Professional Advice is Often Worth the Cost

There’s no doubt about it.  Attorneys fees are expensive.

Most consumers monitor expenses.  And most consumers have never spent any significant money on attorneys fees.  The hourly rate for attorneys is expensive – it is typically several hundred dollars per hour.

It’s not so different for a dentist.  If a dentist charged $300 per hour, and if that dentist saw a patient for 20 minutes, then that patient’s bill would be $100, which most consumers could afford.

But if that same patient saw a dentist for two hours, the fee would be $600.  And if that patient saw the dentist for a full day, then the bill might be something like $2,500.

I once asked a dental office employee what the fee would be if a patient saw a dentist exclusively for a full week – or for a full month.  The math is simple.  A full week would be something like ten to fifteen thousand dollars.  A full month would be something like forty to fifty thousand dollars.  That’s a tough bill for most consumers to pay.

But few legal matters can be done in 20 minutes. A complex legal matter can require days, weeks, or months of time. An initial consultation can often be done in an hour. But $350 an hour just sounds like a lot – and it is.  As a result, some consumers just can’t bring themselves to pay that kind of a fee, and they therefore forego seeking professional legal advice with respect to their legal matters.  State and Federal laws don’t allow consumers to prescribe for themselves the kinds of medication that a dentist or doctor might prescribe.  But the law allows homeowners and other individuals to make their own legal decisions and to represent themselves in court (The rule is different for corporations.  Corporations and LLC’s can’t represent themselves in court.  They must be represented by an attorney).

Does all of this make a difference?  It can.  The most financially significant transaction most homeowners ever make is the purchase or sale of their home.  Consumers understand how to save money – if a product is too expensive, then they don’t (or shouldn’t) buy it.  If they can’t afford a product and still meet their other obligations, then they don’t (or shouldn’t) buy it.  If they can buy a product at a store for one price, but at a different store for a lesser price, then through comparison shopping they can save money by purchasing the same product for a lesser price.

But these types of cost saving measures, which are often intuitive, sometimes break down when it comes to legal matters.  Many consumers seem to think that professionals are interchangeable, like buying a set of dishes or some kind of name-brand product.  That’s not always the case with the professionals.  The temperament, skills, experience and expertise of a professional can make a significant difference on the nature, quality, and effectiveness of the services rendered and the results achieved.  Most consumers intuitively sense this with respect to medicine.  Most consumers wouldn’t consult a brain surgeon about a knee problem.  But the same holds true for legal matters – a personal injury attorney may not be the most efficient source of legal advice on securities or corporate issues.  And a short amount of time with a more highly qualified or specialized professional may actually be less expensive in the long run than more time with a less-specialized and less expensive professional.

Professional Selection Can Be Important

I continue to hear about the need for clear, concise, competent and trustworthy professional advice with respect to foreclosure law and procedure.  It seems that some borrowers are confused or uncertain as to their rights or options, and some seem to be getting conflicting advice from various sources.  These borrowers have a certain amount of uncertainty, because many of them have never missed payments before, and now that they can’t make their monthly payments they find themselves in an unfamiliar world.  They know it’s not good to default on your loan payments, but they are uncertain of the exact consequences.  Some of them want to know if the Sheriff is going to show up on their doorstep next week, or they want to know if the Bank can seize their 401(k) retirement funds.

There’s no doubt about it.  We live in uncertain economic times, and many people find themselves in circumstances they’ve never experienced before.  We all know that credit histories can be important, but there seems to be a considerable amount of uncertainty among borrowers as to what can and what can’t be reported, and for how long.

The general rule is that negative credit information about a Bankruptcy can be reported for up to 10 years, and other non-bankruptcy negative credit information can be reported for up to seven years.  This can make a difference to some borrowers, because if they have no realistic way of saving their home, then some of them prefer to move forward with the inevitable loss of their home so that they can begin working anew on their credit record with the intention of purchasing a home again some time in the future.

