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5 notable GCs in the news
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5 notable GCs in the news

General counsel sound off on gun control, rope swings, traffic tickets and more

Dangerous Driving

“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor traffic lights stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed routes.”

--George Hittner, general counsel of American Traffic Solutions (ATS)

It’s no secret that the U.S. Postal Service is strapped for cash, so when faced with $700 in traffic tickets, the agency got creative in its efforts to have them dismissed. The agency argued that it should not have to pay the tickets—which it reportedly received when East Cleveland, Ohio, traffic cameras caught postal workers running red lights in school zones—because “the Postal Service enjoys federal immunity from state and local regulation.”

But Hittner, who took it upon himself to rewrite the Postal Service’s famed creed, said that the agency should be holding employees responsible for dangerous driving, not “attempting to hide behind an immunity claim.”

Photo credit: Michael Grindstaff

Suspended Swinging

"If people want to huck themselves off a cliff or arch that’s their business.”

--John Andrews, general counsel of Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA)

Corona Arch—a natural sandstone arch located on state land near Moab, Utah—has achieved fame as both a picturesque rock formation and “the world’s largest rope swing.” It earned the latter title last year, when outfitting company Utah High Adventure set up a 250-pendulum rope swing on the arch, and charged clients more than $200 to jump from it.

The state of Utah suspended such commercial jumps earlier this week, citing a fear of lawsuits if it issued permits for paid jumps that subsequently went awry. But don’t worry adrenaline junkies: Andrews made it clear the arch will still be open to private citizens looking for a free thrill, explaining that owners who keep their land open for recreational use are generally shielded from liability.

Limiting Lawsuits

"Blaming manufacturers for criminal misuse of firearms is like blaming Ford for drunk-driving crashes."

--Lawrence Keane, general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade organization based in Newtown, Conn.

Lawmakers in Colorado have introduced a proposal that would hold manufacturers and dealers of assault-style weapons legally liable for crimes committed with their firearms. Even if the proposed law passes, it will be void under the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields gun makers from such suits. But the Democrats who came up with the bill say that they are trying to raise public awareness of the federal law, in hopes that the government may repeal it.

Detractors of the federal law say that it allows firearms manufacturers to avoid implementing safety improvements, since they cannot be sued for failing to do so. But Keane and other gun rights advocates say that the measure protects gun makers from lawsuits over crimes that they did not commit.

Courtroom Corruption

“Another participant in the fraud has now come forward rather than wait[ing] to be exposed by others.”

--Hewitt Pate, general counsel of Chevron Corp.

For more than a decade, Chevron Corp. has been fighting a messy legal battle with Ecuadorean villagers who claim the oil giant’s subsidiary, Texaco, improperly disposed of drilling waste in the 1970s and 1980s. In February 2011, a judge in a small jungle town ordered Chevron to pay nearly $19 billion in damages.

But the oil giant, not to be outdone, has upped the drama yet again in a Jan. 28 court filing, in which former Ecuadorian judge Alberto Guerra testifies that he and other judges accepted thousands of dollars from lawyers for the local villagers in exchange for writing favorable judicial orders and judgments. The villagers’ attorneys, however, point out that Chevron paid Guerra for his information.

Fictitious Fees

“The ridiculous concept that merchants will start surcharging on any widespread basis is propaganda being spread by the card industry in an attempt to divert attention from their skyrocketing swipe fees.”

--Mallory Duncan, general counsel of the National Retail Federation (NRF)

Last year’s potentially record-breaking antitrust settlement between Visa Inc., Mastercard Inc., banks and retailers included a provision that would allow merchants to pass credit card swipe fees on to customers, leading some to speculate that shoppers could be seeing some unwelcome surcharges on purchases in the near future.

Ten states prohibit such surcharges, but many customers would still be open to the fees every time they pay for a purchase with a credit card. However Duncan says that, although there may be exceptions, none of the retailers that the NRF has spoken to intend to pass on surcharges to customers.

 

Alanna Byrne

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