. Catholic U. in Washington, D.C.]
  • Mississippi: Dickie Scruggs files motion to vacate conviction in Scruggs II (DeLaughter case) [Freeland, YallPolitics] Before defending Paul Minor’s conduct in cash-for-judges scandal, review the evidence [Lange, YallPolitics and more]
  • Woman who filmed cop from own yard charged with obstructing his administration of government [BoingBoing]
  • East St. Louis, Ill. jury awards $95 million in sexual harassment, assault case against Aaron’s rental chain [ABA Journal]
  • Connecticut unions demand investigation of conservative Yankee Institute think tank [Public Sector Inc.]
  • “Court Upends $1.75M Award, Finding Plaintiff Lawyer’s Remarks Prejudicial” [NJLJ]
  • Hold it! San Francisco debates bathroom rights for schoolkids [C.W. Nevius, SF Chronicle]

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February 25 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 25, 2011

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Despite much speculation that the Court’s rollback of the law of “honest services fraud” might help his case, the justices yesterday “let stand without comment a ruling by a federal appeals court that upheld most convictions of the lawyer, Paul Minor, and the judges, John Whitfield and Wes Teel. The men were convicted for their roles in a complicated scheme involving loans for the judges and allegedly favorable rulings in civil cases involving Minor.” [AP/Biloxi Sun-Herald, YallPolitics]

The Fifth Circuit has overturned (PDF) that portion of the convictions of Mississippi trial lawyer Paul Minor and two judges based on what is known as federal program bribery, while upholding the trio’s convictions for mail fraud and racketeering based on violations of state bribery law. The latter set of convictions, however, could be undermined should the U.S. Supreme Court strike down as unconstitutional the concept of “honest services” fraud. [ABA Journal, Freeland and more and yet more, Y'AllPolitics; our earlier, extensive Minor coverage]

Harper’s commentator Scott Horton and New York Times editorial commentator Adam Cohen have long defended Minor as the target of a supposed political prosecution premised on “vague allegations”, contending (to quote Cohen) that his crime “does not look much like a crime at all” and is based on things that “everyone” does in the Mississippi legal system. But the Fifth Circuit sharply rebukes this view of the case, laying out in some detail (quoting the ABA Journal) the nature of the corruption involved:

Structured as a short-term “balloon” loan that had to be renewed every six months, after the accumulated interest was paid, “the arrangement allowed Minor to keep Whitfield on a string while Minor held the bank at bay,” states the 68-page opinion, explaining the government’s theory of the case concerning this one judge. Minor directly or indirectly made the vast majority of the payments on the $140,000 in loans to Whitfield, the opinion notes, and little or none of the money apparently was spent on Whitfield’s judicial campaign.

Minor also repaid the $25,000 loan he arranged for Teel, which was deposited into the judge’s campaign account. However, neither judge reported the loans as required on campaign disclosure forms, the opinion states.

Each judge subsequently made rulings in a case that allegedly may have been influenced by their financial relationship with Minor. However, the legally required connection between federal funds the judges received [emphasis added] and their rulings was not established, the 5th Circuit found.

There are indeed plenty of legitimate questions — which hardly raised their heads for the first time in this case — about the armory of powers that federal prosecutors have developed over many years in their efforts to go after state-level corruption. But that this was an episode of grotesque corruption, and that Minor’s misconduct went far beyond anything remotely defensible as politics as usual, should by this point be apparent even to Harper’s and the Times.

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Kings of Tort, the new book on Mississippi’s Dickie Scruggs and Paul Minor scandals by Alan Lange (YallPolitics) and Tom Dawson, is now out. Its website links to reviews and other angles of interest.

P.S. A blog reaction from Tom Freeland.

November 12 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 12, 2009

  • Judge cites Oregon elder abuse act in barring animal rights activists from harassing elderly furrier [Zick, Prawfsblawg]
  • After fraud accusations against Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein, politicos race to return his many donations [NYT, AmLaw Daily,
    DBR and more, Ashby Jones/WSJ Law Blog and more (Ponzi investments could exceed $1 billion, per FBI)]
  • Ontario court ruling may invite U.S. class action lawyers to take on more projects in Canada [Kevin LaCroix]
  • “Mississippi Cardiologist Won’t Go to Prison for Online Dating” [Balko, Freeland]
  • Manuscript in the mail: “Kings of Tort”, Alan Lange/Tom Dawson book on Dickie Scruggs and Paul Minor scandals, which now has its own website and will go on sale Dec. 2;
  • A “cultural institution destroyed” in Louisiana: more on proposed FDA ban on raw oysters [NYT, earlier]
  • Update on Google Books settlement [Sag, ConcurOp]
  • Mark Steyn on the Zack Christie case and other annals of knives-in-schools zero-tolerance [NRO, Steyn Online via Skenazy]

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Paul Minor appeal

by Walter Olson on April 30, 2009

A Fifth Circuit panel is looking closely into whether the disgraced attorney’s payments to Mississippi state judges had enough of a nexus to federal programs to trigger the application of the federal bribery statute. Tom Freeland explains (and has more).

