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Laurence Simons February Newsletter 2015

Posted by: Laurence Simons 25/02/15

Lawyer under fire - Malaysian human rights advocate faces sedition charges
Austrian lawyer seeks papal help over bells
Katy Perry and sharks cause legal row
Bird & Bird in a flap as six migrate to new nest
Lawyer unable to reach man detained in Iran
No shades of grey for lawyer as case against Strauss-Kahn "collapses"
British legal firms continue China love-in


Lawyer under fire - Malaysian human rights advocate faces sedition charges

The struggles of lawyers to fight for the human rights of those evidently denied them is often a hard one - and the efforts of one such advocate in Malaysia has had depressingly familiar results.

Eric Paulsen has been charged with sedition for allegedly criticising the country's Islamic authorities, according to his lawyer Gobind Singh Deo.

He was charged after tweeting that the Malaysian Islamic Development Department was promoting extremism in its Friday sermons, a tweet that was subsequently deleted, but by then he had been arrested.

Mr Paulsen has pleaded not guilty, saying he was criticising the head of the department, not Islam per se. If he is convicted he could face a large fine, three years in jail, or both.

Of course, in situations where authorities want to silence criticism and attempts to stand up for human rights, denying the people best placed to stand up for the rule of law of their own liberty is a potent way of doing this, not least because it can have such a chilling effect on other lawyers.

This is clearly what the Malaysian authorities are aiming to achieve, according to Phil Robertson,  deputy director of New York-based Human Rights Watch. He called the arrest of Mr Paulsen "an outrageous crackdown on free speech".

As it happens, the law is not based on any kind of Islamic structures, but is a leftover of the colonial era. Nonetheless, it has clearly served the authorities to keep it on the statute book and be prepared to use it.

Mr Paulsen is now on bail and is due to appear in court on April 27th. That will certainly give international pressure groups time to put pressure on the Malaysian authorities to drop the charges. 

Indeed, it is to be hoped that such efforts bear fruit, as this may boost the cause of lawyers facing similar threats by authorities to their liberty, free speech and capacity to defend human rights in other countries where such basic freedoms are frequently denied.

Austrian lawyer seeks papal help over bells

For whom the bell tolls was supposed to be a novel about the Spanish Civil War, but in the Austrian city of Linz it has become a major bugbear for a sleep-deprived man living nearby, prompting his lawyer to write to the highest possible authority over it.

Wolfgang List penned a letter to Pope Francis saying his client is suffering health problems due to the ringing of the bells of Linz Cathedral, which takes place every 15 minutes, even at night, just 75 metres away from his home. 

Mr List said: “The bells in the Linz Cathedral clock tower ring every quarter of an hour at night. Between 10pm and 6am … they ring 222 times. We therefore beseech you, Holy Father, to intervene … to ensure that human right of the people of Linz to a healthy and refreshing night’s sleep is respected and that the bells no longer chime at night.”

The bishop of Linz has so far declined to curb the ringing, which may suggest he is in the pocket of some nocturnal campanologists. On the other hand, Mr List's client may not get as much sympathy as he would hope for. After all, it may be reasoned, when he decided to move to his current place of residence he must surely have had some inkling of what that big building with a tower was - and that as a structure that had been there for some time its activities might just have priority.

Of course, such arguments have been raised in a number of places where someone has moved to a new home only to suddenly discover that the bells of the church nearby make a sort of ding-dong noise. None of that has prevented many trying to take action to silence bells that have been ringing for centuries.

However, it remains to be seen how the Pope responds to the Linz situation. After all, he has clearly been a man to take a new approach to his office, so perhaps he has something new and different to say about things that go bong in the night. 


Katy Perry and sharks cause legal row

Katy Perry made plenty of headlines when she performed during the Superbowl, but it seems the large plastic sharks on stage with her have created their own story.

Perry's half-time performance included lots of dancing sharks, which according to her lawyers are essentially her intellectual property.

This became an issue when a Florida-based 3D printing company produced some 2.7 inch figurines resembling the sharks. To the great excitement of those wondering when 3D printing would start to make a real mark on the world by triggering a big lawsuit, Katy's legal team took umbrage.

Thus it was that Los Angeles-based attorneys Greenberg Traurig sent a cease-and-desist letter to Fernando Sosa, who operates the website PoliticalSculptor and business Shapeways. Mr Sosa, who normally satirises politicians, was somewhat less than amused to get a cease-and-desist letter that said: "As you are undoubtedly aware, our client never consented to your use of its copyrighted [intellectual property], nor did our client consent to the sale of the infringing product."

They added that he should stop making the sharks, hand over any he had and tell them how much money he had made from them.

Rather than back down, however, Mr Sosa hired his own lawyer and prepared to bite back (insert your own shark joke here). He said: "As of Friday, I have retained the legal representation of Christopher Jon Springman Professor at New York University School of Law and we have decided to fight back these bullying corporate lawyers."

Professor Springman weighed in with a crucial argument: He noted that the whole affair "will not benefit Katy Perry". And indeed it may not. After all, despite having tigers in one of her videos and even at her wedding to Russell Brand, she never took out a copyright on any big cats. Unless she plans a song that includes a Jaws remake, it is hard to see why her cartoon Superbowl sharks are such a big deal.

Bird & Bird in a flap as six migrate to new nest

Hong Kong law firm Bird & Bird has had its feathers well and truly ruffled after Swedish IP consultancy Awapatent plucked six of its staff for its Beijing and Hong Kong branch AWA Asia.

IP rainmaker Ai-Leen Lim and five of her team were persuaded to take flight and Ms Lim has relinquished her role as international partner and head of trademark portfolio management in Greater China. Instead, she will head up the consultancy practice at her new employer as chief executive officer and principal counsel in the region.

