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Friday, November 27, 2009


          A pending a lawsuit filed late last year by Germany against Italy before the International Court of Justice provides a very interesting occasion for treatment by the Court of the rules of international law pertaining to sovereign immunity.  Germany contends that Italy is violating those rules by permitting (recently via the Italian Supreme Court) the litigation of claims and entry of judgments in Italian courts (and the registration there of foreign judgments) against Germany by Italian citizens and others involving alleged wrongful actions taken by the German military and officials during World War II, such as the forced deportation of such persons to Germany and their subjection to forced labor there during the War.  Briefing is proceeding  pursuant to a Court-ordered schedule, to culminate at the end of this year, with oral arguments and a decision possible next year.  The German contentions are stated in the German application filed with the Court, equivalent to a complaint in domestic US litigation.  Germany claims that these actions of the Italian courts violate rules of international law providing for the immunity of foreign governments in the courts of another countries.
          Historically, the main exceptions recognized to that sovereign immunity have been for claims relating to actions of foreign governments constituting commercial activity.  However, more recently, some countries have also begun to assert jurisdiction over foreign states (and exceptions to sovereign immunity) for claims related to non-commercial activities, such as alleged involvement in terrorism and violations of certain international human rights.  It is on the latter basis that Italian courts have recognized jurisdiction over the claims against Germany, even approving the attachment of Italian real estate owned by German Government entities in connection with enforcement of the judgments obtained against that Government.  A number of commentators have criticized this result, and the courts of other countries have reached the opposite result.  The ICJ itself has previously sustained a sovereign-immunity-based challenge by a country to an assertion of criminal jurisdiction over one of its top national officials by other country based on the alleged involvement of that official in gross human rights violations. E.g., Dem. Rep. Congo v. Belgium.
          The outcome of the Germany v. Italy case will be of particular interest to American international lawyers, as the United States law, particularly in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, (28 USC 1602-1607) and recent amendments thereto contains assertions of extraterritorial jurisdiction, including for attachment of foreign sovereign assets, and corresponding exceptions to foreign sovereign immunity (e.g., for so-called state-sponsored terrorism) that are similar in important espects to those contained in Italian law being challenged by Germany.  An interesting analysis of the pending ICJ case is provided in a recent publication of the American Society of International Law.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


A Fulton County, GA Superior Court judge recently awarded summary judgment to clients of the Roger C. Wilson Law Firm on all claims by those clients in a case involving state and federal banking and financial instruments regulations, and state law rules governing administration of estates.  Judge Alford Dempsey entered summary judgment in favor of Firm clients Mark and Reid Tuvim, acting individually and as administrators of their mother's estate, ruling that a number of financial instruments made by the Tuvims' deceased mother were properly assets of the estate and did not pass to a corporate entity under purported terms of the underlying instruments.  This followed a ruling of the Georgia Supreme Court earlier this year also in favor of the Firm clients, in which the Supreme Court reversed a trial court's earlier rulings and verdict to the contrary.  (The case was transferred to Judge Dempsey after appeal, solely as part of an administrative re-allocation of cases in the Superior Court, having nothing to do with this case.)  In a ruling of first impression in important respects, a majority of the Supreme Court agreed with the Tuvims' argument that to transfer those assets to a corporate entity would in the circumstances of this case directly contravene federal and state banking and financial instruments laws.  The Court also sided with the Tuvims in their arguments that equitable doctrines such as cy pres, constructive trust, and unjust enrichment were not properly applicable to circumvent these state and federal financial rules.  After remand by the Supreme Court, further litigation ensued over certain aspects of these issues.  Upon further briefing and oral arguments, Judge Dempsey ruled in favor of the Tuvims on all claims.


Although they occurred in the summer, another review of the videotape of the U.S. Congressional hearings on over-criminalization of conduct and over-federalization of criminal law, and the heartbreaking testimony therein by several individual citizens whose lives were destroyed by a marauding federal criminal law enforcement regime, suggests the need to post a link to those hearings, which makes available the written statements submitted by prominent experts and the oral testimony given by those experts as well as, harrowingly, by two private citizens from Middle America Central Casting.  In addition to the fine analyses provided by the experts, including former high-ranking federal law enforcement officials Richard Thornburgh and Stephen A. Saltzburg, there is the unforgettable testimony of Kathy Norris (beginning at elapsed time 41:50 of the hearings video) and Krister Evertson (beginning at 55:15), the two individuals whose lives were devastated by overreaching federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors.  No one genuinely concerned about individual civil liberties in modern America can watch this testimony without a sinking stomach.


In a tremendous defense victory, a Columbus, GA lawyer has been acquitted by a federal jury of money-laundering, bribery, drug conspiracy, and other charges brought against him by federal prosecutors, after a six-day trial and twelve hours of jury deliberations in a Columbus federal court.  The jury acquitted the lawyer, Mark Shelnutt, a Columbus criminal defense lawyer, of all thirty-six charges included in the indictment, which were brought against him by prosecutors in connection with his representation of a defendant in an earlier drug case.  Mr. Shelnutt was represented by Savannah lawyer Tom Withers of the Atlanta and Savannah law firm Gillen, Withers, & Lake. See here for a full description of the case and trial. The acquittal occurred just several weeks after the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a defendant lawyer in similar circumstances in the case U.S. v. Velez.