April 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 20, 2009

  • Boy fatally shoots stepbrother at home, mom sues school district as well as shooter’s family [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
  • Problem gambler sues Ontario lottery for C$3.5 billion [Toronto Star]
  • Cop declines training in which he’d be given Taser shock, and sues [Indianapolis Star]
  • Ultra-litigious inmate Jonathan Lee Riches scrawls new complaint linking Bernard Madoff, Britney Spears [Kevin LaCroix]
  • Just to read this update feels like an invasion of privacy: “Judge to Hear Challenge to $6M Herpes Case Award” [On Point News, earlier]
  • “Best criminal strategy: join the Spokane police” [Coyote Blog] More: Greenfield, Brayton.
  • Will mommy-bloggers be held liable for freebie product reviews? [Emily Friedman, ABC News, earlier]
  • Update: “Fifth Circuit says no bail for Paul Minor” [Freeland]

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Over the years we’ve traced some of the shifting theories by which it’s been argued that once-prominent attorney Paul Minor was railroaded and didn’t really deserve conviction in that seedy Mississippi cash-for-judges scandal. Now America’s Most Irresponsible Public Figure®, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has started banging his bowl in Minor’s cause, prompting Alan Lange to do what Kennedy does not do, namely provide supporting documents and links by which the interested reader can check out the actual details of the Minor-Whitfield-Teel scandals rather than taking someone’s word for it.

P.S. Tom Freeland analyzes the legal issues in the Minor oral argument, and follows up. P.P.S. Freeland’s reaction to the RFK Jr. work is not a placid one.

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June 5 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 5, 2008

  • “I believe it’s frivolous; I believe it’s ridiculous, and I believe it’s asinine”: Little Rock police union votes lopsidedly not to join federal “don/doff” wage-hour lawsuit asking pay for time spent on uniform changes [Arkansas Democrat Gazette courtesy U.S. Chamber]
  • Must-read Roger Parloff piece on furor over law professors’ selling of ethics opinions [Fortune; background links @ PoL]
  • Too rough on judge-bribing Mississippi lawyers? Like Rep. Conyers at House Judiciary, but maybe not for same reasons, we welcome renewed attention to Paul Minor case [Clarion-Ledger]
  • American Airlines backs off its plan to put Logan skycaps on salary-only following loss in tip litigation [Boston Globe; earlier]
  • U.K.: Infamous Yorkshire Ripper makes legal bid for freedom, civil liberties lawyer says his human rights have been breached [Independent]
  • In long-running campaign to overturn Feres immunity for Army docs, latest claim is that military knowingly withholds needed therapy so as to return soldiers to front faster [New York Rep. Maurice Hinchey on CBS; a different view from Happy Hospitalist via KevinMD]
  • Profs. Alan Dershowitz and Robert Blakey hired to back claim that Russian government can invoke U.S. RICO law in its own courts to sue Bank of New York for $22 billion [WSJ law blog, earlier @ PoL]
  • Minnesota Supreme Court declines to ban spanking by parents [Star-Tribune, Pioneer Press]
  • Following that very odd $112 million award (knocked down from $1 billion) to Louisiana family in Exxon v. Grefer, it’s the oil firm’s turn to offer payouts to local neighbors suffering common ailments [Times-Picayune, UPI]
  • AG Jerry Brown “has been suing, or threatening to sue, just about anyone who doesn’t immediately adhere” to his vision of building California cities up rather than out [Dan Walters/syndicated]
  • Virginia high school principal ruled entitled to disability for his compulsion to sexually harass women [eight years ago on Overlawyered]

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January 13 roundup

by Ted Frank on January 13, 2008

Updates:

