May It Please The Court: Weblog of legal news and observations, including a quote of the day and daily updates

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Unequal Application Of Tax To Water Rights Holders Declared Unconstitutional

Some four years ago, the State of California levied small, three-cents-per-acre-foot water usage fees on some 7,000 family farmers, and succeeded in collecting some $20 million.  That fee was just overturned by the court as unconstitutional, and the State Water Resources Control Board must now refund the fees. 

Proposition 13 just struck another blow to regulatory fees applied to those who hold water rights in the State of California.  You remember Prop 13 - it was a Constitutional amendment that limits real property (land) tax rates and assessments, and places restrictions on state and local government's power to tax real property. 

You wouldn't think that Proposition applies to water rights, but while water rights are a real property right, here we're talking about regulatory fees, which is an exception to the tax restrictions of Prop 13.  You know the government - if they want revenue, they'll just call a tax something else.  Given the exception, the fees imposed can't exceed the reasonable cost of providing services necessary to the activity for which the fee is charged and can't be levied to bring in revenue to the agency.

The California State Water Resources Control Board asked the California Board of Equalization to tax (er, excuse me, exact annual regulatory fees) on water rights held by water rights permits and licenses, including those who simply entered into a contract with those who held the water rights.  Most of the holders of these rights were in the Central Valley of California, and the small fee quickly added up because of the amount of water used. 

The case, California Farm Bureau Federation v. California State Water Resources Control Board, turned on two issues:  the unequal application of the fee (only 40% of the water users were being taxed) and the lack of direct application of the fee charged by the government to the benefit provided by the government. 

In other words, it was just a tax, and not everyone was taxed. 

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 11:00. Comments Closed (0) |

Child Born Out Of Wedlock Entitled To Share In Father's Estate, Even Without A Will

What happens to a child when his father dies without a will, and doesn't actively get involved with the child's life?  According to a recent case here, In re:  Estate of Burden, the child is treated the same as children who are acknowledged as his children. 

According to the facts of our case, Gregory Burden fathered a child, Dale Agnew, out of wedlock, in 1971.  The child, Dale, met Gregory's mother and siblings, and spoke to his father Gregory for the first time when he turned 18.  Dale eventually developed a close relationship with Gregory's relatives, but Gregory stated that he did not want to be part of Dale's life.  Gregory never responded to any of Dale's overtures, but also never denied being Dale's father. Later,  Gregory died without a will, and a probate court found that Dale was entitled to the same equal share of Gregory's estate as was Gregory's other biological child, Dale's half-sister Tara.

This scenario has some similarities to James Brown's situation with two major differences.  James Brown had a will and he died in Georgia, not California.  He had seven children, six of whom were mentioned in his will.  James Brown's youngest child wasn't mentioned in his will.  In California, as it appears that it is in Georgia, a child not mentioned in a will is out of luck. 

That's why lawyers encourage their clients to update their wills and trusts as major life events occur.  Sometimes they even make provisions in wills for children born after the will is written.  But the better practice is to keep your will and trust up to date. 

Give your lawyer (or this one) a call.  Your family will be glad you did.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 11:25. Comments Closed (0) |

Legal Thriller Nominated For Edgar Allan Poe Award

MIPTC's regular readers know that I'm a fan of Paul Levine's writing, and especially his Solomon v. Lord series.  Drum roll, please:  the Mystery Writers of America just nominated Paul for a 2007 Edgar Allan Poe Award in honor of the writer's birthday on January 19, some 198 years ago.

Congrats to Paul.  In an email announcing the nomination, he said, "It only took 10 novels to get my first Edgar nomination.  If it takes another 10 to win one, they'll have to award it posthumously."  Let's hope not.  Keep up the wonderful writing, Paul. 

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, January 19, 2007 at 11:43. Comments Closed (0) |

Coast to Coast Internet Radio Plugs In E-discovery Experts

Most recently, several major companies have found themselves being investigated by authorities and many of them are discovering that they are losing the battle on how they handle their emails and important corporate documents.  In this show, we will be discussing the recent issues plaguing companies and firms, the power of e-discovery, the world of limitless legal technology and the revised FRCP. 

Please join me and my fellow co-host and blogger Bob Ambrogi as we welcome e-discovery experts, Attorney Thomas I. Barnett, Special Counsel for Sullivan & Cromwell, Michele C.S. Lange, staff attorney in the Electronic Evidence Services group at KrollOntrack Inc. and Attorney Craig Ball, writer for the Law Technology News' column, "Ball in your Court."  Don't miss it.


Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 09:52. Comments Closed (0) |

How To Continue Your Trial Down In The Parish. Especially For Football Fans.

Tip of the hat to my friend, Jamie Duarte, for sending me a copy of this motion from New Orleans:  Your honor, we want to watch the Saints play, and you've got this trial in our way.  How about continuing it for two days so we (you too) all watch the championship playoff? 

MIPTC confirmed it with the lawyers in NLO, and yes, it was filed. 

Granted, too.  Not surprisingly.  Here's the Court's Order

Now one step away from the Super Bowl, let's all cheer on the home team and help out the folks who still haven't recovered from Hurricane Katrina. 

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 12:10. Comments Closed (0) |

How Much For That Elbow Through The Painting?

Next to Marilyn Monroe's legs, Steve Wynn's elbow must be the most expensive celebrity extremity.

Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Wynn apparently put his elbow through Le Reve, a 1932 painting of Picasso's mistress, Marie Therese Walter.  Back in 1997, Wynn purchased the painting for just over $48 million.  Now, however, he claims that moments before he put his elbow through it, it was worth $139 million, but only $89 million afterward.

The painting's insurers, Lloyd's of London, have offered $91,000 to fix the painting, with a $21,000 consultation fee thrown in for good measure.  Not satisfied with the speed of Lloyd's claims handling process - and certainly the amount of their offer, Wynn sued his insurers asking the Court to make them resolve the claim.  It's certainly understandable.  Our law firm has worked for Lloyd's before, and it can sometimes take them almost a year to pay one of our invoices for fees and costs.  Bitter?  No.  We just won't work for them anymore.

Meanwhile, Steve's soliciting bids on insuring his elbow.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, January 16, 2007 at 01:18. Comments Closed (0) |

Light The Afterburners - Burning Man Is On Fire In The Courts

Burning Man is as much of a social movement as it is an event, and many "burners" (the self-styled name of the participants), want to keep both.  As with most things, money tends to get in the way.  As a non-participant, MIPTC can't really speak to the social or entertainment aspects of the movement, but I can address the legal ramifications.

It seems that one of the members of Paper Man, LLC, the company that apparently "owns" Burning Man filed a lawsuit, only to receive in response a demand for private arbitration.  If it gets into arbitration, we'll only know the result after it's over.  But news and Internet reports give the picture that perhaps some of the members of the LLC want to keep it private, and others want to put it into the public domain.

Here's the consequences of both:  once something's in the public domain, everyone can capitalize on it.  That's capitalize with a capital "C."  Everyone will be able to make money on it.  If it "belongs to everybody," then it does, and the marketplace will control how the name is used, and used perhaps not with the apparent care it's used now.  No one has been able to capitalize on it so far because the "owners" have kept it that way. 

If the trademark and the name "Burning Man" are kept private, then the members of Paper Man, LLC can control how the name is used.  There's also another company, Black Rock City, LLC, which appears to run the festival (dare I call it that?) itself.  The struggle over Burning Man involves both, and that big C in the desert may come to stand for something other than what it does now. 

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, January 15, 2007 at 22:32. Comments Closed (0) |

News Flash: Marriage Discriminates Against Men In California

At the turn of the year, we were treated to a dispute over a baby's name.  Now, we get this story:  marriage discriminates against men in California.  That's right, here in the land of fruits, nuts, twigs and berries, men are not treated as equally as women.  If you look at it from a man's perspective, which is pretty hard to do in this instance, then maybe you'll understand why one man wants to take his wife's last name.  He says when you get married and it comes time to figure out whose last name will be the name for both the man and the woman to take, it's not as easy for a man to take a woman's last name, so he's suing.

Apparently, there's no box to check on the marriage license form.

The state just assumes that the woman will take the man's last name.  No, I'm not kidding.  According to USA Today, only "six states -- Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota -- give either spouse the right to choose the other's last name."  Heck, for once California is in the majority.  We're not even close to being a trend leader on this one. 

I've got another conundrum for you, however.  Think about this:  what name does this hypothetical couple end up with:  Bob Smith-Jones and Suzy Johnson-Brown.  Is it Smith-Jones-Johnson-Brown? Is it the two first last names or the two last last names or just a mish-mash of letters?  Are they supposed to come up with an entirely new last name? 

The California marriage license form will never handle that issue. 

Update:  For another take on naming conventions:  see Justice Bedsworth's commentary.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 10:04. Comments Closed (0) |

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