David McGee of Beggs & Lane Assists Family of Former FBI Agent Held Captive in Iran

David McGee, a partner at Beggs & Lane, was recently quoted by a number of news outlets about his involvement in representing the family of Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran while working for the CIA.

Washington Post article (click here)

AP article (click here)

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Florida To Abide By The Daubert Standard With Help of Greg Miller

In April, we posted an excerpt from the St. Pete Times written by Gregory Miller of Beggs & Lane implementing the need to pass the bill urging the adoption of the Daubert Scientific Evidence Standard. We are pleased to announce that Governor Scott signed a bill amending section 90.702 of the Evidence Code to conform to the Daubert standard. Thus abolishing the previous Frye standard, which stated that expert opinion could be admissible regardless of what scientific evidence is or isn’t present. The statute is effective 7/01/2013. We are honored to have our own Greg Miller as one of the witnesses in the legislative hearings that helped bring about the change.  The new standard requires trial judges to evaluate whether witness evidence is both relevant to the matter and reliable based on scientific facts. With the abolishment of the Frye standard goes the “Pure Opinion Exception”. This allowed an expert witness to give a testimony that wouldn’t normally meet the Frye standard as long as the testimony is an opinion and not a scientific fact. Now that Florida is finally abiding by the Daubert standard, a new world of opportunity awaits us. To read our last post concerning the matter, click here.

Contact Gregory Miller

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Beggs & Lane Gives Back: Our Role in the Battle Against Cancer

Cancer is a subject that touches all of our hearts. We’ve all endured it in some way, whether it was watching someone fight, seeing families suffer, or even withstanding a personal battle against the brutal disease.  It’s a thing that can bring upon grievance, tear families apart, and leave many with financial burdens they just can’t be held responsible for. However, like many of us know, there is a silver lining in every situation. Relay For Life has given all of us the opportunity to honor those who have stood against cancer. Whether it’s through donation, honoring the survivors, paying respects to the lost, or even families and friends just coming together to share stories through a common bond.

Cancer has played an unwelcoming role among our firm. Our team includes survivors, fighters, and family/friends of lost loved ones. Cancer has taken too much and we weren’t going to stand back to watch it take away from others who didn’t deserve to be laden with the matter. In April 2013, the Pensacola law firm Beggs & Lane participated in a Relay for Life walk event. Marc Huff, attorney of Beggs & Lane was the honorary chair of the Gulf Breeze Relay for Life team. In addition to walking around the track and camping out at Gulf Breeze High School, the firm also held an event at the Santa Rosa Shooting Range entitled “Targeting A Cure” to raise funds. Employees from Beggs & Lane as well as some of our clients from Gulf Power, Baptist Health Care, Brad Cole Construction, Hinson Builders, & Saltmarsh, Cleaveland, & Gund  all participated in the shooting event. We held contests for accuracy, speed, and even best dressed.  Collectively, the firm raised and donated over $14,000 to the American Cancer Society. This money will help fund medical research, lodging for patients, treatments, and help families pay costly medical expenses.

We hope to encourage others to give back to those who didn’t choose this treacherous illness. Whether it is just to instill a positive attitude, or giving a donation, everyone deserves a chance at life. We would like to thank everyone, including our anonymous supporters who helped Beggs & Lane reach and exceed our goal. We hope this gives you inpspiration to give back to your community so that one day, we can stop cancer. Please go to relayforlife.org to find an event near you. If you would like to know more about our firm, visit us at beggslane.com. Below are a few pictures from the events Beggs & Lane participated in to support the American Cancer Society.

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Best Dressed Contest Winner- Mike LandersTAC136

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Subpoena Servicing Companies: Hidden Consequences

If you work in a defense law firm, you have most likely been forced to surrender to a subpoena servicing company at the direction of your client.  These companies have persuaded insurance companies to contract their services by promising their clients certain advantages such as controlling costs, providing online repository, and implementing special technology features.  What clients fail to see is that these advantages come with consequences.

There are legal issues that may be of special interest to law firms when utilizing these subpoena servicing companies.  An extra feature the companies offer is indexing the records prior to delivery to the client and law firm.  Indexing includes reorganizing the records, preparing an index preface, and inserting index cover sheets for each separate indexed section.  After the documents are indexed, they are Bates numbered in the order of the indexer’s reorganization.  Additionally, they will enhance and alter the records for clarity and legibility.  There are many questions to consider here.  Does this constitute tampering with evidence?  Will this nullify the records custodian’s authentication?  Section 918.13(1)(b), Florida Statutes, states that “No person . . . shall . . . make, present, or use any record, document, or thing, knowing it to be false.”  In this situation, the company is the only party with an exact duplicate of the original documents supplied by the non-party.  Once the documents have been altered, enhanced, reorganized and indexed, they may no longer be a duplicate of the original records.  Section 90.953(2), Florida Statutes, states “a duplicate is admissible to the same extent as an original, unless . . .  a genuine question is raised about the authenticity of the original . . . ” and Rule 1003, Federal Rules of Evidence, states that a duplicate of the original may be used as long as it “is the product of a method which insures accuracy and genuineness.”  While in most cases a genuine question will likely not be raised, a situation could possibly arise if a document is enhanced, indexed or organized in such a way as to prejudice a party.