Answers to most of the questions described above are available.  However, we live in an information age, and not all information has equal credibility.  Information obtained on the internet can be readily available – in fact, one of the problem with internet searches isn’t sometimes a lack of information, but instead such searches can result in too much information.  Well-stocked law libraries contain the answers to many of these questions, but the time required to study the law and to correctly understand it can be a most complex and time-consuming process.  As a result, some borrowers spend time reading up on these topics, and this can be valuable in order to gain a broad sense of some of the issues involved. But a broad, general understanding does not always result in the ability to correctly apply such principles to a given situation.  Many borrowers ultimately feel they are best served by consulting a professional who works with these issues on a daily basis and who has the necessary skills and judgment to correctly apply legal principles to a given situation.

Not all professionals have the same degree of knowledge, skill, or experience in a given field.  This means that one of the most critical decisions a borrower will make may be the selection of the appropriate professional.  It’s shopping, in a sense, but instead of shopping at retail stores in a mall, these borrowers find themselves in the potentially difficult position of selecting a professional.  With little professional background of their own, such borrowers are placed into a position of needing to evaluate their own needs and to match them up with the skills a professional has to offer.

There are no easy answers to such a selection process.  Referrals or recommendations from previously satisfied clients can provide some degree of assurance, but even such referrals are not a guarantee.  Professional credentials, years of experience in the field, and a good intellect can also be important factors to consider. A sense of trustworthiness can also be very important. But there is no foolproof way of selecting such a professional. In the end, borrowers do their best to select an appropriate professional, and then they ultimately decide whether or not to accept the advice provided by their professional.

Proper Advice Can Make A Difference

            “Penny wise and pound foolish.”

Maybe it’s an old saying.  But there can be truth in it.

I constantly see the practical application of this saying in the real estate foreclosure market.

In California, some loans are “non-recourse.” With “non-recourse” loans, the borrower generally won’t have personal liability after a foreclosure for any shortfall or deficiency in the foreclosure sale price.  In other words, if the property is worth less than the loan, the borrower won’t have to make up the difference if the property is sold in foreclosure.

Most borrowers don’t know the law with respect to foreclosure.  Foreclosure can seem mysterious, and somewhat foreboding. The phrase “Short sale” sounds so much less foreboding than the word “Foreclosure.”

But many homeowners who can’t meet their payments have a choice between foreclosure or a short sale.  There are often tens of thousands, or sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars at stake in such a decision. The net economic difference to a homeowner between selling their home in a short sale as compared to losing their home through foreclosure can be very significant.  Sometimes a short sale yields a better result.  Sometimes foreclosure is better.  But it’s difficult when I hear that homeowners facing such decisions are unwilling to spend a few hundred dollars to get some professional advice on which course of action makes the most sense for them and which one is likely to yield the better result.

It’s tough.  Homeowners facing a short sale or foreclosure are already losing their entire down payment.  And they are also often losing all of the work, money, and improvements they’ve put into their property.  The thought of spending additional money on attorneys fees only to lose more money can seem like throwing good money after bad.

What these homeowners often don’t realize is that the money they spend for professional help is being spent in the nature of “damage control.”  Homeowners who choose a foreclosure or short sale can end up being surprised at the end of the day when they think that the short sale or foreclosure is the end of the process, only to learn too late that the lender has preserved a claim against them following foreclosure and intends to pursue it.  This can often happen in situations where there are two loans against a property, but it can happen in other situations as well.  A short sale or foreclosure can both be thought of as a transaction, though such transactions may be made under pressure. Even though a homeowner will most likely lose money in such a transaction, there can sometimes be an opportunity to lose even more.  Competent, qualified, professional advice can sometimes make a big difference on helping homeowners minimize their losses and can help them avoid losing even more.

Short Sale Considerations Are Complex

    The concept of a short sale is simple.  A “short sale” occurs when the sales price of a property isn’t enough to pay off the mortgage.  The sales price is “short” of the amount needed to fully pay off the mortgage.  If the bank agrees to a “short sale” then the property is sold for less than the amount due on the mortgage and the bank receives less than the amount that is owed.  When the Bank receives less than the amount owed, the property is sold “short” of the amount due, and this is known as a “short sale.”

The concept of a “short sale” is simple.  But the decision whether or not to short sell a property can be quite complex.  Each potential short sale situation is unique, and the decision to short sell must be carefully made and evaluated for each borrower.

