Legal BriefingA daily look at legal news and the business of law:

Married Gay Couples in Massachusetts Get Federal Marriage Benefits

The Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) bars federal recognition of same sex marriages, which means that legally married gay couples cannot get the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples including social security benefits. At the time of the lawsuit, over 1000 federal benefits were tied to marital status.

Citing the 10th Amendment's reservation of rights to the states, U.S. District Judge Joseph J. Tauro held the statute unconstitutional in one of two cases before him; in the other he cited the Fifth Amendment's Equal Protection clause. Marriage had always been a state law issue, the judge explained in the 10th Amendment case. In the Equal Protection case, the judge found that only irrational prejudice underlay the prohibition on recognizing gay marriages for benefit purposes.

It's not clear if the decision will be appealed. Oddly, gay rights supporters might hope it is, as there's some thought that the Prop 8 case would be helped if the Supreme Court upholds this decision first. Nonetheless the only possible appellant is the Obama administration, which supports repealing the law. So far the administration has only said it was reviewing decision.

In the meantime, gay couples married in Massachusetts can claim their federal benefits. For Iowa gay couples to similarly benefit, a lawsuit would have to be won there too. Unless, that is, the decision is appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court and upheld there.

Tyco Parties in the News Again

In the vodka-peeing ice sculpture of Michaelangelo's David-days of the infamous Dennis Kozlowski, Tyco parties were the archetype of corporate excess. It seems those days are back; Bloomberg reports that a Tyco accountant has filed a whistleblower suit alleging fraudulent accounting of at least three such events. One was a $350,000 bash at the Bahamas's Atlantis resort, replete with "mermaids," a tattoo artist and dancers. A Las Vegas bash at the Venetian resort set Tyco back $218,000, while the Virginia's Wintergreen resort charged Tyco $355,000 for a party there. Tyco denies any improper accounting.

Who's Your Daddy, LeBron?

A Washington D.C. attorney, Leicester Bryce Stovell claims he's LeBron James's daddy resulting from a 1984 hook up after he met Gloria James in D.C. bar when she was 15 and he was 29. He's been trying to establish his paternity since 2007, but claims he's been blocked by a conspiracy led by James's mother, whom he claims has threatened him with physical violence. Stovell says James looks like him, gets basketball skills from him, and is named for him (Leicester Bryce). Now he's suing, both because of the alleged conspiracy and defamation of his character -- LeBron has made public, negative statements about his "father." Stovell hopes to get to take a paternity test as part of discovery. It would be his second paternity test; Stovell says the first one's results were falsified as part of the conspiracy. If the claims in Stovell's complaint are true, he makes a pretty convincing case. But maybe it's all one big lie; I certainly can't say.

Were Tax Cheats Victims of Data Theft?

The other day I noted a new federal effort aimed at getting more rich tax cheats -- all clients of HSBC -- to pay Uncle Sam the taxes due on the money they've stashed offshore. The Wall Street Journal reports that two HSBC employees have taken data from tax-cheating clients and have been selling and trying to sell it to governments around the world. I wonder if that's where the Department of Justice got its list of names?

And in the Business of Law...

Attorney ads in Florida face such strict regulation by the Florida Bar that even the Federal Trade Commission is coming to the attorneys' defense, according to the ABA Journal.

India struggles with allowing foreign law firms to operate in India, according to Bloomberg. Although the idea, presumably, is to give Indian law firms more business, the article says that if India takes the most restrictive approach possible, the net result will be more videoconferencing, phone calls and meetings in nearby countries.

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