  • The Canadian Transportation Agency (as part of its regulation of airline ticket prices) has ruled that obese passengers are entitled to have two airline seats for the price of one, which will no doubt encourage further suits against the American practice. (h/t Rohan) One looks forward to the Canadian lawsuits complaining that an obese passenger wasn’t adjudged obese enough to get a free second seat. [Australian; Toronto Star; Gunter @ National Post; earlier on Overlawyered]
  • Also in Canada, Ezra Levant defends his free speech rights against a misnamed Alberta “Human Rights Commission” over his republication of the Danish Muhammed cartoons. [Frum; National Post; Steyn @ Corner; Wise Law Blog; Youtube; related on Overlawyered]
  • Alleged car-keying attorney “Grodner is now under investigation by the state’s Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, sources said. Commission officials declined to comment Thursday.” [Chicago Tribune; Jan. 4]
  • “Life is short—get a divorce” attorney Corri Fetman parlays her tasteless billboard (May 10; May 8) into tasteless Playboy topless-modeling and advice-column gig. In the words of Alfred E. Neuman, “Blech.” On multiple and independent grounds. Surprisingly, Above the Law avoids the snark of noting that the lead paragraph of Fetman’s law firm web site bio includes a prestigious 23-year-old quote from a college professor’s recommendation for law school. [Above the Law; Chicago Sun-Times; Elefant]
  • Wesley Snipes (Jun. 11; Nov. 2006) appears to be going for a Cheek defense in his tax-evasion trial—which is hard to do when you’re a multimillionaire whose well-paid accountants explicitly tell you you’re violating the law. (Remember what I said about magical incantations and taxes?) [Tampa Tribune; Quatloos]
  • Accountant Mark Maughan loses his search-engines-make-me-look-bad lawsuit (Mar. 2004) against Google, which even got Rule 11 sanctions. (That happened in 2006. Sorry for the delay.) More on Google and privacy: Jan. 16. [Searchenginewatch]
  • Bribed Mississippi judges in Paul Minor case (Sep. 8 and much more coverage) report to prison. [AP]

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Scruggs indictment IX

by Walter Olson on December 12, 2007

Yes, it seems there were wiretaps. Defendants will be seeing evidence from the prosecution momentarily which might (or might not) be the trigger for further flipping and early plea deals, if such there will be.

There is enormous curiosity (e.g.) about P.L. Blake, to whom Scruggs says he paid $10 million (and tens of millions more in future payments) for vaguely described intelligence services aimed at swaying political influentials during the tobacco caper. Per a 1997 account posted at Y’All Politics, “Blake pleaded ‘no contest’ in 1988 to a federal charge that he conspired to bribe officials of the now-defunct Mississippi Bank to secure favorable loan terms.” The same article, citing reporting in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, reports that Blake was in close phone contact between 1994 and 1996 with eventually-disgraced state Auditor Steve Patterson, who after leaving office went into partnership with Timothy Balducci and is one of the five indicted in the current Scruggs affair. Per AP, “Patterson was a banker at Mississippi Bank before his 1984-1987 tenure as head of the Mississippi Democratic Party.”

David Rossmiller, as so often, is out front with a report filling in background on two other controversies involving Blake. One arose from a venture into the grain storage business which landed him in a Texas dispute in which his attorney was none other than Fred Thompson, later a Tennessee senator and presidential candidate. The other arose from his cordial dealings with a former chief of staff to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Mississippi).

Harper’s blogger Scott Horton has now published his take, as is his wont heavily dependent on hush-hush (but no doubt wholly trustworthy) confidential sources who float all sorts of theories about scoundrelly doings by the highly placed. He winds up with a theory that would pull Sen. Lott into it (though with no allegation of criminality) by way of the Acker contempt matter, as distinct from either the Balducci/Lackey bribery attempt or, say, the Paul Minor affair. Of Horton’s many anonymously sourced speculations, the one that caught my eye was tucked into a footnote: “A law enforcement official I interviewed, who for professional reasons asked to remain anonymous, told me that Scruggs’s junior partner Sidney Backstrom might take the same road as Balducci.” Now that is news a rumor (more). (Update Tues. evening: Backstrom’s attorney Frank Trapp flatly denies that anything of the sort is in the works: Patsy R. Brumfield, “Backstrom firm on innocence, his attorney says”, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Dec. 12.)

This is probably a good place to apprise readers who aren’t aware of it that 25-odd years ago, while first gaining a footing in the policy world, I worked briefly on Capitol Hill drafting research papers for a committee then headed by Mr. Lott. We only talked a couple of times, I had never set foot in the state of Mississippi at the time, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t recognize me on the street, but if you’re a conspiracy theorist about such matters, there you have it.

At Y’All Politics, commenter “lawdoctor1960″ has some speculation as to why the remarkable deposition of Scruggs in the Luckey case didn’t get more media or political attention at the time.

Welcome Andrew Sullivan, David Rossmiller, Y’All Politics readers.

