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It’s easy to get lulled into believing that the toys you buy for your children are safe. After all, it’s 2016, and surely if toys get through testing and get placed on the market, they must be safe, right? According to a number of organizations committed to keeping children safe, this is false.

Last month, W.A.T.C.H., the World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc., put out its list of the 2016 most dangerous toys. According to W.A.T.C.H., this year’s list includes toys that pose risks of strangulation, choking and suffocation.

Here’s the complete list:

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In Rass Corporation v. The Travelers Companies, Inc., 2015-P-0358 (Mass. App. Ct. 2016), the Massachusetts Appeals Court reviewed a case brought by a sauce company, Rass, against its insurance carrier, Travelers, for breach of contractual duties to defend, indemnify, and settle an underlying action brought against Rass. The underlying action alleged Rass committed the torts of trade disparagement, misappropriation of trade secrets, and defamation. Rass’s insurance policy only provided coverage for the trade disparagement and defamation claims. It was uncontested on appeal that misappropriation of trade secrets was not covered under the policy, and therefore, Travelers had no duty to contribute or indemnify Rass for whatever portion of damages arose out of that claim.

Before trial in the underlying action, Rass’s attorney recommended a settlement range of $100,000 to $150,000 to settle all claims. During negotiations, Travelers offered to contribute $20,000 to the settlement on the condition that Rass waive its right to seek indemnification. Rass rejected the offer and settled the case for $175,000 without any contribution from Travelers. Rass then filed a complaint in Superior Court alleging Travelers had breached its contract and committed unfair and deceptive acts under chapter 93A.

When a partial-coverage lawsuit proceeds to a final judgment, the trial judge or jury determine the portion of damages allocated for each claim. The insurance company then must indemnify in the amount for each covered claim, while the defendant is left to pay the damages that arise from uncovered claims. Because Rass settled before going to trial, the Superior Court had determine Traveler’s obligation to indemnify by inquiring “how the parties to the settlement viewed the relative merits of the plaintiff’s claims at the time of the settlement and whether, if the insured settled without the carrier’s approval, the settlement amount was reasonable.” Windt, INSURANCE CLAIMS & DISPUTES § 6:31 (6th ed. 2013). Here, the Superior Court found that $140,000 of the $175,000 settlement arose from the covered claims. The Superior Court further found that Travelers had breached its contractual duties by failing to contribute $140,000 to the settlement and concluded that that failure constituted an unfair and unreasonable act in violation of chapter 93A. The Appeals Court affirmed the entirety of the trial court’s judgment, including the apportionment of settlement funds to the covered claim and the finding of a 93A violation.

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When a person commits a crime and causes property to be damaged, destroyed, or lost, the issue of restitution may become relevant. Restitution comes into play when, as part of his punishment for the crime he committed, a defendant is ordered to pay the former owner of the property that he damaged or destroyed the value of that property. A problem can arise, however, when the defendant is too poor to be able to repay the former owner in full.

The problem is that, if a person who is ordered to pay restitution fails to pay it, he may be jailed as a result of that failure, and a poor person is far more likely than a person of means to have trouble paying restitution.  Is it not unfair – and unjust – to jail someone simply because he is too poor to pay restitution, when a wealthier person would be allowed to remain free?

The Supreme Judicial Court addressed that question head on in a recent landmark decision: Commonwealth v. Henry, 475 Mass. 117 (2016). To be sure, previous cases had held that, in deciding whether to order restitution, the judge should consider whether the defendant is financially able to pay the amount ordered, but Henry is the first case in which the Supreme Judicial Court laid down a specific procedure that must be followed by judges in such circumstances. The Court wrote as follows:

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This November in Massachusetts, Ballot Question 4, entitled “The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act,” proposes the complete “legalization” of possession of certain amounts of marijuana for personal use. This stands in contrast to the current state of marijuana law in Massachusetts, which “decriminalizes” possession of certain amounts of marijuana for personal use. What’s the difference? To understand, it helps to know the current state of the law in Massachusetts.

In the past few years, Massachusetts law regulating marijuana has seen two major changes: (1) possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is no longer a criminal offense; and (2) Massachusetts now has a system in place for medical cultivation and use of marijuana. Here’s a brief guide to the basics of where things stand now.

In 2008, “An Act Establishing a Sensible State Marijuana Policy” was passed into law by way of ballot initiative and was codified as G.L. c. 94C, §§ 32L-N. Section 32L declares possession of less than one ounce of marijuana by a person eighteen years or older to be a civil infraction, not a criminal offense, and subject only to a fine of $100.00 and forfeiture of the marijuana. Section 32M requires persons under the age of eighteen to complete a drug awareness program in addition to their civil fine. Section 32N makes clear that civil citations issued for possession of marijuana are to be issued, contested, etc., in the same manner as any other civil citation.