Another question to consider: Does the records custodian declaration comply with the relevant evidence rule, Section 90.902(11), Florida Statutes, or Rule 803(6), Federal Rules of Evidence?  To authenticate an original or duplicate, specific language must be included in the declaration from the custodian of records.  If this specific language is not included, the document is not self-authenticated and could be ruled as hearsay.  Most of these companies prepare and submit their own declarations for the records custodians’ signature.  Currently, there is no requirement in the Federal Rules of Evidence or the Florida Statutes for this declaration to be an original or notarized.

While we may not have access to the corporate contracts between our clients and these companies, it is obvious that they have gained a competitive edge in the market.  The insurance companies likely are attracted to the sales pitch of controlling costs and paying nominal fees to the subpoena servicing companies versus $90+ an hour for paralegal costs.  By forcing the law firms to undergo training and utilize the company’s website to manage the discovery process, the cost becomes a clerical cost and, therefore, the law firm is required to absorb that cost.  The companies make their profits by forwarding correspondence to all parties involved in the suit contemporaneously with the notice of production from non-party requesting those parties directly contact them to obtain copies of the non-party records for a charge.  If no agreements or contracts have been made otherwise, nothing prohibits the law firm from providing copies of the documents directly to the parties to the lawsuit in response to a request for copies.

While law firms may not be able to avoid working with these subpoena servicing companies, there are steps that can be taken to avoid the negative consequences.  To avoid any situation involving genuineness of a duplicate, the law firm could request the companies provide an exact copy of the records as produced by the non-party prior to indexing and enhancing.  Requesting to review the proposed records custodian declaration to determine whether it complies with the evidence rules would prevent later problems of authentication.  The law firm and the client would both benefit by clarifying the billable hours versus clerical tasks involved with communicating with these companies prior to the initial use of the subpoena servicing company’s services.  And that is the Bottom Line.

Author:  Krisi Currie, ACP, FRP

Ms. Currie is a litigation paralegal at Beggs & Lane.  For more information about Beggs & Lane, click here.

 

Beggs & Lane Attorney Urges Florida’s Adoption of Daubert Scientific Evidence Standard

The following letter from Gregory Miller of Beggs & Lane was published on April 8, 2013 in the St. Pete Times:

As a career prosecutor, I had the honor of serving our country for almost 30 years, first as a judge advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps and culminating in six years as the presidentially appointed U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

In 1993, in a case called Daubert vs. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a new standard for the admission of expert scientific evidence in federal courts to ensure that expert opinions presented in court are reliable and based on sound science.

In the 20 years since that ruling, a majority of states have adopted that standard, but Florida’s courts continue to use a 90-year-old standard that allows the admission of “pure opinion.” In practice, this means that almost any so-called scientific evidence or opinion is allowed in state court.

Now, the Legislature is considering changing the law to bring Florida in line with the federal courts and the majority of states.

Opponents of the proposal say that the new standards will be costly to implement and impose a burden on the courts. In my experience, that’s not true.

I worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office when the federal courts transitioned to the new standard. At that time, the workload impact consisted of a 20-minute brown bag lunch-and-learn.

In addition, there’s no empirical evidence of a potential financial impact on the courts. Even if there is some yet-to-be-determined cost involved — which history shows is unlikely — isn’t the pursuit of truth and justice worth it?

I’ve dedicated my career to aiding in the administration of justice, upholding the integrity of the law, and working hard to ensure innocent persons are not wrongfully convicted. The Florida Legislature can help others do that by passing House Bill 7015 and Senate Bill 1412.

 

Homeowners Insurance: Open Perils Coverage

So you think you have insurance coverage for your home that covers all risks of loss? Unfortunately, there really is no such coverage. In general, there are two types of policies available to homeowners:

“Named perils” policies (also known as HO-1, HO-2, or HO-8). A named perils policy provides coverage for specifically-listed perils such as fire or lightning strikes.
“Open perils” policies (also known as HO-3). An open perils policy is the most commonly written policy covering all aspects of the house—the structure, personal property, and additional expenses for things like loss of use, in addition to liability protection.