Attorney Tim Balducci’s role as deputized lawyer for the state of Mississippi in the MCI and Zyprexa cases is drawing public scrutiny, and may result in pressure for reform of AG outside contracting.

We’ve started a new “Scandals” category for readers who want quick access to coverage of the Mississippi mess, also stocked with some earlier links to coverage of such earlier blow-ups as Milberg Weiss/Lerach, Kentucky fen-phen, the Paul Minor affair, etc. For those who are following Scruggs posts in sequence, be aware that yesterday’s first and second posts fell outside the numbering scheme.

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Scruggs indictment IV

by Walter Olson on December 4, 2007

The WSJ law blog’s Peter Lattman is now reporting from Scruggs hometown Oxford, Miss. and (with co-reporter Paolo Prada) is in today’s paper with “It’s Party Time For Dickie Scruggs In Oxford, Miss.” (WSJ, Dec. 4, sub-only). Among its newsy items: “People familiar with the investigation” confirm what was widely surmised, that attorney Timothy Balducci “began cooperating with prosecutors at some point after offering the judge money”. Balducci’s whereabouts are not immediately apparent and a “neighbor said no one had been [at his home] for a more than a week.” How much heat is attorney Balducci getting for his role in the case? The WSJ-on-paper quotes Deborah Patterson, wife of Balducci’s business partner and co-defendant Steven Patterson, as saying of Balducci: “He’s a short midget…and he has some sort of complex.” In the online version of the article this quote is shortened (so to speak) to “He has some sort of complex,” but with no correction or other explanation of whether the midget reference was repertorial error or what, exactly.

As emerges fairly clearly in the piece, the Scruggs camp is encouraging a line of defense that portrays Balducci, who has worked extensively with Scruggs in the past and has represented him in earlier lawsuits charging unfair fee division, as a clueless wannabe who pursued the bribe scheme on his own in hopes of impressing the senior lawyer — “a young man wanting to endear himself to Dickie Scruggs”, as one Scruggs intimate is quoted as saying. Famed novelist and Scruggs buddy John Grisham is quoted in the article (and in a separate WSJ blog interview) as saying that the scheme “doesn’t sound like the Dickie Scruggs that I know,” Mr. Grisham said yesterday. “When you know Dickie, and how successful he has been, you could not believe he would be involved in such a boneheaded bribery scam that is not in the least bit sophisticated.” But this is to assume that the payments starkly presented by the indictment as cash-for-the-judge were not intended to be dressed up in some more sophisticated guise, such as eventually forgiven loans routed through some fellow lawyer’s office, made to a relative of the judge, or both. That was the way things were handled in the Paul Minor cash-for-judges affair, in which Scruggs himself was involved, and one should not assume that no such overlay of sophistication would not have been poured over the Lackey payments.

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Scruggs indictment, day two

by Walter Olson on November 30, 2007

David Rossmiller at Insurance Coverage Blog (who’s also a co-blogger of mine at Point of Law) continues to be the must-read source on this sensational story and its fast-breaking developments. He’s posted a PDF of Jones v. Scruggs, the lawsuit before Judge Lackey by lawyers who say they were cut out of Katrina fees. He also offers some answers to the question posed by a commenter at Above the Law, who asks, “What kind of cheap-o offers a $40,000 bribe to resolve a dispute over $26.5 million in attorneys fees?!” (To begin with, the ruling sought from Judge Lackey would not have disposed of the fee claim, just sent it to arbitration.) Martin Grace scents a ripe irony in the fee-dispute lawsuit, noting that it charged Scruggs with engaging in the same sorts of tactics toward fellow lawyers that he regularly accused insurers of practicing toward their insureds: “lowballing claims and producing fake documents in support of the claims.”

Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft writes that Judge Lackey “presumably [agreed] to tape his calls with the defendants. I suspect the F.B.I. also got a wiretap on Scruggs’ or his co-defendants’ phones, since there are several calls described in the Indictment that don’t involve Judge Lackey. Getting a wiretap on a law firm’s telephone is unusual — particularly due to the substantial and cumbersome minimization efforts required to ensure that calls of clients and lawyers unrelated to the criminal investigation are not overheard.” At the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, columnist Sid Salter has more on co-defendants Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson. A PDF of the indictment is here.