Fleeing the nest with her were senior managing associate Rhonda Tin, associate Lawrence Yeung, senior associate Ashley Zhao, paralegal Allen Yi and senior IP clerk Angel Yu.

"Ai-Leen and her team will provide the east-meets-West-approach as the much needed bridge for our Western clients who need help in navigating IP issues in Asia, and for our Asian clients who need IP assistance in Europe," the Awapatent statement announcing the move said.

While the defectors seek to get things off to a flier, some may wonder just what Bird & Bird tried to do to stop them winging their way to another home. Surely, some might suggest, it should have watched the situation like a hawk and made sure it did not let them go on the cheep cheap.

However, it may be quite unfair to suggest Bird & Bird has approached the prospect of others feathering their nests at its expense with an ostrich mentality.

Instead, rather than get in a flap, the firm has simply played the same game. It has managed to acquire a large number of new recruits from rival firms in the last 18 months, with lateral hires including former King & Wood Mallesons corporate partner, Wing On Chui. With a name like that, it seems like the company should be able to keep on flying even if others manage to soar high elsewhere. 

Lawyer unable to reach man detained in Iran

Lawyers can take on some tough cases at times, but few may face a harder task than that of Iranian defence attorney Masoud Shafiei.

Mr Shafiei has been enlisted to provide legal representation to Iranian-American Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post correspondent who has been detained in Iran on charges that have not even been made public. However, so far he has been unable to get to his client, as some formalities still need to be completed.

In particular, Mr Rezaian needs to sign on three successive days to confirm he wants Mr Shafiei to represent him, but has not been able to do so. Until that happens, the lawyer cannot even establish what the charges are, or access any part of the case files to plan a defence.

The journalist was held with his Iranian wife last year, plus two photojournalists. The others have all been released, leaving the American-born prisoner apparently facing a trial soon in Iran's Revolutionary Court, which may suggest some sort of security offence is alleged.

All this is very alarming for the Americans as a whole, not least the accused man's family. Iranian authorities do not recognise dual nationality and fears are growing that he will not get a fair trial.

In an emailed statement, Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron said it is "outrageous that the Iranian court is blocking a well-regarded lawyer chosen by Jason's family from gaining access to him.

"He should be permitted to meet at once with his lawyer. Iran's handling of this case bears no resemblance to justice; it has been a sham and a tragic farce."

While Mr Shafiei keeps trying, Mr Rezaian's brother Ali has appealed to the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "I would urge the head of the judiciary as well as the supreme leader to have people take a look at this case and to realise all of the absurd things that have happened here, and to have it addressed," he said.

However, they can at least be confident they have the right lawyer. Mr Shafiei has previously represented three American hikers seized on the border with Iraq in 2009 and accused of spying. Omani diplomatic intervention helped free one of them after 13 months, while the others were convicted but freed one year later.

No shades of grey for lawyer as case against Strauss-Kahn "collapses"

Considering he was the head of the International Monetary Fund at a time when the global financial sector was losing the plot, it may seem rather trivial and titillating that Dominique Strauss-Kahn's personal life has got rather more publicity than any of his decisions.

Nonetheless, the reality was that his lawyers knew full well the pimping charges raised against him in France were serious enough and could mean spending time behind bars, leaving him completely unable to party in the way to which he had become accustomed.

However, while the sordid sex life of a man once tipped to be a future French president has been laid bare - not that the presidency is an office known for its high personal morality - it seems that at least the criminal charges are set to be dropped.

Two of the prostitutes Mr Strauss-Kahn was alleged to have to have procured dropped a civil case against him and the evidence has become so threadbare even the prosecutor has called for the judge at the court in Lille to acquit the 65-year-old.

It was left to veteran defence lawyer Henri Leclerc to declare: "What we were expecting has happened: This case has collapsed."

He added: "The law, the law! As for morals, each to their own. Virtue is practised, not commented upon."

So it seems that in the week when Fifty Shades of Grey was released in cinemas around the world, the court will accept the legally consenting acts Mr Strauss-Kahn has been involved in were at least on the right side of the law. As a result, he can now expect to walk free to enjoy his liberty, equality and immorality.

British legal firms continue China love-in

While it may still be a one-party state, China's gradual commercial advance and increasing financial openness has created widespread opportunities for businesses of all kinds, not least legal firms.

Given the volume of trade that is possible when a country of 1.4 billion people is involved, that may come as no surprise, and it seems British firms are continuing to grasp the opportunities.
According to the Lawyer, the emerging trend at the end of 2014 appeared to suggest 2015 might just be the year when British and Chinese law firms formed a number of strategic partnerships.

One UK firm whose activities may be a bellweather of the emerging trend is Stephenson Harwood. During 2014 it closed down its base in Guangzhou, but by the end of the year it was back in town.

What had brought about the change? Had one of the staff met a nice local girl or could it be there was a particularly popular local restaurant? In fact it was neither reason; the motive was the chance to provide clients access to Chinese law services, something it could not do itself under local regulations, but is possible in a partnership.

Indeed, this move has been echoed by Kennedy's, which has joined forces with Beijing-based AnJie, which is essentially an insurance firm. As a result, Kennedy's is able to offer more services via proxy, rather than having to move to the Chinese mainland. At the same time, it has retained its existing Hong Kong base.

Senior partner at Kennedy's Nick Thomas called the deal "the beginning of even closer ties for Kennedy's with the People’s Republic of China".

If these two firms have started a trend - one which would make sense as the Chinese legal market develops and its economy continues to grow - the question may not be whether more British firms will get involved in such partnerships, but, more simply, who's next?