Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 14, 2013

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This week in legal news, a Federal judge strikes a blow against the use of unpaid interns, Detroit stops paying debts, the George Zimmerman murder case plods along through jury selection, and lawyers for Jodi Arias push for a retrial.

Federal Judge Rules Fox Searchlight Should Have Paid Interns

A Federal District Court Judge in New York ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures had improperly benefited from the work of two unpaid interns in violation of federal and state minimum wage laws.  Judge William H. Pauley III decided that the two plaintiffs in the case were treated as regular employees and, despite receiving college credit, did not receive benefits necessary to work without pay because the work did not foster an educational environment.   Judge Pauley stated that interns should only be unpaid in limited circumstances when:

  • The work is not to the immediate advantage of the employer
  • The work must simulate the training received in an educational environment
  • Experience must benefit intern and not displace the role of regular employees

The decision could have immediate and lasting impact.  Several other lawsuits filed by unpaid interns who were assigned duties of a low ranking employee are working through America’s Courts, and this ruling could influence how the next wave of cases pans out.  With an estimated 500,000 unpaid internships offered per year, companies across America are going to have to rework internship programs to ensure educational benefit beyond the lessons learned when toting coffee or taking sandwich orders.

Detroit City Managers Says City Will Stop Paying Debts

In an effort to avoid bankruptcy, the city of Detroit has informed select creditors that it intends to default on several loans and proposed that others accept a pennies on the dollar settlement.  Calling the city insolvent, city financial manager Kevyn Orr announced that Detroit could not pay its estimated $18.5 billion debt and was required to take drastic measures.

The plan is essentially a bankruptcy strategy that offers low settlements (10 cents on the dollar) to unsecured creditors and works with secured creditors to clear up the debt over time.  Although the proposal has just been announced, Detroit seems to be moving forward immediately by skipping a $34 million payment due today for a pension plan.  The city is entering uncharted territory as it is the first major city in the United States to cave to its debt, adding another embarrassing benchmark to the struggling metropolis.  

George Zimmerman Murder Jury Pool up to 23 Candidates

The highly publicized murder trial of George Zimmerman continued its long trek through the criminal justice system this week as attorneys for both sides built the potential jury pool up to 23 individuals.  Zimmerman, on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, is accused of racially profiling the unarmed Martin and using excessive force to resolve what should have been a minor dispute.   Racial tensions have hung over the case since the incident, making it highly publicized and littered with prickly issues that can make jury selection difficult.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys want to build a base of 40 potential jurors before selecting the 6 members and 4 alternates (in Florida, 12 is only required in capital cases).  After five days of interviewing jurors, attorneys are only a shade over half way – an unsurprising pace given the high profile nature of the case and the deep seeded issues that could drive juror decision making.

The process of building a jury pool will continue with the hope that enough partial jurors can be found.  Of the 23 candidates, who are predominately middle aged females, sixteen are white, four are black, two are Hispanic, and one is Asian-American.  Jury selection in a high profile case such as this is typically thorough enough such that the gender and racial make-up of the jury is irrelevant, but the matter remains under close scrutiny due to the unavoidable racial tension associated with the murder.

Jodi Arias Attorneys Requesting Sentencing Delay Until 2014

Convicted murderer Jodi Arias is not yet out of the news.  The already lengthy legal proceedings seem to have taken another turn this week as her attorneys have filed a motion to delay Arias’ sentencing hearing until January 2014 – a full year after the murder trial began.   Claiming they have scheduling conflicts with the scheduled date of July 18th, and that they need time to gather witnesses on Arias’ behalf, her attorneys argue they have not had the opportunity to present a fair case considering the seriousness of the charges.

The hearing is necessary because the Arizona jury that convicted Arias could not agree on a sentence – 8 jurors suggested death while the remaining 4 preferred life in prison.  The new sentencing hearing will require attorneys agree on a new selection of impartial jurors who will be brought up to speed with evidence from the case.  The jurors would then listen to attorney arguments, witnesses, and evidence to determine Arias’ fate 

The process adds yet another lengthy, and expensive, element to an already drawn out trial.  The judge has yet to make a ruling.  Should the sentencing be pushed back until 2014, fans of the Arias story can occupy themselves with the Lifetime network true crime drama, “Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Liar” which airs later this month.