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It is routine that people who have been charged with a crime give relevant evidence to their attorneys so that they can obtain legal advice regarding that evidence. After all, without being able to take possession of such items, attorneys would have a difficult time advising clients their cases.

This was what happened when disgraced former Patriot’s star, Aaron Hernandez, gave a cellphone to his attorneys. Since then, a judge has decided that there is probable cause to believe that the data on the cellphone would provide evidence about a July 16, 2012 drive-by shooting in Boston’s South End that killed Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, and about the intimidation of a witness to that shooting. Hernandez has been indicated for the drive-by shooting, has been indicted for intimidating the witness by shooting him in the head (the witness lived), and has been convicted of the June 17, 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.

Ever since March, 2014, the government has been trying to get its hands of the phone. It first attempted to get the phone by asking a judge to approve a subpoena for the phone. That attempt failed when, in January, 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) concluded that the attorney-client privilege protected the defendant against the use of a subpoena to compel production of the cellphone.

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KJC LAW FIRM attorneys Cook, Wilton, and Martin were collectively awarded five hundred thousand dollars in attorney’s fees for their work on behalf of Dr. Andrew Segal in the case of Segal v. Genitrix, Suffolk Superior Court C.A. No. 09-00776. Segal, a licensed medical doctor and inventor, managed a bio-tech research firm called Genitrix with his employer, H. Fiske Johnson, III, heir to the Johnson family fortune which includes products like Pledge, Ziploc bags, and Glade. Segal successfully proved at a jury trial in November, 2015 that Johnson intentionally and knowingly refused to pay Segal’s wages for three years. The trial judge held a second phase of the trial approximately one month later in which he considered whether the defendants should be required to pay punitive damages because their failure to pay wages was “outrageous.” Segal prevailed again and has been awarded nearly $1.2 million, which a Superior Court Judge described as “an enormous amount for a single-Plaintiff Wage Act case.”

The Massachusetts Wage Act imposes severe penalties on “unscrupulous “employers and entitles prevailing plaintiffs to reasonable attorney’s fees which must be approved by a Superior Court judge. In awarding attorney’s fees, the judge is allowed to consider the experience and skill of the attorneys, the results obtained at trial, and the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of their performance at trial. The judge is required to reduce the award so as not to allow for duplicative billing, and to ensure that the hourly rate awarded to each attorney is fair and reasonable. In this case, the judge wrote a glowing review of attorneys Cook, Wilton, and Martin when awarding what we believe to be one of the largest awards, if not the largest award, ever in a single-plaintiff Wage Act case.

Every employer and employee in Massachusetts should be aware of the “Wage Act,” also known as the Weekly Wage Law (c. 149, sec. 148 et seq.). The purpose of the Wage Act is to ensure that employees are promptly paid by their employers. The law includes harsh penalties for employers who fail to comply.

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The world’s largest furniture retailer, IKEA, has recalled 29 million dressers and chests sold in the U.S.  This recall comes after the confirmed deaths of six children from tip over accidents.

Last year, in July 2015, IKEA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced the deaths of two children from tipping dressers.  Despite urging from consumer advocacy groups at that time, no recall was initiated.  Consumers were not informed in that announcement that the IKEA dresser in question did not meet certain safety requirements which require each drawer to withstand a 50-pound weight.

Earlier this year, after the death of a 22-month old boy, Kids in Danger (KID), Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Consumers Union and the National Center for Health Research urged CPSC and IKEA to recall the dressers and chests.

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The top court in Massachusetts recently ruled that a so-called Dookhan Defendant – a person who entered a guilty plea on the basis of drug analyses certified by Annie Dookhan – “who has been granted a new trial based on Dookhan’s misconduct at the Hinton drug lab cannot be charged with a more serious offense than that of which he or she initially was convicted under the terms of a plea agreement and, if convicted again, cannot be given a more severe sentence than that which originally was imposed.” Bridgeman v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, No. SJC-11764 (May 18, 2015). For those who are unfamiliar with Ms. Dookhan, she “was involved in more than 46,000 cases at the Hinton laboratory from 2003 until her resignation in 2012. Her work was critical to the criminal justice process because she had to certify that drugs were an illegal substance[, and] Dookhan’s wrongdoing led to multiple state charges that she tampered with evidence by either mixing substances or falsely declaring their results.” Milton F. Valencia, Pattern of neglect at state drug lab found, The Boston Globe (March 4, 2014).

