Legal Briefing: California Takes 'Power to the People' to a New Level


A daily look at legal news and the business of law:

California Citizens Will Redistrict California, Shaping Power for a Decade

Though arcane, one of the most powerful political acts in a state is drawing the boundaries of its political districts. Republican or Democrat, whichever group is in power when the census data comes in has always redrawn the districts to improve its chances of electing more legislators from its party. The shapes of districts drawn to achieve these political aims can be bizarre, but such partisan gerrymandering is not unconstitutional -- although it is possible to draw unconstitutional districts on the basis of race. But the ultimate results of this process are districts that keep incumbents safe and promote more politically extreme representation.

California, in response to a successful ballot initiative backed by Governor Schwarzenegger, has taken control of drawing the State Legislature's districts away from politicians and given it to citizens. Through a long, but amazingly fair, procedure (at least in a formal sense) the 14 seats on the new Citizens Redistricting Commission will be filled from a pool of 26,000 applicants who met the basic qualifications for the role. The final commission will have five Republicans, five Democrats, and four people from other parties.

Will districts drawn by citizens instead of politicians elect officials able to repair California's currently broken government? And will the power stay with the people? Two new ballot initiatives have been proposed, one that would extend the commission's power to drawing Congressional districts directly (currently the legislature draws them, so the new commission has indirectly picked up that authority already) and another which would eliminate the commission and give the power back to the politicians.

Family of Trooper Whose Death Started the Toyota Recalls Files Lawsuit

I wonder how quickly Toyota (TM) will move to settle this case? The facts against Toyota are awful: Sympathetic people were killed by the crash (a state trooper, his wife, their daughter, and the wife's brother); there's a 911 tape in which the brother narrates the moments leading up to the crash, including the fact that his car's brakes aren't working; the top speed of the out-of-control vehicle exceeded 100 miles per hour; and the event ended with a dramatic, car-flipping, flame-filled crash that would rival an action movie's footage. No wonder the incident triggered the recalls; Toyota couldn't afford to risk many incidents like that.

Were Call of Duty Creators Insubordinate or Shafted?

Jason West and Vince Zampella, the creators of the immensely profitable Call of Duty video games, are suing their former employer, Activision Blizzard Inc. (ATVI) for wrongful termination and breach of contract. Activision claims the duo were fired for insubordination; West and Zampella assert the charge was trumped up to enable Activision to avoid making a massive royalty payment to them. Which ever side wins, it appears that someone is guilty of dishonorable conduct.

And In the Business of Law:

• Drinkle Bidder & Reath had essentially a flat year without resorting to the massive layoffs and other cost cutting that beefed up many firms' returns.

• Partners and associates who were let go during the 2009 layoff wave or who feeling exceptionally nervous about their present job security may want to look at corporate in-house opportunities. As companies continue to reduce their expensive reliance on outside counsels, they are beefing up their in-house capabilities.