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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Not Guilty" - or I Kill Myself

Juror Threatens to Kill Himself if "Forced" to Vote to Convict


 


I've had jurors make up the need for search warrants, elect an unemployed 19 year old as foreperson, invent conspiracies, retroactively state that they failed to follow the law, and call opposing counsel a "buffoon", but I've thankfully never had a juror threaten to commit suicide. Apparently everything really is bigger in Texas, including courtroom melodrama.


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A Texas jury hearing a murder case against a San Antonio mom accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter sent three notes to the judge yesterday.




All indicated that the panel was hung, 11-1, although it wasn't clear if the majority wanted to convict Andrisela Ng, 24, of murder or the lesser included offense of injury to a child. However, the third note was a show-stopper, informing District Judge Maria Teresa Herr that one of the jurors was threatening to kill himself if he had to vote to convict in the case, the San Antonio Express-News reports.


Herr then declared a mistrial. Ng is expected to be retried early next year.


“Never in all my years of practice have I had a note like that,” said attorney Stephanie Boyd, who is representing Ng. “This juror decided what his vote was, and he was not going to bend.”


-- by Martha Neil, American Bar Journal (November, 2011)


Friday, November 18, 2011

Is it Legal to Breastfeed in a Courtroom?

Is it Legal to Breastfeed in a Courtroom?


The public generally has the right to be present in a court of law, although there are recognized limitations to that right. So, if a citizen has the right to be in a courtroom, and the right to breastfeed "in public", does she has the right to breastfeed her baby in a courtroom?

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A woman fighting a Michigan boating ticket that had already resulted in a bench warrant says she had no choice but to take her 5-month-old with her to a Tuesday hearing as he recuperated from a fever.


Quiet for more than two hours as she waited for her case to be called, the boy then awakened and needed to eat. So, since she was wearing appropriate clothing for the purpose, she breastfed him, Natalie Hegedus tells WWMT.


This didn't go over well with the judge, when Hegedus' case was called while her son, Landen, was still eating.


“You think that's appropriate in here?” Judge Robert Hentchel asked her, according to a transcript of the 7th District Court case in Paw Paw.


Hegedus replied that she had to feed her son, and it was legal to do so.


“Ma'am, it's my courtroom, I decide what's appropriate in here, come on up, okay," Hentchel then tells her. "You have to understand that a judge, the laws don't apply in a courtroom, the judge's law applies, do you understand that?"


Hegedus tells the station she wouldn't have minded if the issue had been handled more discretely, but she felt publicly humiliated by the judge's tone and the implication that she had done something "dirty" by nursing her baby.


Chief Judge Paul Hamre said he felt Hentchel had done nothing wrong, WWMT reports, calling it "inappropriate" for a defendant to appear in a criminal court holding a baby and noting that Hentchel nonetheless hadn't sanctioned Hegedus or even asked her to leave the courtroom.


Supporters of Hegedus are now planning to hold a "nurse-in" outside the Van Buren County courthouse later this month.


-- As written by Martha Neil of the ABA Journal, November, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Foreclosure Problems - Seawatch in Brunswick County North Carolina

Foreclosure Problems - Seawatch in



Brunswick County, North Carolina



[UPDATE: AUGUST, 2015] We received a call from an angry woman who refused to spell her name or tell us exactly what her connection with this story is. However, based on phonetics and brief research, it appears to have been the same Ms. Boodro listed in the story linked and pasted below, which was published on the www.southeastdiscovery.com website. Apparently no lover of free speech, she threatened us and insisted that we remove the blog post because Southeast Discovery is a "competing marketing company" and the article it published contains "many factual errors".

Well, we don't give in to threats (especially from persons who won't even fully identify themselves), and we don't get in the middle of back-and-forths between competing companies, neither of which is or ever was our client. It's a shame that Ms. Boodro didn't call us in a reasonable and polite manner - one of our partners would gladly have had a courteous conversation with her to listen to her concerns / her side of the story. Under the circumstances (we've done the same sort of update when we received calls from Bank of America's national PR folks, who didn't like our articles), we decided to update this story to share Ms. Boodro's protest - now you all know that she believes the article below to be partly false.

