National Roundup

Fotis Dulos lawyers banned from discussing case for 40 years

FARMINGTON, Conn. (AP) — The lawyers for Fotis Dulos, the Connecticut man accused of murder after his estranged wife Jennifer Dulos disappeared, will be banned from discussing the case for 40 years, according to probate court settlements.

They must also return more than half the $250,000 retainer Dulos gave them shortly before his death. Probate Judge Evelyn Daly in Farmington, where Dulos lived, approved the settlements on Tuesday, ending lawsuits filed against criminal defense lawyers Norman Pattis and Kevin Smith, Hearst Connecticut Media reported.

Jennifer Dulos vanished in May 2019 after dropping the estranged couple’s five children off at school in New Canaan where she was living — a case that drew international news coverage and led to TV documentaries and a movie. Her body still hasn’t been found. Her disappearance came amid contentious divorce and child custody court proceedings.

State police accused Fotis Dulos of attacking her in her garage when she returned from the school and driving off with her body. He was charged with murder in January 2020 and died weeks later after a suicide attempt, police said. He denied having anything to do with her disappearance.

Christopher Hug, a lawyer for Fotis Dulos’ estate, negotiated the probate court settlement and said Jennifer Dulos’ family hopes to avoid more publicity. Pattis once suggested Jennifer Dulos may have staged her disappearance to frame Fotis Dulos, similar to the plot of “Gone Girl,” a novel made into a movie.

“The heirs of the estate were very concerned about confidentiality,” Hug told Daly on Tuesday.

Pattis declined to comment on the settlement Wednesday.

The 40-year gag order is unusual for probate cases, said former state Probate Judge J. David Morrissey.

The agreement settled lawsuits filed against the Pattis & Smith firm by Jennifer Dulos’ family and Fotis Dulos’ estate. It also calls for the firm to return $137,000 of the $250,000 retainer Fotis Dulos paid after he was charged with murder.

Murder conspiracy charges remain pending against Michelle Troconis, Fotis Dulos’ former girlfriend, and attorney Kent Mawhinney, a friend of Fotis Dulos. Police accuse them of helping to cover up the killing. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Public pension fund agrees to $2.7 billion lawsuit deal

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The nation’s largest public pension fund has agreed to pay up to $2.7 billion to refund policyholders hit with huge hikes in their premiums, it was announced Tuesday.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or CalPERS, has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit over the fee hikes that were imposed on nearly 80,000 people who paid for policies to cover the long-term costs of nursing care and included “inflation-protection” coverage, according to a joint news release from CalPERS and the plaintiffs.

A judge must approve the deal, which could happen sometime next year, according to the release.

Several policyholders sued in 2013 after CalPERS notified them that their premiums would jump by 85% over two years beginning in 2015.

CalPERS said it needed to raise the premiums to keep the expensive long-term care policies solvent. The fund has suspended new enrollment and plans to implement two more rate increases as early as this November and next year that could nearly double the premium cost, the Sacramento Bee reported.

CalPERS, which has some $470 billion in assets, provides pension and other retirement benefits to more than 2 million employees of state and local agencies and public schools, retirees and their families.

However, the money for the settlement won’t come from those assets, which cover pensions, but rather from a separate long-term care fund of nearly $5.5 billion, according to the news release.

“We believe this settlement is in the best interest of all long-term care policyholders and represents a sincere effort to resolve very complex issues in a fair manner,” Matthew Jacobs, CalPERS general counsel, said in the release.

The settlement “will help our clients, many of whom are retired and on fixed incomes, to achieve a refund of premiums and move on with their lives,” said Gretchen Nelson, one of the attorneys in the case.

If approved, the settlement would avoid a jury trial in the case scheduled for March of next year.

The amount of money for each person covered by the settlement will depend on several factors, including whether they used the benefits for which they were paying.

Under the deal, most policyholders would receive between $35,000 and $50,000 but would have to give up their long-term care insurance plans to receive full payment refunds, the Bee reported.

Policyholders can opt out of the settlement and keep their plans, but few are likely to take that route, Stuart Talley, an attorney representing policyholders, told the paper.

Jury selection for sheriff’s trial resumes with media and public

ATHENS, Ala. (AP) — Jury selection for the criminal trial of a longtime Alabama sheriff resumed Wednesday with members of the media and public allowed in court after a judge agreed to open the proceedings, which had been conducted in secret.

Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely and attorneys gathered with prospective jurors after Judge Pamela Baschab, a retired state appeals judge brought in after local judges stepped aside, allowed reporters into court.

Baschab issued a brief order saying she would grant a joint request by the prosecution and defense to open the proceedings after media groups, newspapers and broadcasters sought to intervene, arguing that it was unconstitutional to bar the public from jury selection. She then denied the request by news organizations as being moot in a separate order.

News outlets reported that Baschab, who served as a judge in Baldwin County before being elected to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, told media members she never before had allowed the media to attend jury selection during a trial.

“There were good and valid reasons I decided to keep it closed,” she said.

Blakely, 70, has pleaded not guilty to a dozen felony counts alleging he stole campaign donations, got interest-free loans and solicited money from employees. Prosecutors in court documents tied his actions to alcohol use and gambling visits to out-of-state casinos.

First elected in 1983, Blakely has kept working as sheriff since his indictment in 2019. He has announced plans to run again if acquitted, but a felony conviction would result in his automatic removal from office.