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For two decades, Jerry Wolkoff let graffiti artists use his crumbling Queens warehouse complex as a canvas for their vibrant works. Artists gave the spot the name "5Pointz" — a place where all five New York City boroughs come together — but painters traveled from as far as Japan and Brazil to tag, bomb and burn at what became a graffiti mecca and a tourist destination.

But like most graffiti, it didn't last. Wolkoff whitewashed the building in 2013 then tore it down to build luxury apartment towers.

Four years later, some of the artists whose work was destroyed are in court, arguing that even though the building belonged to Wolkoff, the art was protected by federal law.

A trial that started Tuesday at a federal court in Brooklyn will determine whether the artists should be compensated for the lost work.

More than 20 artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, a 1990 federal statute that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.

A trial that started Tuesday at a federal court in Brooklyn will determine whether the artists should be compensated for the lost work.

More than 20 artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, a 1990 federal statute that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.

Barry Werbin, an attorney specializing in intellectual property, said the case is significant because no lawsuit under the statute has been tried by a jury before.



Disputes over a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and partisan electoral maps top the Supreme Court's agenda in the first full term of the Trump presidency. Conservatives will look for a boost from the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, in a year that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said will be momentous.

President Donald Trump's travel ban appears likely to disappear from the court's docket, at least for now. But plenty of high-profile cases remain.

The justices will hear important cases that touch on gay rights and religious freedoms, the polarized American electorate, the government's ability to track people without search warrants, employees' rights to band together over workplace disputes and states' rights to allow betting on professional and college sporting events.

Last year, "they didn't take a lot of major cases because they didn't want to be deadlocked 4-to-4," said Eric Kasper, director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. "This year, that problem doesn't present itself."

Gorsuch quickly showed he would be an ally of the court's most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, most recently joining them in objecting to the court's decision to block an execution in Georgia.

While justices can change over time, Gorsuch's presence on the bench leaves liberals with a fair amount of trepidation, especially in cases involving the rights of workers.

The very first case of the term, set for arguments Monday, could affect tens of millions of workers who have signed clauses as part of their employment contracts that not only prevent them from taking employment disputes to federal court, but also require them to arbitrate complaints individually, rather than in groups.




Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch acknowledged Friday that there is "a lot of skepticism about the rule of law" in the country but defended the United States judicial system as "a blessing" and "a remarkable gift" during a talk at Harvard University.

The court's newest justice marveled that in America "nine old people in polyester black robes" and other judges can safely decide cases according to their conscience and that the government can lose cases without resorting to the use of armed force to impose its will.

"That is a heritage that is very, very special," he said. "It's a remarkable gift. Travel elsewhere. See how judges live. See whether they feel free to express themselves."

Gorsuch, made the comments during his first public appearance since joining the high court in a conversation with fellow Justice Stephen Breyer at Harvard University.

Gorsuch said that particularly in tumultuous times it's important to convince the next generation "that the project (of justice) is worth it because many of them have grave doubts."

"I think there is a lot of skepticism about the rule of law, but I see it day in and day out in the trenches — the adversarial process of lawyers coming to court and shaking hands before and after, the judges shaking hands as we do, before we ascend to the bench," he said. "That's how we resolve our differences in this society."

Gorsuch, who was nominated to the high court earlier this year by Republican President Donald Trump, said he believes there is still confidence in the judicial system. He said that 95 percent of all cases are decided in the trial court, while only 5 percent are appealed, and the Supreme Court hears about 80 cases in a good year.


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