In the meantime, we've continued to assist borrowers who had their dreams go down the tubes in Seawatch. By the way, that assistance has been in the way of negotiations, not litigation, and we've never had any direct interactions with/against the entities that Ms. Boodro appears to be connected with. We've actually maintained productive working relationships with the banks involved in most of the Seawatch loans, and been able to reach reasonable resolutions for almost every client related to Seawatch. Having said that, each case and each client is different, and we can never promise any particular outcome.

[ORIGINAL POST]  Contained and linked below (further down, after my commentary) is an informative article about the Seawatch Development in Brunswick County, North Carolina.

My law firm, McGrath & Spielberger, represents a few of the Seawatch lot owners with regard to mortgage loan modification / foreclosure / deed-in-lieu type matters. I know that many of the owners are faced with the difficult decision of continuing to try to pay what has become a large mortgage payment compared to the current or near-future value of the property versus exploring some exit strategy.

It has been my experience that, if a borrower and/or the borrower's attorney are able and willing to work long and hard on the matter, lenders are fairly willing to compromise, especially if paying the mortgage is a hardship for the borrower. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes mortgage modifications or other negotiated agreements can be reached whether the borrower is current on payments or behind.

We wish the owners in Seawatch the best in this unfortunate circumstance.

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From the company called "Southeast Discovery":

http://www.southeastdiscovery.com/southern-way-of-life/2011/11/seawatch-at-sunset-harbor-in-brunswick-county-nc-%E2%80%93-2011-update#comment-2132

Seawatch was to be one of Coastal Communities’ largest projects to date. At about 3,000 acres, this community is located in the center of Brunswick County along Hwy 211 where another large development exists right down the road, St James Plantation - which has been a highly successful master planned community on the North Carolina coast over the past 15 years. In addition, there are many other smaller residential developments along Hwy 211 that were birthed in the early 2000’s. This corridor, which leads to the historic and charming Southport along Hwy 211 shows signs of many developments started in the heyday of the real estate market and their markings of difficulty when the heyday stopped.   Many lots were sold in these smaller developments. For those developments where amenities weren't built or completed - they too struggled and homes were not built.  Today, lot buyers are either sitting on their lots hoping in time, their lot values will come back, amenities within their community will be built by the developer or a new developer will come in and finish out the proposed infrastructure and amenities.

Prices on lots within these developments along Hwy 211 that were not fully completed have come down substantially off of their highs set 5 to 10 years ago. What we are seeing now is retail buyers, many Baby Boomers who are looking to retire and relocate or have a second home are slowly purchasing lots in the better developments along Hwy 211 and other parts of Brunswick County for a fraction of their original price.

Seawatch’s Master Plan called for 2,500 home sites on the 3,000 acres with a host of amenities to be built: Clubhouse, pools, parks, entranceway off of Hwy 211, kayak launch (which has been built) and …a private marina for SeaWatch residents on the intra coastal waterway – similar to SeaScape’s marina, but larger to accommodate the fact SeaWatch would be about six times the size of SeaScape.

Earlier this month, Seawatch held its annual POA meeting. Southeast Discovery is told about 25 to 30 lot owners were present, a very low number considering 1,400 lots have been sold in the community. Most were hoping that Mark Saunders, the owner of Coastal Development and developer of Seawatch would be at the meeting to address the current state of the development. They were hoping he would be available to talk to the attendees, the property owners and answer their questions directly and give some insight as to the future of this large, unfinished development. One property owner commented to Southeast Discovery they were hoping to hear the developer’s candid and honest current plan of finishing out the development – and that didn’t happen.

Instead, Deborah Boodro, who works for the developer - Coastal Communities, headed up the meeting. When asked about the building of amenities – such as the pool, clubhouse and the marina, she did not have an update on the status of these items. Boodro told the property owners in attendance Mark Saunders is committed to delivering all amenities in the original plan but the delivery will be pushed out until a larger base of homeowners are living in the community.  The property owners responded back to that statement with the notion that many of them are not inclined to build in the community until the amenities actually exist. One of the property owners that we spoke to left the POA feeling there is a real stalemate between the developer, Coastal Communities and the lion’s share of the current property owners at Seawatch.  And therefore, the development will continue to be clouded with uncertainty, unfinished amenities and the bulk of the real estate activity which will exist in Seawatch will consist of foreclosure activity and distressed lot owners willing to sell their lots at a fraction of what they paid for them to buyers willing to take a chance on the development at a much lower acquisition cost.