But that’s not the whole story. All open perils policies include specified exclusions, i.e., things that the insurance company won’t pay. The most common exclusions are:

• Enforcement of building codes and ordinances
• Flooding
• Earthquakes
• Neglect (meaning your failure to take reasonable steps to protect your property)
• Power failures
• Intentional acts
• Nuclear hazard
• Environmental clean-up
• War

What if you need coverage for something that is excluded under the policy? “Endorsements” specifically covering some of the above-named exclusions are available at an additional premium cost. Coverage may also be obtained through an additional policy. Flooding coverage – normally excluded under an open perils policy – is especially important in Florida. If you live near a body of water, you should obtain coverage for flooding through the National Flood Insurance Program. Your insurance agent will have information on this coverage or you can find information at http://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program .

But that’s still not the end of the story. In addition to the above-named exclusions, open perils policies incorporate other exclusions that may include “exceptions” to those exclusions. Such additional exclusions include:

• Defective construction, design, and maintenance
• Latent defects, corrosion, industrial smoke, pollution
• Settling, wear, and tear
• Weather conditions that aggravate other excluded causes of loss
• Freezing pipes
• Malfunction of heating and air conditioning systems
• Vandalism to vacant dwellings.

While the open perils policy does not cover these specifically excluded perils, the policy language may be stated in such a way that there is still some coverage for things like “ensuing loss” that occurs as a result of a specifically excluded peril. For example, if your fireplace was improperly installed and causes smoke to fill your home, you are not covered for the cost to replace the defectively installed fireplace, but you may be covered for the smoke damage that ensued from that defect.

When presented with a homeowners’ insurance claim, some insurance companies deny coverage by citing a specific exclusion in the policy but failing to acknowledge an exception to the exclusion. Sometimes, the exceptions to the exclusion will provide some coverage to the homeowner. Never automatically accept an insurance company’s denial of coverage without knowing your policy or consulting with an attorney.

Contact Us. If you have questions about an insurance claim, please contact Terrie Didier at Beggs & Lane, (850) 469-3324.

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2013 Federal Income Tax Law Changes: What You Need to Know

2013 TAX LAW CHANGES

A number of changes to the federal tax laws took effect on January 1, 2013. The changes set forth below are among the highlights of the changes that take place this year, but are not an exhaustive or comprehensive list.

Tax Brackets.  The 2013 tax brackets are as follows, with the income thresholds reflecting taxable income:

Unmarried Persons

Single Filers

(other than a   surviving spouse

or head of household)

Heads of Household

Rate

Over ($)

But Not Over ($)

Over ($)

But Not Over ($)

2013

 0  8,925  0  12,750  10%
 8,925  36,250  12,750  48,600  15%
 36,250  87,850  48,600  125,450  25%
 87,850  183,250  125,450  203,150  28%
 183,250  398,350  203,150  398,350  33%
 398,350  400,000  398,350  425,000  35%
 400,000  …  425,000  … 39.6%

Married Persons

Single Filers

Joint Filers

(and surviving   spouses)

Rate

Over ($)

But Not Over ($)

Over ($)

But Not Over ($)

2013

 0  8,925  0  17,850  10%
 8,925  36,250  17,850  72,500  15%
 36,250  73,200  72,500  146,400  25%
 73,200  111,525  146,400  223,050  28%
 111,525  199,175  223,050  398,350  33%
 199,175  225,000  398,350  450,000  35%
 225,000  …  450,000  … 39.6%

Capital Gains.  The capital gains rate for single individuals with taxable income in excess of $425,000.00 and married couples with taxable income in excess of $450,000.00 will increase to 20% from the 15% rate in effect in 2012.

Qualified Dividend Income.  The tax rate on qualified dividend income is now tied to the income tax brackets set forth above.  A 3.8% surtax will be levied on such income, increasing the tax rate on qualified dividend income to as high as 43.4% for some filers.

Medicare Tax.  A 3.8% Medicare tax is now in effect on certain types of passive income for single individuals with taxable income in excess of $200,000.00 and married couples with a taxable income greater than $250,000.00.  Additionally a 0.9% rate increase (from 1.45% to 2.35%) now applies to wages of single filers with taxable incomes greater than $200,000.00 and married couples with income in excess of $250,000.00.

Social Security Tax.  The tax rate imposed on employees has increased to 6.2% in 2013, up from 4.2% in 2012.

Wealth Transfer Taxes.  The unified credit against estate, gift and generation-skipping taxes now yields a $5,250.000.00 exemption, which will continue to be adjusted for inflation.  Furthermore, the portability rules are now permanent and the estate tax rate is now 40%, up from the 35% rate in effect during 2012 and prior years.  Additionally, the annual gift tax exclusion has increased to $14,000.00.

Miscellaneous Items.  There is now a permanent inflation adjustment for alternative minimum tax exemption. Also, the reduction in the net unearned income reported on a child’s tax return is now reduced by $1,000.00, up from $950.00 in 2012.

Contact Us.  If you have any questions about tax law or estate planning, please contact C. Reid Barrineau or Gary Leuchtman at Beggs & Lane, (850) 432-2451.