8 notable GCs in the news

General counsel sound off on art heists, safe sex, drone strikes and more

Purloined Paintings

"Eventually they will resurface. Somebody will rat somebody else out. It's really only a matter of time."

--Christopher Marinello, general counsel of The Art Loss Register

For 23 years, the theft of $500 million worth of artwork from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has been one of the greatest mysteries in the art world. But now authorities at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) say they know the identity of the two thieves who posed as Boston police officers, tied up two guards and made off with 13 works by the likes of Degas, Vermeer and Rembrandt on the night of March 18, 1990.

As surprising as the agency’s revelation seems, Marinello told the Associated Press that it is not uncommon for stolen paintings to reappear, even after nearly a quarter of a century.

Warrantless Wiretaps

"In my ten months at the NSA, it's [become] evident to me that I am the general counsel for one of the most highly regulated entities in the world.”

--Rajesh De, general counsel of the National Security Agency (NSA)

Last month, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling blocked a lawsuit challenging the NSA’s practice of warrantless wiretapping. One day later, De defended the agency’s practices in a speech at Georgetown University Law Center, arguing that, without judicial approval, the NSA does not monitor the communications of unwitting Americans “when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy” and U.S. law would require a warrant. 

De also disputed the portrayal of the NSA as an agency that “operates in the shadows, free from external scrutiny or true accountability.” Despite the organization’s necessary secrecy, he maintained, it answers to multiple government regulators, other agencies and the legislative branch.

Resale Ruling

“The ruling for Kirtsaeng will send a tremor through the publishing industries, harming both U.S. businesses and consumers around the world.”

--Keith Kupferschmid, general counsel for the Software & Information Industry Association

Broke college students everywhere likely breathed a sigh of relief when the Supreme Court ruled this week in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons that overseas goods, including textbooks, can be resold online and in discount stores without running afoul of copyright laws.

Supap Kirtsaeng, a Thai graduate student, earned extra cash by getting his overseas relatives to buy cut-rate international editions of U.S. textbooks, which he then resold on eBay. Kirtsaeng argued that his actions were legal under the “first-sale doctrine,” which allows lawful buyers to give away or sell their purchases. The 2nd Circuit ruled that the law did not apply to imported materials, but the Supreme Court reversed that decision on Tuesday, to the dismay of some in the publishing, software and music businesses.

Climbing Cases

"I talked to a lot of … HR groups, and most companies would admit that at least two years ago their policies were written without consideration of workers' rights. They were written very, very over broadly.”

--Lafe Solomon, general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

In 2010, the NLRB filed a complaint against American Medical Response of Connecticut, an ambulance service that fired an employee after she complained about management on her Facebook page. Following that widely publicized case, the board has seen an increase in the number of social media-related cases. Solomon said at a conference that most of the cases either challenge employee terminations or dispute companies’ social media policies.

Drone Drama

“I guess I belong in the category of ‘skeptic.’”

--Jeh Johnson, former general counsel of the Department of Defense (DOD)

The issue of targeted overseas drone strikes has sparked public controversy, protests and a 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor. But creating a “drone court” to oversee such strikes isn’t the answer, according to Johnson. In a speech at the Fordham University School of Law, the former DOD general counsel admitted that such a court could offer “some added levels of credibility, independence and rigor” to the strikes. But Johnson maintained that it inappropriately gives courts the power to question the president’s authority as commander-in-chief, which is enshrined in the Constitution.

Microsoft Malfeasance

“In a company of our size, allegations of this nature will be made from time to time.”

--John Frank, deputy general counsel of Microsoft

Nowadays, it seems that no company is safe from the long arm of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and that apparently includes Microsoft Corp. Officials at the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission have reportedly launched preliminary investigations into allegations that the tech company paid bribes to certain consultants, resellers and other associates in Romania, China and Italy. The bribes were allegedly used to secure software contracts in those countries.

In a blog post, Frank declined to comment on the investigations, but said that the company was cooperating fully with authorities. He also noted that “it is not unusual for such reviews to find that an allegation was without merit.”

Safer Sex

“There's a law on the books, it needs to be enforced and we hope that the county will take it up."

--Tom Myers, general counsel of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation

A new Los Angeles law requiring adult film actors to wear condoms is being put to the test, following a complaint from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Measure B, which took effect last December, mandates that pornographic film companies must take safety measures—including condom use—when filming in Los Angeles County.

But production company Immoral Productions allegedly failed to institute these safety measures, which the AIDS organization discovered after receiving an anonymous tip. Foundation officials say they filed the complaint to test whether the county will actually enforce the new safety measures.

Furious Fans

“You are contractually obligated to make the payments due under the Premium Seat Agreement, as invoiced, through the end of the 2013 baseball season.”

--Derek Jackson, general counsel of the Miami Marlins, in a letter to two season-ticket holders

As if the Miami Marlins hadn’t alienated enough fans with their controversial new stadium and less-than-impressive 2012 record, the baseball team is now threatening to sue two season-ticket holders who complained about the allegedly obstructed view from their seats. Jan and Bill Leon agreed to buy two years’ worth of season tickets, but during the first year of the deal their prime stadium real estate was partially obscured by a new billboard.

After the season, the couple told the team that they would not pay $25,000 for the second season’s seats unless the team moved them away from the billboard. In response, the team threatened to sue the couple for the cost of the tickets. The Marlins, however, claim that they offered several alternate seats to the Leons, who refused them all.

Contributing Author

Alanna Byrne

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