Some current facts about Seawatch;

The first home site in Seawatch was sold in November of 2003. In total, about 1,400 home sites have been sold by the developer, Coastal Communities. We know lot prices at Seawatch were introduced in a range of $90,000 to over $225,000 per lot. Let’s use $125,000 as an average lot price, which is a conservative figure for the average price per lot. 1400 (lots) at $125,000 (per sold lot) equal $175,000,000. That is an unbelievably large number.

Here it is, 8 years later in November of 2011, amenities are not finished nor are more being built. The Seawatch marina that was part of the master plan of the development located within Seawatch along the intracoastal waterway hasn’t been started and the website of Seawatch states that the development did in fact receive its CAMA permit to build the marina.  This entry on Seawatch’s website was on March 4, 2010 – and here is a copy of that announcement.

Seawatch Obtains Permit for Marina – March 4, 2010

After four years of persistent effort by many, we are pleased to announce we have received the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) Permit for The Marina at Seawatch at Sunset Harborsm!

On The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway - This 267-slip safe-harbor marina will be the largest of its kind in North Carolina south of New Bern. The acquisition of a select CAMA Permit for a 10+ acre Upland Basin Marina is a significant milestone for the Seawatch® community. The Marina at Seawatchsm will offer residents an easily accessible, protected launching point for cruising the Intracoastal Waterway and fun-filled excursions on the Atlantic Ocean.

What’s planned for The Marina at Seawatch at Sunset Harborsm:

•Located close to channel marker 24 on the ICW at the Lockwood Folly River

•10+ acre upland basin marina, offering excellent protection to sailboats and power vessels

•267 wet slips, including guest boat slips

•Depth of 8’ at mean low tide

•State-of-the-art floating dock system

•Easy, quick access to the Atlantic Ocean at the Lockwood Folly Inlet on the ICW

•2 private boat ramps

•Resident parking

•A 3/4 mile, 6’ wide pedestrian boardwalk around The Marina

•Crabbing and fishing piers with gazebos

•A pedestrian and passenger cart bridge extending from the Marina to the Waterway Village of Brisa de Mar

A timetable for construction of the Marina is in development. Our first priority, of course, is continuing with Seawatch’s infrastructure and roadway construction progress and the first phase of Sunset Park.

This is the real estate activity we were able to account for that has taken place at SeaWatch the past two years;

In 2010, there were 6 sales for the year in SeaWatch. All were resale home sites, not one of these sales were developer inventory.

According to records that Southeast Discovery was able to pull, there have been 6 home sites that have sold in 2011 and here is that data;

Closing Date       Closing Price     Days on Market

2.11.11                   $25,000                  29

2.11.11                   $25,000                206

2.16.11                   $28,000                217

4.8.11                   $11,000                418

5.2.11                   $12,250                  59

5.25.11                   $24,000                728

It is a shame what has happened – or not happened at Seawatch. Yes, the market has been a challenge to developers. But the economy has been especially difficult on developers that have neglected to put the promised amenities in their communities – at a realistic pace. For Coastal Development to tell the property owners of Seawatch that amenities will go in when more people build on their lots doesn’t make sense.  Lot owners at Seawatch are already financially wounded by their purchase in this development. It is rather ignorant to think as a developer that lot owners will take the leap of faith (again) before the developer does – and build their home first in hopes that the amenities will eventually be built. In today’s economy, most lot owners are not going to take that chance.

Now we could defend the developer here as well and state that until the economy improves and more buyers buy lots and more property owners build homes within Seawatch, the build rate on the amenities will be – and could be expected to be – at a slower pace. But – with 1400 lots sold at an average price of $125,000 within the community, where is that capital that should have been used to build out the amenities of Seawatch?  We should not be having this discussion. The amenities and the marina should have already been completed with that amount of capital raised from lot sales.

Brunswick County continues to be a sought after area of the Atlantic coast for retirees and second home buyers. Being in the middle of two distinctly different towns – historic Wilmington and the vibrant Myrtle Beach give its location the best of two worlds, and a world of its own.   Brunswick County enjoys a strand of beaches to enjoy –Wrightsville Beach, Holden Beach, Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach and Bald Head Island. In addition there are three smaller towns within the County that offer a small town coastal feel – Southport, Shallotte and Calabash.  Property taxes are low, the overall cost of living is low and the quality of life many who live here will tell you – is quite fabulous.