There are many considerations involved in deciding whether or not a property should be short sold.  Three important considerations involve potential lender liability, tax issues, and credit concerns.

When a property is short sold, the bank won’t receive the full amount due on the loan.  In some situations, the bank forgives the unpaid balance with the result that the borrower won’t be personally liable to the bank for any unpaid amount.  In other situations, the bank may retain a claim against the borrower for the unpaid amount, and in these situations the borrower may be personally liable for the “short” amount.  In still other situations, the bank may neither expressly forgive the debt nor retain a claim against the borrower.  In these situations, the borrower may still be liable to the bank for the unpaid amount after the short sale.

A short sale can involve significant tax considerations.  Some of these tax considerations can be quite complex.  The amount of time a borrower has lived in a property can have important tax consequences in a short sale situation. Sometimes a short sale can result in a significant tax liability, and sometimes a borrower can avoid these taxes by moving back into the property for a period of time.  Many borrowers have refinanced their homes.  Sometimes these borrowers have taken equity out of their property in connection with their refinance.   In some situations these equity withdrawals can create a significant tax liability following a short sale.

A foreclosure will almost always result in negative credit reporting on a borrower’s credit report.  But in many cases the negative credit effects from a short sale will be less than the credit damage from a foreclosure. Whether or not credit is important can vary between borrowers.  The likely negative credit effect of foreclosure versus short sale must be evaluated for each borrower depending on their specific circumstances.

There is no single correct answer as to whether or not a short sale is the best answer for any specific borrower.  Each borrower’s specific situation must be separately evaluated.  Borrowers would do well to seek competent, professional tax and legal advice in connection with any anticipated short sale.

Real Estate Transactions are Complex

I remember when we bought our first house in 1989.  We were presented with a document that was titled “Deposit Receipt.”  I accepted this document at face value, and assumed it was a receipt for the deposit we were making on our house purchase.  But as I read through this document, it started looking less and less like a “receipt” and more and more like a contract.  We never did see another contract in connection with our purchase of that house.  The Deposit Receipt was all we ever signed.  Sure enough, that document served as a “receipt” for our deposit, but it also served a more significant purpose.  That document was the contract by which we obligated ourselves to make the single largest purchase we’d made in our lives up to that point.

My wife occasionally points out that escrow officers don’t always know what to do with me.  Whenever we’ve closed a loan, or a real estate transaction, I always sit in the escrow office and read through the entire stack of documents, even if they are a foot high.  The escrow people often don’t seem to know what to do.  It seems like they’ve never had anybody actually wade through all of this stuff before.  Trouble is, I know what it means.  So I’m checking up on them – everybody – by reading all of the fine print.

Everybody tells me I should just sign the documents and take them home with me.  But if I do that, when will I read it all?  Never.  There’s no time like the present.  Plus, if I’m going to read it all, I may as well read it before I obligate myself to it.  Only if I read it can I know if there’s a potential problem involved.

It’s no surprise that non-lawyers who are involved in real estate transactions might get a bit bleary-eyed when confronted with such a stack of paper.  But there’s no defense based on the amount of paper involved in a transaction.  Except in unusual situations, Buyers, Borrowers, Lenders and Sellers who sign loan agreements or other documents are generally bound by such documents regardless of whether or not they read them.

So what’s a buyer to do when presented with a large stack of documents to sign?  Understanding all of the documentation involved in a real estate transaction is no small thing.  There are really only three options. First, Buyers and Sellers can choose to sign all of the documentation without reading anything.  This is certainly the quickest and easiest option, and it seems like some buyers opt for this approach.  But this is a risky approach if there are problems or potential problems.  Second, Buyers and Sellers can read the documentation on their own.  But real estate transactions are complex, and substantial education, experience, and training may be necessary in order to fully understand all of the elements of a real estate transaction. Most Buyers and Sellers lack the necessary training, education, and experience to fully understand and identify potential problem areas in a real estate transaction.  Third, Buyers and Sellers can rely on a professional to guide them through the process.  This professional can be a broker, an agent, an attorney, or another real estate professional.  This seems to be the approach taken by most Buyers and Sellers.  The quality of the advice and guidance received will depend in large part on the skill, experience, training and expertise of such a professional.

