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IRS announces easing of tax collection practices

The Internal Revenue Service announced measures to be more lenient with taxpayers who can not pay their tax liability, in recognition of the financial crisis affecting the entire economy.

IRS Commissioner, Doug Shulman, announced five concrete steps that the IRS will use to be more flexible. He said he gave IRS personnel greater authority to suspend enforcement in certain circumstances, for example, when a taxpayer has recently lost a job, support is based solely on social security benefits or faces steep, unexpected medical bills.

Deferred Levies

In such cases, the tax liability is not eliminated or forgiven, but the collection activity, including the notices and phone calls, levies, liens and penalties, will be postponed, said IRS officials.

Second, taxpayers who fail to make a payment under a payment agreement with the IRS, the IRS will not automatically suspend the agreement.

It would allow taxpayers who are in economic trouble the ability to miss a payment. Missing more than one payment may compromise the installment agreement.

The IRS also expand eligibility for its “offer in compromise” program, taking into account certain taxpayers who appear to have enough equity in their homes to cover their tax burden. In the past, offers in compromise were not considered for those with equity in their homes.

Under an offer in compromise, a taxpayer can be resolved with the IRS for less than the total amount of taxes owed.

Special Unit

Mr. Shulman said he created a special unit to investigate cases where individual taxpayers with an equity  real estate may qualify for an offer in compromise.

In addition, taxpayers who do not receive a payment under an existing offer in compromise agreement to work with IRS officials to avoid any breach of this Agreement.

Finally, Mr. Shulman said the IRS to accelerate the payment of publications for taxpayers in financial difficulties.

Taxpayers who have difficulty meeting their obligations, should contact the IRS to take advantage of this new flexibility, said Shulman.


profits keep going up – jobs don’t.

Corporate America continues to report impressive profit gains but job creation continues to lag. Dividend increases are up sharply and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is above 12000. It makes job growth the continued missing piece of the economic rebound puzzle.

So far, earnings are up 28% from a year earlier and sales are up 7.7% for the S&P 500 firms that have reported. But the juxtaposition between profits and job growth remains a big mountain for companies hoping to keep growing their business to climb.

The other thorn in the side of the economy would be lackluster housing market, which provides a source of spending for consumers.

The lack of significant job gains 18 months after the recession was deemed “over” isn’t such a mystery when considering how companies were able to return to strong profit growth in a short period of time. Companies mainly relied on aggressive job cuts, and with companies now enjoying their resurrected earnings and demand still choppy, they are not adding to their payrolls.

To add to the fun, the price of commodities have been skyrocketing. This adds more reason to hold off on hiring. The commodities spike is pressuring profit margins and keeping companies guarded about adding to labor costs.

For the first month of 2011, the economy added a paltry 36,000 jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. Economists had expected more than 130,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell to 9% from 9.4%, as more people found work and the pool of workers fell by more the 500,000. Winter weather that blanketed much of the country contributed to the weakness.

Some companies in hiring cycles include Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Norfolk Southern Corp., and Union Pacifiic.

But this is being offset by sectors such as banks and drug makers where jobs are still being pared. Several banks, including American Express Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., have either recently announced layoffs or signaled job cuts might be coming. Abbott Laboratories said it is trimming 1,900 jobs, or 2% of its work force.

Pfizer Inc. last week said it would slash as much as 5% of its 110,600-person global work force, including the layoff or transfer of about 1,100 employees at its Groton, Conn., facility. Pfizer plans to stop research in allergies, urology and other areas that didn’t seem as likely to bring medicines to market soon, a spokeswoman said.

Again, if jobs don’t recover it’s hard to see how the economy will be able to sustain meaningful growth.

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Companies face bigger jury verdicts

(From Bloomberg) The stalled economy and a surfeit of negative corporate news, such as the BP Plc oil spill, sudden-acceleration suits against Toyota Corp. and bank foreclosure practices, has fueled public anger, affecting lawsuits against companies in unrelated cases across the country, legal experts said.

Ten of the 50 largest jury verdicts last year came in product-defect cases, compared with five in 2009 and one in 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. There were 15 such verdicts of $25 million or more in 2010, compared with seven in 2009.

