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March|April 2005
An Academic Auction By David Bitkower
Job Fair By Dana Mulhauser
The Mobile Law Office By Margot Sanger-Katz
Self-Adhesive Salvation By Nicholas Hengen
Domesticated Disputes By Dashka Slater
Cases & Controversies
The Prudent Jurist By William H. Simon

Cases & Controversies


Follow That Camel

DIANA BILINELLI ENDED HER 10-YEAR MARRIAGE IN 1983, after learning that her husband, Sheik Mohammed al-Fassi of the Saudi royal family, planned to acquire more wives. Her divorce settlement seemed like a big win, as a Los Angeles court awarded her half of Al-Fassi's assets, a judgment now worth about $250 million. Al-Fassi's fortune included two airplanes, a private zoo, and three dozen cars in addition to several homes.

But Bilinelli has still not seen her money. After the divorce, Al-Fassi moved to Cairo to live with his brother and he died three years ago. Before he died, he claimed that he had transferred all of his holdings to a pair of relatives, whom Bilinelli sued in a Los Angeles civil court. While the judge found that they are liable for Al-Fassi's debts to her, so far her lawyers have been unable to locate their assets.

So Bilinelli has decided to place her hopes in the market. Her lawyer, Helen Dorroh-White, recently started telling people she knew that Bilinelli was willing to sell her judgment for a substantial discount. According to Dorroh-White, it should be a great investment opportunity for an entrepreneur with creative ideas about how to extract money from Al-Fassi's relatives. Bilinelli's had plenty of offers—the highest is for $3 million in cash—but she hasn't yet accepted a bid.

Save the Date

DAVID BOIES, THE TWO-TIME NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL LAWYER OF THE YEAR who became a household name when he represented Al Gore in 2000, found himself in an unfamiliar position before an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit last fall. He was reduced to groveling. "Every time a lawyer makes a mistake like this," he said apologetically, "it is discouraging, frustrating, and embarrassing."

And what a mistake it was. A paralegal at Boies's law firm misread a simple rule of civil procedure—that his firm had 30 days to file an appeal. The paralegal, whose job it was to keep the firm's calendars, told the lawyer in charge of the case the wrong schedule, causing him to miss his deadline. In such cases, a court has the right to grant an extension if it considers the error to be "excusable neglect." Boies was attempting to convince the panel that the paralegal's misreading of the rule, while "embarrassing," was still "excusable," as the trial judge had found. It was a tough line to walk.

The Ninth Circuit found Boies persuasive. Though the rule was "clear and unambiguous," the court said, the trial judge could reasonably accept the excuse and grant the extension. The panel's finding differed from similar decisions in three other circuits, which have deemed similar neglect inexcusable. A three-judge dissent argued forcefully that the error of Boies's firm—"whether made by the lawyer, the calendaring clerk or the candlestick-maker—is inexcusable."

Possession With Intent to Bake

KENYAN CHANDLER TRIED TO SCAM A CUSTOMER IN MASSILLON, OHIO. Chandler met the customer in a large white van, offered him a paper bag filled with a damp, white substance, and requested $8,000 in payment. The customer turned out to be an undercover police officer, and when the officer left the van to get the money, his colleagues rushed in to arrest Chandler.

But laboratory tests indicated that there wasn't an iota of cocaine in the bag—Chandler had tried to sell the cops baking soda, not crack. This information didn't much trouble the jury. Chandler was found guilty of drug trafficking and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. But it did concern two members of an Ohio appellate court, who came to the unsurprising conclusion that Chandler could not be found guilty of selling drugs if he had not sold drugs.

The Ohio Supreme Court decided last November to hear an appeal. Under Ohio law, it may not matter whether the drugs Chandler offered were authentic, and he remains in prison until the high court renders its judgment.

In a previous case, the Ohio court found that a man who offered to sell Percodan to police could be convicted of a drug crime, even though what he sold them turned out not to be a controlled substance. The dissenting judge on the appellate panel that reversed Chandler's conviction insisted that he could similarly be put away for selling a bag of counterfeit drugs, even if it was baking soda.

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