Clarissa Settles It All

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom

Comebacks can be costly.  Melissa Joan Hart starred in a couple of hit TV shows in her career, Clarissa Explains It All (1991-1994) and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996-2003), both aimed at the teenage demographic.  After that, she wasn’t quite so young anymore (just 15 at the start of Clarissa, surprisingly), and thus wasn’t the best choice to sell TV shows to said demographic anymore.  Consequently, her acting career sort of floundered in the years post-Sabrina.  Sometime in 2006 and shortly after the birth of her first son, Hart hired talent manager Kieran Maguire to help bump her up to the lucrative 25-to-36 demographic and win back her bygone star power.  This tactic turned out to be successful: in 2010, Hart premiered her TV show Melissa and Joey, a family sitcom about parents and motherhood and raising kids and junk.  (Aside: That I, a 23-year-old male, have no interest in watching the show is testament to its intended marketing segment.)  Nevertheless, things were looking good for Mrs. Hart in her successful transition from teenage idol to sitcom matron.

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Snitches Get Riches

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom

Decisions

Remember the landmark $25 billion federal foreclosure settlement from February?  The one which has provisions to help prevent foreclosure on homeowners, provisions most states are ignoring?  Which doesn’t yet seem to be doing much for foreclosure victims at all?  Well, at least one person has benefited from the settlement: the whistleblower who drew the curtains back on the wizards at Countrywide Financial to kick off the case in the first place.  Kyle Lagow, who was fired for pointing out illegalities in Countrywide’s foreclosure appraisal business, first brought the situation to the government’s attention with a lawsuit in 2008.  That particular lawsuit, which rolled into one huge suit with a bunch of similar ones, was eventually settled for $1 billion.  Whistleblower laws entitle a citizen who first brings up a case and turns over evidence to a certain percentage of the money eventually won in that case.  In Lagow’s case, that amount is $14.5 million.  Not bad for a lowly house appraiser.

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Divorce Is Final, Says Court

Gavel and scales, by Flickr user "s_falkow", licensed via Creative CommonsThe New York Court of Appeals ruled today that a Bernie Madoff victim can’t redefine the terms of his divorce on account of his losses to Madoff’s fraud.  Steven Simkin and Laura Blank, when married, invested $5.4 million in Madoff’s business together.  The terms of their 2006 divorce settlement totalling $13.5 million split all assets evenly.  However, while Mr. Simkin elected to retain his stake in Madoff’s business in the divorce, Blank took her half in cash.  Madoff turned himself in to police for perpetrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history just two years later.  Meaning that Simkin lost his millions, while Blank was none the worse.

Simkin sued Blank to essentially redo the divorce settlement, which eventually reached New York’s highest court.  His argument was that, since Madoff’s investment was fraudulent, he and Blank should split the losses evenly.  Today, the court decided against it, citing the finality of divorce and warning that allowing the resettlement would set a dangerous precedent for divorce settlements and other contracts.  While Simkin tried to argue that the Madoff account didn’t exist and so he shouldn’t be held accountable for his investment in it, the Court disagreed, saying that the account did exist, it was just illegal, and that Simkin could have taken out his money at any time, like his ex-wife did.  In other words, they called him a sore loser.

Lockheed Martin Settles with US Government for $16 Million

Lockheed Martin, a long-time defense contractor, was accused by the federal government of misrepresenting the cost of tools used to build the F-22 and F-35 fighter jets.  Allegedly, Lockheed subcontracted out some of the work and that subcontractor inflated the price of tools, a number that Lockheed passed on to the government despite knowing of its inaccuracy.  Last Friday, Lockheed agreed to pay the government $16 million to settle the suit.  The company denies any wrongdoing, claiming that they settled the suit “in an effort to close the matter in a timely manner”.

Is this case a simple mistake in accounting?  Or was Lockheed Martin caught trying to fleece the government?  I guess now we’ll never know.  But, important to keep in mind is that this is the infamously-expensive F-22 we’re talking about here, a veritable poster child for government graft.  Defense contracts are also often swollen with overpriced items as a way to ensure that a critical $200 screwdriver doesn’t fail.  The reasoning being that, if it does fail, they can go in and say “hey, we paid $200 for this $5 screwdriver so that it would be perfect, what happened?”  Maybe Lockheed just went a little overboard this time.  Maybe Al Gore needs to step in and start smashing some F-22 tools on Letterman before someone takes notice.

Read more in the original story by the Silicon Valley Bizblog.

Renters Win $500,000 Settlement Against Landlord’s Scam

An apartment building in Paris, by Flickr user Steve Cadman, licensed via Creative CommonsA landlord in Baltimore made quite a profit by faking property damage and suing his former renters for restitution.  That is, until Hong Park, a nonprofit legal aide looking into the matter for one of the renters, found the landlord’s claims to be a little fishy.  The landlord had provided supposed invoices from contractors detailing repairs to the property.  Park noted some suspicions about the invoices though — namely, that they didn’t have any company logos and that they were dated when collections began, not when the renter moved out.  The lawyer called up some of the referenced contractors and, lo and behold, all of the invoices were forged by the landlord.  Park sent the info on to the Maryland Attorney General’s office, and some subpoenas and a class-action lawsuit later, the owner of Ager Road Station Apartments will pay a $500,000 settlement to the former renters he swindled.  For anyone who’s dealt with a less-than-honorable landlord in the past, this settlement is a welcome victory.

Keep reading for tips on how to protect yourself from this kind of scam