 

Robert B. Jacobs practices Real Estate and Business Law throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and California.   The foregoing article is not a complete discussion of the subject addressed, and should not be relied on.  Readers with specific questions or issues should consult an attorney.

Foreclosure a Reality

          When I started practicing law in 1987, two of my very first projects involved judicial foreclosures on agricultural property.  There had been a downturn in real estate values in the central valley, and a number of vineyard properties had been purchased on a speculative basis during the boom years.  It’s a familiar cycle – investors see huge gains in real estate prices, and they want to participate in these gains and so they buy properties hoping that the prices continue to increase.  But if a market drops, or adjusts, investors who purchase such lands aren’t able to sell or refinance their properties.  When investors can no longer make their payments, lenders foreclose.

Some foreclosures are conducted judicially, which means that the borrowers can be personally liable for unpaid amounts due on the loan (in some circumstances, borrowers can be liable following non-judicial foreclosures as well).    This is a hard experience for investors to go through.  Most investors don’t buy real estate so that they can lose money.  But when property values depreciate, borrowers can lose the down payment and their property.  With some loans, borrowers can also have personal liability for the unpaid amounts due on the loan.

After the mid-1980s, it seemed like property values stabilized and then increased dramatically.  In the 1990s, there was what seemed like a small drop in values, but this drop didn’t seem too dramatic.  As a result, I wasn’t involved in many foreclosures in the following years.

That’s all changed over the past several years.  This enormous market readjustment has resulted in record numbers of foreclosures and short sales.  Banks continue to struggle with handling these foreclosures, and homeowners are faced with challenges that seemed unthinkable a few years ago.

Foreclosure and short sale matters involve complex considerations of lender liability and tax law.  Many homeowners don’t realize the complexity or the significance of the issues involved.  Because hundreds of thousands of dollars of potential liability or debt forgiveness can be involved in a foreclosure or short sale, the risks to homeowners can be significant.  Homeowers do well to consult professional, competent legal and tax advice in connection with any proposed foreclosure or short sale.

Law Hangs in the Balance

            Open up just about any phone book and turn to the yellow pages section on “Attorneys.” If you look at enough of the yellow page ads, you’re likely to see a photo (or drawing) of a set of “scales” or “balances.”  You may even see a blindfolded  “Lady of Justice” holding a sword in one hand and a set of balances in the other.

So where does this symbol of “Lady of Justice” come from and what does she represent?

Depends on who you ask. A quick internet search on “woman holding balances” will give you all kinds of opinions about the source and history of “Lady of Justice.”

For example, if you do a web search using these search terms: “The symbol of Justice began centuries ago” then you’ll be taken to a website where you’ll see a drawing of a blindfolded “Lady of Justice” holding a sword in one hand and a set of balances in the other.” The website traces the symbol to Roman mythology, and notes that she is often (but not always) shown wearing a blindfold.  The website states that the image of “Lady of Justice” refers to one of the Roman gods; she represents the fair and impartial administration of justice.  However, the site provides no specific discussion of the sword or the balances.

The site goes on to note that “The modern image of Justice that many of us know today is based on Greco-Roman mythology of Themis and Justitia.  Almost always draped in flowing robes, mature but not old, she symbolizes the fair and equal administration of the law, without corruption, avarice, prejudice, or favor.  Themis, c 300 BEC, was the Greek Goddess of Justice and Law and was known for her clear-sightedness.  Her ability to foresee the future enabled her to become one of the oracles at Delphi, which in turn led to her establishment as the Goddess of Divine Justice.  Classical representations of Themis did not show her blindfolded because of her talent for prophecy, nor was she holding a sword because she represented common consent, not coercion.”

If you do a google search using the following search terms:  New York Times Lady Justice you’ll be taken to a web page where you’ll find there is so much history to the image that an actual book on the subject was published in 2010 about its history.

That website reviews some of the major points of the image, and includes photographs of some of its different uses, including one from the Vatican. This review describes the progression of the image from ancient Egypt, where the balances held a feather on one side and a heart on the other.  According to this article, “Lady of Justice” never wore a blindfold until the 17th century.

