Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

Judge_Schoonover200px-Facebook.svgJudge Linda D. Schoonover appears to have a different concept of a “friend of the court” party. The Seminole Circuit judge has been removed from a divorce case where she tried to “friend” one of the litigants, Sandra Chace. Chace declined on the advice of counsel to be a friend of Judge Schoonover. Her lawyer says that Schoonover responded with retaliation against her in a type of “scratch a Friend find a Foe” ploy.

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mosaic_2622x350-1For many people, the appearance of the mysterious rock in a picture from Mars was a great subject for breakfast discourse on whether it was kicked up by the Rover Opportunity or an alien creature with the world’s most unimpressive evolutionary progression. Rhawn Joseph, however, believes that he can force NASA to do more than speculate. Joseph is miffed that NASA will not take a closer look at the rock and has gone to court in Northern California to force the agency to investigate further. The rock is commonly called the “Jelly donut” due to its shape but scientists at NASA have named it “Pinnacle Island.”

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posnerUS-CourtOfAppeals-7thCircuit-SealIn an important decision on immunity, the United States Court of Appeal for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that a prosecutor is not protected by immunity for allegedly coercing false testimony that sent a man to death row 17 years ago. Two prosecutors were accused of egregious misconduct: Lawrence Wharrie and David Kelley. The new opinion from the Seventh Circuit is Fields v. Wharrie, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 1333. Ironically, I just filed on qualified immunity this week in the ongoing litigation in the Sister Wives case in Utah. We are advancing some of the same arguments, though our case has distinguishable characteristics. However, today we filed the Fields case as new supplemental authority.

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220px-Blame_Mosley_bannerWe previously discussed the case of Max Mosley, the ex-Formula One boss, who became infamous on the Internet after the posting of a video showing him in a sadomasochistic orgy. The story broke in the now defunct News of the World tabloid and reported the scene as a five-hour orgy with five prostitutes dressed as Nazi guards — a particularly embarrassing performance given the fact that Mosley’s father, Oswald, was the pre-war leader of Britain’s fascist “blackshirts” and even invited Adolf Hitler to his wedding. Mosley, 73, prevailed in a court action in showing that the party did not have a Nazi theme and that his privacy was violated. Now he is continuing what can only be described as a scorched Earth campaign against everyone who has carried the photos and announced a new lawsuit against Google. In a move that raises concerns over the censorship of the Internet, German court ordered the Internet giant to block photos of him at his sadomasochistic orgy.

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170px-rembrandt_harmensz-_van_rijn_079-1There is a troubling case out of Sabine Parish, Louisiana which, according to a Buddhist family, acted more like a real parish than a public school district. A Buddhist family sued Sabine Parish School Board for violating their right to religious freedom with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. If the allegations are true, the district is engaging in astonishing levels of entanglement with religion in one of the most extreme violations of constitutional law in decades.

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By Mike Appleton, Weekend Contributor

“We strongly believe that the order that let to the termination of life support is in complete contradiction to Texas law that was enacted to protect pre-born babies just like the Munoz child. The courts have failed this baby, the attorneys who should have defended Texas law has failed this baby, and the hospital has failed this baby. May this tragedy serve as a wake-up call to our society, lest others wrongly fall victim to this dehumanizing utilitarian view of life and death.”

-Operation Rescue, Press Release, January 26, 2014

“It never occurred to us that anything in the statute applied to anyone who was dead. The statute was meant for making decisions for patients with terminal or irreversible conditions.”

-Thomas Mayo, associate professor of law, Southern Methodist University School of Law (quoted in Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 24, 2014)

When Tarrant County district judge R. H. Wallace, Jr. decided the case of Erick Munoz v. John Peter Smith Hospital, the judgment required only two paragraphs. “The provisions of Section 166.049 of the Texas Health and Safety Code,” he wrote, “do not apply to Marlise Munoz because Mrs. Munoz is dead.” Given this conclusion, it became unnecessary to consider the constitutionality of the statute, and the court declined to do so.