The largest jury verdict of the year of any kind was for $1.3 billion in a copyright-infringement action against SAP AG. That was also the largest copyright jury award in U.S. history, almost 10 times higher than the second-biggest, according to Bloomberg data.

The top product-defect verdict was for $505.1 million against Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., the Israeli drugmaker, and its U.S. distributor, in a Nevada case over a claim that packaging of its anesthetic propofol created a risk of contamination and led to the plaintiff’s hepatitis. Three of the top 10 were in smokers’ suits against tobacco companies, led by a $152 million award against Lorillard Tobacco Co. in Boston in December.

The total of the largest five product-liability verdicts was $1.1 billion, up from $620 million in 2009 and $408 million in 2008. The 77 percent growth from last year accelerated a trend from the previous year, when the biggest five product verdicts rose 52 percent from 2008.

There hasn’t been any radical change in product-liability law to cause this change.  Prejudice today “is more subtle and not always conscious,” he said. “It’s a blue-collar feeling that corporate America doesn’t really care, and that’s difficult to eliminate in voir dire,” the jury selection process.

Outcomes in cases still “in the pipeline” may reflect the recession’s impact, said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor in Virginia.

“What’s happened to the economy could well make people distrustful of big entities, particularly corporate ones,” Tobias said. “There may be a fair amount of exposure going forward.”

There may be another reason for the rise in large product- defect verdicts, said Will Kemp, a lawyer who was part of the team that won the $505 million jury verdict against Teva.

It’s “cheap defendants and cheap insurance companies,” Kemp said in an interview.

“The defendants and the insurance companies are holding onto their money and they’re not settling the cases,” he said. “When the recession started, everyone started to hold on to their money. They’re making people try more cases.”

Gene Egdorf, an attorney who won a $54 million product- defect verdict in January 2010 against Caterpillar Inc., the world’s largest maker of construction and mining equipment, agreed.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher to get cases settled,” Egdorf said. “The companies may be hoping for better results on appeal.”

Many of the verdicts of 2010 may be reversed or reduced on appeal, or in post-trial motions, as typically happens to the biggest jury verdicts in product-liability suits.



Slow economy bodes poorly for concerts.

One of 2010’s top performing acts, AC/DC.

With a still weak economy, revenue for the 50 biggest grossing tours in the world declined 12% to $2.93 billion, from $3.34 billion in 2009, according to Pollstar. In North America, the drop was even greater, with a 15% decline to $1.69 billion, from $1.99 billion in 2009.

The biggest grossing acts of the year were as follows:

1. Bon Jovi

2. AC/DC

3. U2

4. Lady Gaga

5. Metallica

The declines in revenue occurred despite world-wide average ticket price increases of 3.9% to $76.69, up from $73.83 in 2009. Worldwide, concert-goers bought 7% fewer tickets –  38.3 to 2009’s 45.3 million. North America ticket sales also declined.

Live Nation, the largest live entertainment company in the world, warned shareholders that operating income for the year would decrease to $405 million, from $445 million the year before.  Live Nation later lowered its guidance further to $385 million.

Despite the increase in prices, several acts had to discount tickets due to underwhelming sales.  Among the acts whose tickets were discounted were The Jonas Brothers, Rihanna, , Creed, Maroon 5 and The “American Idol” live tour 2010.


Stephen Baldwin sues Kevin Costner………finally.

Tim Robbins and Keven Costner in “Bull Durham”

By Eriq Gardner

Thu Dec 23, 2010 7:59pm EST

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – In the midst of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by BP drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, a number of news outlets got a bunch of yuks with news that Kevin Costner was the potential savior for the crisis — that his company, CINC (“Costner in Nevada Corporation”), had developed a technology that separated oil from water.

In a new lawsuit filed in Louisiana District Court on Wednesday, actor Stephen Baldwin and a friend named Spyridon Contogouris claim they were tricked into selling shares of the company that marketed CINC’s technology.

According to the complaint, Contogouris was approached in the early 2000s by Costner’s representatives to market the actor’s technology to various customers. He says he entered into an agreement in which he would receive a commission on sales of units.