It’s a certainty that our American legal system requires a balancing of interests. Whether or not the balances held by the Lady of Justice represent a balancing of interests, the courts in our country consistently find it necessary to balance competing interests.  In an interesting case, a court found it necessary to balance the constitutional right to the free use of property against the rights of free speech and the right to assemble.

Balancing Freedom of Speech

           This article describes some of the meanings and symbolism of the “Lady of Justice” image that is found in the decorating of many courthouses, including the courthouse of the United States Supreme Court.  The image generally consists of a woman holding a sword in one hand and a set of balances in the other. Sometimes she is blindfolded, and other times she is not.  The image is commonly known as “Justice” and it traces its history back to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.  The image is commonly understood to represent fairness and impartiality of law and justice.

The image of “Lady of Justice” holds a balance in one hand.  Some sources interpret the use of the balances to mean “impartiality” in the application of the law.  Because the symbol has been used for so many years in so many different situations, it’s not entirely clear that a single, consistent defined meaning is always attributed to the balance in the woman’s hand.  But one of the tasks that is consistently faced by courts is a balancing of interests.

Here’s an example. Many schoolchildren learn at a young age that the United States Constitution provides American citizens with a right of “free speech,” where all Americans have the right to speak our thoughts and intentions without undue governmental interference.  But the right to “free speech” is not unlimited.  In our legal system, the right to “free speech” must be tempered, or balanced, against other considerations.  It’s easy to think that our constitutional right to “free speech” should give us the right to say most anything – but that’s just not the case. It’s easy to think that words don’t mean much because they are just spoken and then they disappear – and it doesn’t seem like there’s much left behind.  But there are many state and federal laws that prohibit certain kinds of speech or certain words from being spoken.

We intuitively know this.  For example, the oath administered in courts of law obligates the witnesses who give testimony to speak the truth.  If these witnesses don’t speak the truth, then they can be convicted of a crime and imprisoned – just for speaking a series of words. And if a witness is ordered to appear in court, and if that witness refuses to answer questions, then in some situations such silence can constitute contempt of court, and that witness can be imprisoned simply for refusing to speak. (This should never be confused with a person’s Fourth Amendment rights, which grants a witness or a defendant the right to remain silent in certain situations).

There is no doubt about it. Words have substantial meaning and importance.  If someone in a court proceeding says words disrespectful of a judge or the legal system, then that person could end up in jail for a few days as they are given time to think about their “contempt of court.”  Newspaper headlines sometimes carry stories of persons who “leak” important, confidential information.  Persons can make threats of all kinds, and the wrong kind of threat spoken in the wrong setting can land you in jail.  Even financial information spoken improperly by “insiders” can create problems in financial markets that can end up in prison time.  So words aren’t just “fluff” – they really do mean something, and when spoken or written they can and do have real effect.  The First Amendment right to “free speech” doesn’t allow people to make improper of threats or certain illegal statements – and if persons do make such statements, then the long history of case law interpreting First Amendment rights may not come to their aid, because there are many cases that show that the First Amendment rights of free speech can properly be limited to some degree by government.  Such limitations sometimes control the “time, place and manner” regarding the exercise of free speech.  Here’s a simple example.  If you are in a public theater watching the latest super-hero action movie, and if there’s an enormous onscreen picture showing a hero with a gun and someone says “Look – he has a gun” it’s unlikely that anybody is going to be too surprised, and in that setting a person’s first amendment rights may well protect that kind of a statement.  But there are other security-sensitive situations that we all encounter where those exact same words, “Look – he has a gun” spoken improperly and inappropriately, could raise quite a stir.  What’s the difference?  Is it the words?  No – the words in each situation were exactly the same.  But in one situation, it’s unlikely anybody would give them a second thought, but in a very different situation the person making such a statement could quickly find themselves at the police station. The difference between the two situations was the time, place, and manner in which the same words were spoken.

Freedom of assembly is a similar right granted by the Constitution. For an interesting application of the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in a connection with uses of private and public real estate, see the articles over the next three weeks.

First amendment rights of free speech and free assembly are governed by extensive case law interpreting and defining those rights.  Proper application and understanding of these rights involves complex legal considerations.  Persons with First Amendment claims, issues or questions should consult competent legal counsel.