The court’s ruling was sane and rational. But in my opinion it was also obvious. And that raises the issue of why the hospital refused to respect the wishes of the Munoz family without a court order, despite its admission in court filings that a medical determination of brain death had been made by November 28th of last year. (more…)

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty-Weekend Blogger

In the past we have discussed the allegedly illegal and fraudulent practices of the Big Banks that helped bring the economy into Recession, but until now, we have not seen such a blatant example of how it pays for Big Banks to break the rules and get ahead at the same time.  As you may recall, JP Morgan Chase Bank recently agreed to a $13 Billion dollar settlement with the Justice Department for allegedly defrauding customers.  That sounds like a big number, but that was only part of the total fines and penalties JP Morgan Chase was liable to pay in 2013 due to its less than honorable business practices.

It may surprise you that after agreeing to the $13 Billion settlement and having to pay other large fines, the CEO of Chase is getting a big raise. An $8.5 Million dollar raise! (more…)

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By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

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The Eager To Oblige William Marotta Must Be Wondering If It’s Oz or Kansas

William Marotta is proving Groucho Marx right.  “It isn’t necessary to have relatives in Kansas City* in order to be unhappy, ” Marx quipped in a letter. The classic comedienne may have just been on to something as Marotta has been ordered by a Kansas court to pay support for a child he fathered in Topeka as part of a private artificial insemination contract.

Even though Marotta signed the  contract waiving any legal rights to the child, Shawnee County District Court Judge Mary Mattivi said he must still pay support because the artificial insemination was performed without the involvement of a licensed Kansas physician. The story began– as so many strange ones do  –with an ad on Craig’s List in March 2009 seeking donated sperm. (Wonder if it was in the “free” section?). The authors of the ad were a lesbian couple in Topeka who desperately wanted a child and needed a donor of genetic material.

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Supreme CourtToday, the Supreme Court will consider a case that has not attracted national attention but remains in my view one of the most important of the term, a classic “sleeper” case where the legal issues have sweeping potential. The case involves Doyle Randall Paroline, who pleaded guilty in Texas in 2009 to possessing child pornography. He downloaded hundreds of images and two were found to be child pornography dedicating the abuse of Amy. After pleading guilty, Paroline was hit by $3.4 million in restitution damages for Amy even though he had no role in her victimization nine years earlier or any role in the production or distribution of the two photos. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the federal restitution law does not require “proximate causation” — a critical limitation in torts and criminal law that ensures that liability is confined to those parties immediately responsible for injuries. I have criticized the expansion of restitution in this area for years and I spoke with NPR’s On The Media on the case.

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200px-US-CourtOfAppeals-9thCircuit-Seal.svg-Crystal Cox Blogger -There was an important decision last week in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in which a panel ruled that bloggers are entitled to the same protections as journalists. The decision is in sharp contrast to the view of Senator Dianne Feinstein and Obama Administration officials who have fought against such protections for bloggers in a new federal shield law. The opinion was handed down on January 17, 2014 in Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox.

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By Lawrence E. Rafferty, (rafflaw) Weekend Blogger

We have all heard of the so-called War on Drugs and the recently maligned War on Poverty, but I submit that the real war we should be worried about is the War on the Poor of this country.  The War on Drugs has not done much to stop the use of illegal drugs and the recent legalization of the sale of marijuana in Colorado may be a small step in the direction of ending the War on Drugs which has only succeeded in jailing thousands on minor drug offenses.  The African-American community has been especially hard hit by this failed attempt to end the use of illegal substances.

However, the War on the Poor is in full swing and seems to be succeeding.  One only has to look at the Farm Bill which is set to cut the SNAP program by anywhere between the $4 Billion in the Senate version and the $40 Billion in the House version.  At a time when this same Congress is refusing to extend unemployment compensation, they are attempting a monumental double whammy by cutting the ability of the needy to survive by cutting Food Stamps.  (more…)

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Last available picture of David from 2012