The internal cohesion of the anti-insurer lawyer consortium known as the Scruggs Katrina Group (SKG) appears at present to be under extreme pressure. Rossmiller reports that “policyholder lawyers in general tell me they are seething over Scruggs” and in particular that at least some lawyers who have been his allies “don’t want their names and their cases tarnished with the Scruggs name”. On Thursday an extraordinary contretemps developed in which SKG co-founder Don Barrett of Lexington, Miss. sent a letter (PDF) to a judge hearing Katrina cases against State Farm, suggesting that SKG was being re-formed without Scruggs and would take over the litigation with he, Barrett, as lead counsel (Lattman, WSJ). Within hours, Scruggs had dispatched a letter of his own (PDF) saying that Barrett was misinformed, that it was up to plaintiff families to decide who they wanted to represent them, and that many would undoubtedly wish to retain Scruggs (second posts at Lattman and Rossmiller). As of Thursday evening, the Scruggs Katrina Group website has prominently posted the Scruggs letter but not the Barrett one; one might speculate that if some sort of split within SKG is imminent, the website operation, at least, may have maintained loyalty to the Scruggs side.

On the statewide political repercussions, see Majority in Mississippi, Sid Salter at the Clarion-Ledger, and Chris Lawrence at Signifying Nothing, who also quotes Salter in a comment thread predicting: “The next sob story will be that Dickie’s indictment is about Bush administration persecution of trial lawyers and a rehash of Paul Minor’s problems.” Take it away, Adam Cohen and Scott Horton!

On political repercussions nationally, it didn’t take long for the Hillary Clinton campaign to cancel the Scruggs-hosted fundraiser that was to have been headlined by husband Bill Clinton next month (Associated Press, WSJ Washington Wire). The North Dakota political blog Say Anything thinks politicos in that state should return the (rather substantial) sums they have received from Scruggs and colleagues, but one may reasonably assume that such calls will be ignored, just as elected officials have been in no hurry to divest themselves of the booty collected from such figures as felon/mega-donor William Lerach.

Where are Scruggs’s admirers and defenders? One can only suppose that somber music is playing in the corridors at the business section of the New York Times, which has run one moistly admiring profile of the Mississippi attorney after another in the past couple of years. As of 3 p.m. Thursday, the Times’s very restrained story on the indictment was in a suitably inconspicuous position on the paper’s online business page — the 15th highest story in the left column, in fact. The story, by serial Scruggs profiler Joseph B. Treaster, quotes the relatively ambiguous line attributed to defendant Timothy Balducci — “All is done, all is handled and all went well.” — but omits the far more smoking-gunnish “We paid for this ruling; let’s be sure it says what we want it to say.” And things are anything but upbeat at Mother Jones, where Stephanie Mencimer concedes that she finds the indictment “pretty damning“.

More links: Paul Kiel, TPM Muckraker (indictment “devastating… it doesn’t look good for Scruggs”); Legal Schnauzer (defender of Paul Minor distinguishes the two cases); WSJ interview with Judge Lackey (sub-only) and editorial (free link), Rossmiller Friday morning post (certain details in indictment suggest that a conspiracy insider, possibly Balducci, may have cooperated with prosecutors)(& welcome Instapundit, Point of Law, TortsProf, Adler @ Volokh, Open Market, Y’allPolitics, Majority in Mississippi, Rossmiller readers).

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Was Paul Minor framed?

by Walter Olson on October 12, 2007

I take a look at the question this morning at Point of Law.

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Once among the South’s most financially successful and politically influential plaintiff’s lawyers, attorney Paul Minor was sentenced on Friday to 11 years in federal prison following his conviction in a judicial bribery scandal we’ve covered extensively at this site. Two former judges convicted in the case, John Whitfield and Wes Teel, drew sentences of 110 months and 70 months respectively. Minor’s lawyers had asked that he be sentenced to time served, and supporters had sent letters by the sackful asking for leniency. (“Gulf Coast lawyer Paul Minor gets 11 years in prison for bribing Miss. judges”, AP/Natchez Democrat, Sept. 7; Jimmie Gates, “Minor, ex-judges sentenced in bribery case”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Sept. 7).

Judge Henry Wingate also fined Minor $2.75 million and ordered him to pay $1.5 million in restitution, not quite as telling a blow to his fortunes as one might assume, given that “Minor earns up to $2.5 million a year from a settlement with tobacco companies,” not to mention all the other money he’s made (Robin Fitzgerald, “‘Lady Justice Is Sobbing”, Biloxi Sun-Herald, Sept. 8). Minor is also being sued by insurer USF&G, which paid out a $1.5 million settlement to a bank represented by Minor in a case before Judge Teel. (Julie Goodman, “Minor’s legal woes won’t end when he goes to prison”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Sept. 8).

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August 10 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 10, 2007

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