Flash forward to April 17, 2010.

Costner and Contogouris had a meal together in Biloxi, Mississippi, where Costner’s band, Modern West, was playing a gig.

By that time, says the complaint, Costner’s attempts to market his technology had proven unsuccessful, and he sold all his rights and ownership in CINC to a man named Bret Shelton.

Three days after Costner and Contogouris had gotten together, Deepwater Horizon exploded, which would eventually lead to the leak of nearly 5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before the wellhead was capped.

Contogouris knew it was a big opportunity for CINC. He says he attempted to contact Costner, but couldn’t, because the actor was filming a movie in Canada.

Instead, Contogouris spoke to one of Costner’s friends, who advised him that the actor’s stock in the company had already been sold. So Contogouris spoke with Shelton, and then tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with BP.

Now, Baldwin enters the picture.

In late April, Contogouris and Baldwin got together in New Orleans with a local attorney, John Houghtaling, and discussed making a documentary film based on the BP oil spill. Costner’s technology was then discussed.

Houghtaling mentioned he could make an introduction to BP, and before long, a joint venture agreement was confected between Baldwin, Contogouris, Houghtaling, and others to market the CINC technology to BP.

On May 13, the joint venture, Ocean Therapies Solutions (OTS), signed an agreement with CINC, whereby Contogouris got a 28 percent ownership and Baldwin got a 10 percent ownership in the new company.

That same day, BP agreed to test the CINC technology for possible use in cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Then, things went south.

Members of the joint venture, OTS, began disagreeing about how to license the technology to BP — whether it should be a long-term relationship or a one-time sale for a “quick kill” of the Gulf of Mexico disaster. Plus, there was said to be a falling out over the failed documentary about the oil spill, which soon resulted in a separate lawsuit.

The disagreements threatened to blow up OTS, until Costner got involved again, testifying before Congress on June 9 about his technology.

Soon after that, BP agreed to meet.

But Contogouris and Baldwin claim in their new lawsuit that they were purposefully excluded from the meeting with BP, which resulted in an $18 million deposit for a larger purchase price of the technology.

Contogouris and Baldwin say they were kept out of the loop about this money and were instead told that BP had placed no such order.

Having believed that OTS had failed, Contogouris says he sold his interest in CINC’s new partner company. It’s alleged that the money that came from BP was used by Costner and one of his associates to buy Contogouris and Baldwin out of their interest in the venture.

The deal was executed on June 11 in a “Transfer, Withdrawal, Release and Indemnity Agreement” whereby Contogouris gave up his 28% share and Baldwin gave up his 10% share in OTS for about $2 million total.

A day later, BP purchased 32 units of the CINC technology for a gross price alleged to be in excess of $52 million.

Two days after that, Costner and his associates/co-defendants “clandestinely, secretly and wrongfully caused an unauthorized bank account to be opened” without the knowledge of Contogouris and Baldwin.

The account was allegedly used by Costner and an associate as “their own personal piggy bank.”

The plaintiffs say they didn’t discover what had happened, how they had been supposedly tricked out of their involvement in OTS, until mid-July.

They are now suing for securities fraud and misrepresentation. Contogouris claims $10.64 million in damages. Baldwin claims $3.8 million in damages.

Alec Baldwin is way funnier.


For the small or solo practitioner, Google calendar fits

If you have an Android phone, Google calendar is a helpful application for the small or solo practitioner.  I can go to Google calender and enter my meetings, hearings, to do’s, etc.  The calendar on my Android is instantly updated so I always have my calendar handy whether it’s in court, at a meeting, sitting at home.  The other great thing about Google calendar is presumably Google isn’t going to implode any time soon so my calendar should be adequately backed up.  This doesn’t mean you should keep a manual written calendar like your malpractice insurer always asks.


tax lien offer in compromise? ask pamela anderson

Reportedly, Pamela Anderson had a $180,000 tax lien recorded against her.  She had a tax lien in excess of $252,000 recorded last year but paid it off saying that there were some mistakes in calculating her taxes.  With accountants like this, who needs enemies?!

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