Last available picture of David from 2012

It is with the greatest personal sadness that I have to report the death of a cherished member of our blog family. David Blair Drumm passed away on December 18, 2013 in Austin, Texas. David was there at the very beginning of this blog and remained one of its staunchest supporters. Through the years, David was a rock who not only brought reasoned and calm analysis to posts but also to the management of the blog. He started as a regular commentator under the name “Nal” and I then invited him to write on the weekends. He played the role of editor as well as writer. (Indeed, I am worried about this memorial since David often caught the many typos that I would leave in early morning postings). I came to trust him absolutely in his judgment and analysis. I considered him a good friend and one of the most important influences on this blog. David wrote as a Weekend Blogger for years, sharing his insights into religion, politics, and his always popular “Find the Kitteh” contest. Our success is due in no small part to David Drumm and this blog, I hope, will remain a testament to his work and his memory. To that end, we are dedicating the entire blog today to David and his work. He was a brilliant electrical engineer, a profound writer, a passionate civil libertarian, and most importantly a fierce and loyal friend to our blogging community. (more…)

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President_Barack_ObamaNSA logo smallI just listened to the NSA speech by President Obama and as expected there is precious little in terms of real change. For civil libertarians, it is a nothing burger served hot and with a sympathetic smile. It is much of the same. Another review board composed of government officials. Another promise for the Executive Branch to review itself. I am in Salt Lake City today on the Sister Wives case, but I am struck by the absence of civil libertarians on the coverage by the networks. I will have to run to court but I was underwhelmed. It seemed like another attempt to reinvent privacy in a new surveillance friendly image.

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220px-Antonin_Scalia,_SCOTUS_photo_portraitThere was an interesting exchange on Tuesday in the arguments in Marvin Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States. The lawyer for a land-owning trust, Steven J. Lechner of Lakewood, Colorado, had started out reading from notes when he was interrupted by Justice Antonin Scalia who asked “Counsel, you are not reading this, are you?”

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Oklahoma flagU.S. District Judge Terence Kern is under fire today from religious conservatives as an “activist judge” after he joined a growing list of federal judges striking down bans on same-sex marriage. Kern found that the state law violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. What is most interesting is that, like the earlier Utah ruling, Kern relies heavily on last summers rulings in Windsor and Hollingsworth. While Windsor had positive language for same-sex couples, the Court actually avoided the merits of the constitutional question on equal protection in favor of leaving the matter to the states in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Yet, courts are reading the ruling as a green light for broader constitutional rulings on the federal level.

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judge_1621New York State Supreme Court judge Mary Brigantti-Hughes has been reprimanded in a case that many might view as a case of light discipline. Brigantti-Hughes has been found to have used staff as personal servants and using court resources for personal purposes. She has also been cited for pressuring staff members to participate in prayer sessions. For those acts, she has been given a reprimand.

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200px-disneyqueenheartsWoodridge, Illinois, outside of Chicago, has a curious way of meting out justice. You may have a presumption of innocence under the Constitution, but if police arrest you, you still have to pay for the pleasure of the arrest. Starting this year, anyone arrested in a Chicago suburb must pay a $30 booking fee . . . even if they are found innocent.

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Supreme CourtPresident_Barack_ObamaRecently, I testified on the concentration of authority in the Executive Branch and an array of unconstitutional acts committed by President Barack Obama in the circumvention of Congress. For prior columns, click here and here and here and here. One of the key areas discussed in my testimony was the President’s abuse (in my opinion) of his recess appointments power. I have two law review articles out on the issue. See Jonathan Turley, Recess Appointments in the Age of Regulation, 93 Boston University Law Review ___ (2013) and Jonathan Turley, Constitutional Adverse Possession: Recess Appointments and the Role of Historical Practice in Constitutional Interpretation, 2103 Wisconsin Law Review ___ (2013). Now the issue is to be heard today by the Supreme Court in Noel Canning v. NLRB, No. 12-1115.

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-tckbrown25.381458.jpg20061020The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended Marion Superior Judge Kimberly J. Brown pending a decision on final disciplinary action on misconduct charges. The suspension with pay could be followed by an order to remove Brown from the bench after a three-judge panel found clear and convincing evidence against her on 46 out of 47 counts of judicial misconduct. That is quite a record since Brown has yet to finish her first term.