Assemble at Will

Two of the fundamental rights granted by the United States Constitution are the right of free speech, and the right of public assembly.  These two rights allow United States citizens to freely speak their mind on a broad range of subjects, and they also allow citizens to peacefully assemble, without prior governmental permission, so long as such assembly is done properly and appropriately.  These rights of free speech and freedom of assembly are so much a part of our culture that we often don’t even think about them as basic rights unless we feel they are being threatened.  For example, nobody thinks twice about going to a music concert at a large concert hall – and nobody thinks twice about showing up for a performance of Shakespeare in the park.  Everybody just goes without ever thinking about getting a special governmental permit allowing a large number of people to assemble for such a performance.

But this wasn’t always the case.  Some governments throughout history have been known to curb, limit, or outright ban informal, unauthorized meetings of persons.  This may have been done in an effort to limit the ability of persons to organize themselves in some kind activity that the government didn’t support.  It’s easy to find examples of this.  One of the most readily examples of this is found in the Bible, where an informal gathering of people was dispersed because no governmental permission had been previously obtained for the gathering.  See Acts 19:21-41.

The right of free speech and the right to peaceably assemble are federal rights, granted by the Bill of Rights in the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The First Amendment specifically provides that “Congress . . . shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”  This means that the Bill of Rights prevents the Federal government from improperly limiting or infringing on those rights. The First Amendment doesn’t say anything about whether or not the several States have the ability to pass laws that infringe on those rights.  But the 14th amendment to the Constitution has been interpreted to extend these rights to actions by state governments, so that not only the United States Congress but also state and local governments are prohibited from improperly infringing on those rights.

Recognizing that the right to peaceably assemble is a fundamental constitutional right, it would be easy to think that there should never be any kind of problems with this right.  But there are many forms of government in the United States.  There is one federal government, fifty state governments, and many, many city and county governments.  All of them pass laws and ordinances to regulate the activities of their citizens and residents. So it may come as no surprise that one of these many governments may occasionally run afoul of one or more of these individual constitutional rights.

 

Though individuals have first amendment rights to peaceably assemble, the government can often regulate and control the time, place, and manner of such assembly.  First amendment rights of free speech and free assembly are governed by extensive case law interpreting and defining those rights.  Proper application and understanding of these rights involves complex legal considerations.  Persons with First Amendment claims, issues or questions should consult competent legal counsel.

Just in Case

Two important rights of American citizens are the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble.  These First Amendment rights are granted by the United States Constitution to all citizens of the United States.  The First Amendment by itself only restricts the United States Congress from passing laws that improperly abridge the rights of free speech and freedom to assemble.  The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution extends these rights so that state and local governments do not have the power to pass laws which improperly abridge, limit, or restrict those fundamental constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

There are many, many cases that interpret the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.  Whenever a question arises about whether or not the government is improperly abridging the rights of free speech or assembly, this case law can help determine exactly how those rights are to be applied.  One major purpose of a court is to apply a legal principle to the specific facts of any given situation, but the fact of legal situations can vary widely. As a result, it’s not always immediately clear how a legal principle will be applied in any given case.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that the people are entitled “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”  The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution provides that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, and also provides that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation.  These protections generally apply to corporations, or companies, as well as to individuals. Most of us recognize that the government can’t properly take our own private property without paying for it.  But a court must balance competing interests.  For example, a court must balance the interest of free speech against the right of control over one’s own property, and when such balancing is done there can be interesting results.

There is a question as to how much control the owner of property is entitled to exert over his property.  The whole concept of “property” is founded on the idea of “exclusivity.”  In other words, if one person owns an item of property, then under the laws of the United States that person has the right to exclude all the world from using that property if he or she so chooses.  The right to control, or exclude, use of property is one of the key hallmarks associated with property ownership.  But situations can arise where this near-absolute right to exclude others must be tempered.  And sometimes the right of free speech can, on balance, trump the right to the exclusive use of property.

For an interesting example of a case where the right of free speech was directly balanced against the rights of property ownership, see next week’s article.

            First amendment rights of free speech and free assembly are governed by extensive case law interpreting and defining those rights.  Proper application and understanding of these rights involves complex legal considerations.  Persons with First Amendment claims, issues or questions should consult competent legal counsel.