Up until Bridgeman was decided, the risk of receiving harsher charges or punishments as a result of successfully withdrawing guilty pleas stopped many people affected by Dookhan’s misconduct from pursuing their rights to a new trial with untainted evidence. In fact, footnote 17 of the Bridgeman opinion discusses a person to whom this happened – he got a new trial based on the evidence tainted by Dookhan, was convicted using untainted evidence, and received a harsher sentence than had been imposed when he originally pleaded guilty.  However, after Bridgeman, anyone who previously feared such a course of events should be relieved.

John Martin, the head of the criminal practice here at KJC Law Firm, LLC, has unique experience in this area. He was the first lawyer to successfully move a court to allow a defendant to withdraw his guilty plea because it was based on evidence that had been tainted by Dookhan.  See Denise Lavoie and Bob Salsberg, Annie Dookhan, Chemist, Allegedly Tampers With 60,000 Drug Samples; Convicts Released, Huffington Post (September 20, 2012, 1:29 p.m.).   Now that it is guaranteed that those who pleaded guilty on the basis of evidence tainted by Dookhan will not receive harsher punishments if they succeed in withdrawing their guilty pleas, it is all the more reason for such people to consider seeking a new trial. The worst case scenario is being retried and reconvicted, with no more punishment added on top of what was imposed as a result of the original guilty plea.  The best case scenario is having the guilty plea vacated, and the original charges dropped.  In any event, if you, or anyone you know is a so called Dookhan Defendant, you should consider calling KJC Law Firm, LLC to discuss your options.

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If you were a party to a trial in Massachusetts, would you want your lawyer to be able to ask potential jurors about their past experiences that relate to your case?  How about questions regarding their preconceptions or biases?  If your answer to either of these questions is “YES!” you might be surprised to find out that, until recently, Massachusetts law did not entitle trial lawyers to ask ANY questions of prospective jurors.  While the vast majority of states have long allowed lawyers to ask such questions of prospective jurors, it was not until our Commonwealth recently enacted An Act Relative To Certain Judicial Procedures In The Superior Court that Massachusetts got its own rule dealing with parties’ right to have their lawyer ask these questions of potential jurors.

Here at KJC Law Firm, we make it a priority to stay abreast of such developments in the law.  To that end, our managing partner, Kathy Jo Cook, recently attended a training designed to provide insights into how best to ask questions of potential jurors through a process called voir dire.  In fact, all of the KJC Law Firm members have been closely studying the Superior Court Order that, starting February 2, 2015, will implement Massachusetts’s new law regarding lawyers asking questions of potential jurors.

Rest assured, when KJC Law Firm brings your case to trial, we will skillfully use every available tool to sit an unbiased, fair jury, who are prepared to award you everything that the law entitles you to.

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Two very recent legal developments that KJC Law Firm is closely following relate to our newly established criminal defense practice, headed by our associate, John Martin.  In Commonwealth v. Gomes, SJC-11537 (January 12, 2015), the Supreme Judicial Court, which is the highest court in Massachusetts, recognized that “eyewitness identification is the greatest source of wrongful convictions,” and set forth a full eighteen pages of new jury instructions designed to prevent wrongful convictions based on inaccurate identifications.

Even more recently, the Supreme Judicial Court also clarified the definition of the term “moral certainty,” which has been part of the Reasonable Doubt jury instruction that jurors in our Commonwealth have received for the past 150 years.  In Commonwealth v. Russeel, SJC-11602 (January 26, 2015), the Supreme Judicial Court wrote that the term “moral certainty” means “the highest degree of certainty possible in matters relating to human affairs — based solely on the evidence that has been put before you in this case.” Attorney Martin’s familiarity with these new instructions will provide our criminal defense clients with the best available means to contest any unreliable eye-witness evidence that the government offers against them, and to emphasize how strong the evidence against them must be in order for them to be convicted of having committed a crime.

Moreover, our newest associate, Luke Rosseel, will also be using these jury instructions to argue against inaccurate identifications and insufficient evidentiary showings in the criminal appeals practice that KJC Law Firm is now undertaking.  Attorney Rosseel was recently certified for appeals and other post-conviction assignments from the Committee for Public Counsel Services Post Conviction Appellate Assignment Unit.  Said more simply, Attorney Rosseel will be accepting appointments to represent people who cannot themselves afford attorneys, and whose criminal convictions involved errors that suggest they were misidentified, and may not have committed the crimes they were convicted of.