NEW JERSEY LAWYER

DAILY BRIEFING      02/07/2005


News Briefs

AT&T MERGER COULD AFFECT LAWYERS
If lawyers at AT&T have the jitters these days, they have good reason. Some 200 lawyers in Bedminster-based AT&T’s corporate law department could potentially feel the impact of SBC Communications’ acquisition of its former corporate parent. The one-time Baby Bell has announced plans to eliminate about 13,000 jobs following the $16 billion acquisition, cuts that would be in addition to existing plans to eliminate at least 12,000 jobs from the two companies before the merger is finalized next year. It’s not known how many of Ma Bell’s in-house attorneys might be affected, but SBC has projected that about 2,600 of the positions to be eliminated will be in administrative areas including the two companies’ sizeable regulatory and lobbying operations, which have fought countless legal battles against one another the past 20 years. It’s unclear to what extent the merger also might affect any legal outsourcing. 2-4-05

MED-MAL MESS GOES UNDER THE KNIFE
When there are hundreds of clients with medical malpractice claims and a defendant with depleted funds, the outcome suggests big troubles ahead. Now, plaintiffs lawyers are grumbling over how some of their clients seemingly are about to get shortchanged. The issue is how the $542 million balance remaining on the books of MIIX Insurance Co., briefly one of the nation’s leading medical malpractice insurers, will be divided among the large line of claimants, if a plan submitted by the state is approved. Mercer County Judge Neil H. Shuster will conduct a show-cause hearing Friday to discuss the plan to divide $400 million of the remaining funds among 700 to 900 claimants of the 2,600 cases pending. The maximum settlement offer, even for the most severe injuries, will be $1 million. The state Department of Banking and Insurance, which is managing the insurer’s assets, is asking the judge for a seven-month stay of trials while the offers are being made. Accepting an offer has a catch: If there aren’t enough takers, MIIX goes into insolvency, in which case the guaranty fund has a maximum per-claimant payout of $300,000. 2-4-05

COMFY RETIREMENT FOR ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGES
A bill that could nearly triple the pension of some administrative law judges is being considered Monday by a key Assembly committee. The proposed pension plan, which has been kicking around several years without coming to a vote in either house, will be discussed at a 1 p.m. meeting of the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The current version of the bill is A-2265 and its counterpart in the upper house is S-286. The state’s 40 administrative law judges, who are part of the executive branch, have for years been trying to bring their benefits closer to those of state court judges and this time around they’ve hired Trenton heavyweight lobbyist Harold Hodes to help nudge the plan along. Currently, an administrative law judge who retires at age 70 after 10 years’ service would get $21,790 a year. If the plan passes, the same retiree would get $89,887 annually. The bill has the support of the New Jersey State Bar Association. 2-4-05

APPEALS COURT ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Middlesex County students, attorneys and residents will have a rare opportunity to see the New Jersey Appellate Division at work, when the panel hears oral arguments Tuesday in six cases at the county courthouse in New Brunswick. Most appellate arguments are heard in Trenton, Hackensack, Morristown and Atlantic City, plus several at Rutgers Law School-Newark. Expanding the number of locations accommodates attorneys as well, said Judge Edwin H. Stern, the Appellate Division’s presiding judge for administration. Oral arguments also will be heard in New Brunswick April 12 and May 17. 2-4-05

COUNTY PUTTING ITS LEGAL BUDGET UNDER MICROSCOPE
Hoping to make the most of its $2.3 budget for legal services, Monmouth County freeholders have authorized a management study of its current practices. Those services now are handled by county counsel Malcolm V. Carton, who also has a private practice in Avon, seven assistant county counsel and nine special counsel, all of whom are paid $160 per hour. Freeholder Amy H. Handlin, who suggested the study, said it would provide “an opportunity to replicate the best practices in other counties if they make sense to us.” Carton, county counsel since 1985, according to court records, has billed the county more than $400,000 since 1997. While acknowledging the county’s desire to save money, he cautioned — and Handlin has acknowledged — it’s nearly impossible to find out how much each county spends on legal services. Trying to make comparisons can be frustrating, said Handlin, because legal costs often are charged to specific construction projects and acquisitions, while labor negotiations can be part of human resources budgets. 2-4-05



Today's Decision Summaries

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FROM THE NEW JERSEY SUPREME COURT, FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2005
NO OPINIONS WERE RELEASED BY THE NEW JERSEY SUPREME COURT ON FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2005, AND NO OPINIONS ARE SCHEDULED FOR RELEASE ON MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2005.


APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION
ARBITRATION
WILDE v. O’LEARY
Appellate Division, A-3345-03T2, approved for publication February 4, 2005. (7 pages). Facts-on-Call Order No. 92296

When a party is required to arbitrate before an industry-controlled panel pursuant to rules promulgated by the industry, it is incumbent upon the arbitrators to provide a fair forum and to respect fundamental due process rights; in this securities fraud case, the arbitration award should not have been confirmed because the arbitrators had refused to grant the plaintiff a reasonable amount of time to obtain a new expert after they arbitrarily disqualified her original expert.

CONSUMER PROTECTION
PEREZ v. RENT-A-CENTER, INC.
Appellate Division, A-3379-03T1, approved for publication February 4, 2005. (40 pages). Facts-on-Call Order No. 92297

The rent-to-own contracts that the plaintiff consumer entered into with the defendant did not violate the Retail Installment Sales Act because they did not satisfy the definition of “retail installment contract” under the Act; even if the Act applied, the plaintiff would not be entitled to damages because her transactions satisfied the time-price-differential exception to the usury laws; moreover, the Act does not recognize a violation of the usury laws as an independent violation of the Act.

NOT APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION
TRUAIR v. COUNTY OF MONMOUTH
Appellate Division, A-3747-03T5, February 4, 2005, not approved for publication. (5 pages). Facts-on-Call Order No. 17586

Judgment awarding 65 percent permanent partial disability to the petitioner affirmed in part but reversed and remanded for an offset for the petitioner’s ordinary disability pension; the petitioner sustained a lower back injury in 1996 while working as a sheriff’s officer, and his original workers’ compensation claim settled; after his condition worsened, the petitioner reopened his case in 1999 and was awarded medical treatment and temporary disability; the petitioner received an ordinary disability pension in 2000, but he later reopened his case after his condition further worsened; the judge of compensation’s most recent disability findings were supported by “more than adequate” credible evidence, but Rosales v. State Dep’t of Judiciary requires the offset to prevent double recovery.

LANDLORD AND TENANT
KISSOON v. PUZZELLA
Appellate Division, A-6110-03T1, February 4, 2005, not approved for publication. (4 pages). Facts-on-Call Order No. 17585

Judgment of $3,000 for the plaintiff tenant in an action to recover a $2,400 security deposit and $1,200 in rent affirmed; on the plaintiff’s second day of tenancy, the defendant landlord entered the apartment without permission to install blinds; the plaintiff asked to be notified in advance of future entries, and the defendant told the plaintiff to leave; the defendant turned off the heat, and the plaintiff vacated the next day; the trial judge awarded the plaintiff the full security deposit and prorated the rent, awarding the defendant $600 for the plaintiff’s two-day occupancy; the trial judge’s decision, which was based on his credibility findings, was “more than adequately supported by substantial, credible evidence.”

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION
BOND v. BOARD OF REVIEW
Appellate Division, A-5041-03T5, February 4, 2005, not approved for publication. (3 pages). Facts-on-Call Order No. 17583

Board of Review decision affirming the ruling of the Appeal Tribunal that the appellant floor cleaner was disqualified for unemployment benefits because he had resigned without good cause attributable to the work affirmed; after the appellant did not appear for scheduled jobs, the respondent employer attempted to contact him at his mother’s house; during a conversation with the appellant’s mother, the respondent asked whether the appellant might be drinking or using drugs; when the appellant learned of that conversation, he became angry and resigned; although the respondent had no basis to upset the appellant’s mother and no reason to suspect that the appellant was absent due to intoxication, the appellant’s “precipitous” decision to resign was unjustified.

PRETRIAL INTERVENTION
STATE v. HARVEY
Appellate Division, A-4852-03T1, February 4, 2005, not approved for publication. (7 pages). Facts-on-Call Order No. 17584

Order denying the defendant’s admission into the pretrial intervention program affirmed; the defendant tailgated a driver who had backed out in front of him from a driveway; after the driver exited his vehicle, the defendant ran him over with his truck and fled; the defendant later pleaded guilty to third-degree leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident resulting in death; the PTI director denied the defendant’s application based on Guideline 3i(3), which applies where an offense was “deliberately committed with violence or threat of violence against another person”; the decision of the Prosecutor’s Office to accept the PTI director’s recommendation did not constitute a patent and gross abuse of discretion, and the Law Division properly affirmed that decision.


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