EAGAN, Minn., Dec. 12 – LAWFUEL – The Law News Ne…

EAGAN, Minn., Dec. 12 – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network– There was sweeping change across the U.S. in 2005 — from the Supreme Court to the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina, the shuffling of the U.S. Supreme Court and the battle over the new bankruptcy law topped the charts as the key legal issues of the year, according to a
survey of Thomson West authors, all top lawyers and legal scholars in their
fields.

Hurricane Katrina
While the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina are just beginning to make
their way into the courts, the disaster and its lasting effect on the Gulf
Coast made headlines this year, and the expected legal fallout made Katrina
one of the top legal issues of 2005.

“Although technically not a legal event, I think Hurricane Katrina and the
other natural disasters of 2005 will have continuing legal fallout. Contracts
were broken, employment was lost, leases were abandoned, and all these issues
may result in significant litigation for some time,” says Dee Pridgen, author
of Consumer Credit and the Law, 2006 ed. and Consumer Protection and the Law,
2005 ed. “Also, in the rebuilding, there may be issues regarding home repair
scams, foreclosure scams and other overreaching of consumers.”

Supreme Court
The legal shift of the U.S. Supreme Court will have an impact for decades
to come. Although the court’s shuffling with a new chief justice and the
retirement announcement of Sandra Day O’Connor made the headlines in 2005,
experts cited the Kelo v. City of New London decision, which ruled that
municipalities can use eminent domain to seize private property in order to
turn it over to a private developer, as the most important Supreme Court case
of 2005.

James Kushner, author of Subdivision Law & Growth Management, commented
that Congress and individual states are free to enact legislation to restrict
use of eminent domain to seize property for private development. Many states
had done so even before the Kelo decision, and other states are now
considering such a move.

“Many people mistakenly believed the ruling would lead to wholesale
condemnation of people’s homes to benefit private developers,” said Kushner.
“But the court ruled any such taking of private property has to be part of a
comprehensive development plan that provides appreciable economic benefits to
the community.” He worries that states and Congress may be overreacting to the
ruling, restricting eminent domain uses to the point where it hinders cities’
economic development efforts.

Bankruptcy Reform
Experts both for and against the new law say it is one of the most
important pieces of legislation enacted in 2005. “The Bankruptcy Abuse
Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which took effect Oct. 17, 2005, works
a sea of change in bankruptcy law by restricting access of individual debtors
to Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief. The law heavily favors secured creditors and
taxing entities to the detriment of unsecured creditors,” said Judge Joe Lee,
author of Bankruptcy: A Practice Systems Library Manual.

At the same time, many experts say that negative reactions to the law are
overstated. Hugh Ray, author of Creditor’s Rights (Texas Practice Guide), was
one of the attorneys invited to the White House for the bill’s signing. Ray
said, “The positive aspects of the new bankruptcy law are shorter and less
expensive bankruptcies, as well as fewer bankruptcies. People can’t file over
and over. It’s something that’s different and requires education on the part
of lawyers and the public. The overall impact of the new law will create a
more stable bankruptcy system that’s more understandable.”
Respondents also highlighted class action reform legislation, government
contracting and procurement process issues raised during the Iraq war and
Katrina, U.S. v. Booker, which struck down federal sentencing guidelines, and
court decisions relating to the Guantanamo Bay detainees as top legal issues
in 2005.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Those polled are Thomson West authors who are leading
experts in areas ranging from constitutional law and litigation to employment
law and civil rights. For the full survey results or to interview one of
Thomson West’s authors, contact Angelique Schaffer at (651) 848-8860 or
[email protected] . Visit the Thomson West Expert Directory at
http://west.thomson.com/news/experts/ for knowledgeable sources on today’s
legal issues.

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