Last – Southeast Discovery would like to note, the land of Seawatch is some of the most attractive land we have seen in Brunswick County.  One, and most importantly, it has direct access to the intra coastal waterway. Two, it has great topography, not usually found in the coastal area and much of the development has beautiful tree coverage.   This is a very attractive development with natural attributes that a developer cannot create.  It has location, great topography for the coast and beautiful tree coverage.  So we wonder, with $175 million in lot sales, unless our numbers are way off, why hasn’t Coastal Development proceeded with the marina after receiving the CAMA permit and put the other proposed amenities in the community?

We can’t help but think if this were done, several things would happen as this economy recovers –

1.   Many property owners who own lots in Seawatch would become home owners.

2.   The inventory of available lots in Seawatch that are currently in foreclosure would be purchased at a faster clip and this would eventually eliminate the distressed lot market that exists in the development.

3.   Overall, lots in Seawatch would begin to increase in value as the development becomes a community with built amenities.

4.   Home construction would take place in this community as people would feel confident that Seawatch is becoming the community that was originally marketed to the public back in the early 2000’s.

5.   This would be a shot in the arm for Brunswick County. Building activity which could put many in the county to work and an increase in property tax revenue as lot owners become homeowners.  Not to mention, it would bring sales tax revenue to Brunswick County as many who move into this large community would be patronizing the businesses throughout the county.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Factors Affecting the Success of Consumer Debt Negotiations

Factors Affecting the Success of Consumer Credit
Card Debt Settlements & Negotiations


 


More and more consumers are bogged down by overwhelming debt. A large portion of this debt consists of unsecured consumer debt – mainly credit card debt. The huge amount of debt and the high interest rates have resulted in a drastic increase in consumer bankruptcies. However, bankruptcy is not suitable for all consumers, either because they don’t qualify or they choose not to file. As such, more and more consumers are turning to bankruptcy alternatives in order to manage or resolve their credit card debt issues.


One such potentially viable alternative is known as debt settlement or debt negotiation – the process whereby consumers or their advocates actively negotiate with the credit card companies and collection agencies to pay a portion of the total debt and have the debt considered paid or satisfied (whether such settlements can still negatively affect a consumer’s credit rating or credit score is a discussion beyond the scope of this article). However, consumers need to be aware that there are many factors that can affect the success of credit card settlements and negotiations. The following are a few:


1. Consumer Hardship: Creditors will often look at consumers’ ability to pay when determining whether or not to settle and at what amount. Obviously, creditors are less likely to make a great settlement offer to consumers that have enough income and/or assets to make their minimum monthly payments. Likewise, creditors may be more likely to file a lawsuit against such consumers (see factor number 3 below). A good debt negotiation attorney can help consumers accurately and strategically communicate the hardships the consumer is facing to the creditors.


2. “Maturity” of the Debt: Creditors may be less willing to work with consumers who are currently paying their debts or who recently started to miss payments. Therefore, consumers may receive better offers after they have been in default for a considerable amount of time (i.e., their debt has “matured”). However, consumers need to be aware that the likelihood of being sued by creditors also increases the longer consumers fail to make payments. As such, it is a good idea for consumers to consult with good debt negotiation attorneys to determine what strategies, and their associated risks, are best for them.


3. Ability to Collect on Judgments: Creditors may be more willing to negotiate with consumers instead of filing lawsuits if collecting on court judgments may be difficult or expensive. For example, consumers in states where the laws prohibit creditors from garnishing wages or levying bank accounts may receive more favorable offers than consumers in states with laws more favorable to creditors. Again, it is advisable for consumers to consult with an attorney to help them understand the collection laws in their states.


4. The Negotiator: Who is conducting the negotiations may be the factor that affects the success of credit card settlements and negotiations the most. Those experienced in this area will likely be able to negotiate better settlements due to their knowledge of the applicable laws, understanding of the policies of each creditor, and expertise in negotiation. For example, a good debt negotiation lawyer can assess all of the above-mentioned factors, as well as the vast number of other factors not discussed here, so that a customized strategy can be developed that gives each individual consumer the best chance of achieving positive results with respect to credit card debt settlements and negotiations.


McGrath & Spielberger helps consumers by providing viable, personalized solutions to their debt problems.