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

In recent weeks and months, we have all heard and read the many articles and stories about the whistleblower Edward Snowden and his disclosure of enormous amounts of NSA “secrets”.  His disclosures have exposed what the NSA was really doing, which is spying on practically every American’s metadata online and on the phone.  His disclosures have also put on display what happens to a “whistleblower” in this day and age.  He has been forced to flee his home country and is currently living in exile in Russia.

Just what were his crimes that made him fear for his safety and raised doubts as to whether he would ever be given a fair trial for his alleged disclosures of secret material and programs?  He did what any good American should do and that is expose illegal or immoral governmental activities and allow the American public to decide whether its government is acting legally and fairly. Didn’t he?

You may think his disclosures were an unprecedented example of a citizen uncovering and disclosing government programs designed to, at best, skirt the line of legality by spying on Americans, but you would be wrong. (more…)

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By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

This is the third of a multi-part article on the Public Interest Defense and its application to the the Edward Snowden situation. The defense is not recognized in America but other nations have considered this legal mechanism to provide an appropriate way to deflect criminal charges from whistleblowers like Snowden. Part 1 can be found here and  Part 2 can be found here.

snowdenWe found in parts 1 & 2 that the absolute right to a public plebiscite on punishment for political crimes goes back centuries to at least the time of Publius Horatius. We also saw that rulers have used this right to manipulate outcomes to further their own interests in deflecting blame or attacking political opponents. In modern times, the jury has replaced the assembled citizenry but the motivation of rulers to limit or channel the ancient right to their own ends remains. Even in America where the defense doesn’t technically exist but where its cousin, whistleblower protections, do, the urge to rein in messengers of truth remains.

The Public Interest Defense Abroad

Imagine the most influential prosecutor in modern America uttering the following words about the public’s right to understand the secret inner workings of  its government:

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NSA logo smallBernieSandersSen. Bernie Sanders asked the National Security Agency (NSA) a question that one would have thought would be easy to answer: has the NSA spied on Congress with its massive surveillance programs? The answer that came back was chilling in what it did not say. The NSA would only assure Sanders that it has “the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons.” That must be a bit unnerving for Congress since it has allowed the NSA to strip citizens of the most basic privacy protections.

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By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

This is the second of a multi-part article on the Public Interest Defense and its application to the the Edward Snowden situation. The defense is not recognized in America but other nations have considered this legal mechanism to provide an appropriate way to deflect criminal charges from whistleblowers like Snowden. You can read the first installment of the series here.

The Trial of Publius Horatius

Publius Horatius (The Younger)

Publius Horatius (The Younger)

When last we met Publius Horatius, soldier of Rome, he had saved the Eternal City from disaster in an epic battle of champions and then was quite ceremoniously convicted of  treason against the state for the murder of his sister thus preventing the Senate from dealing with her traitorous grief over one of the fallen foe of Rome. In a clever legal maneuver made at the secret behest of the Roman king, Tullus Hostilius, who distrusted the designs of the Senate in passing him this hot potato of a case,  Publius invoked the ancient right of every Roman citizen to a provocatio ad populum – a direct appeal to the people of Rome. Readers of the Christian Bible will likely recall that Paul of Tarsus was likewise accorded this right by virtue of his Roman citizenship, though by this time Rome had moved from a republic to an empire and the appeal was made to Cæsar himself.#

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220px-BenFranklinDuplessisPresident_Barack_ObamaBelow is my column in Al Jazeera on the expansion of presidential powers in the United States. While there is growing recognition of the threat posed by the current powers exercised by the White House, it is important to keep the issue before the public if we are going to realign the tripartite system back to its original balance between the balances.

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Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger

Breath Test DeviceA pilot program has been initiated in four Washington counties and two municipalities. Essentially the program requires those convicted of a second DUI offense are required to 24/7 daily monitoring consisting of a twice daily visit to a jail for a breath test or an ankle monitor capable of reading breath samples. Both options are mandated at cost to the offender. A newly created state law, effective January first, provides for this program named the 24/7 Sobriety Program Pilot Project.

The program is the result of repeat DUI offenders who have posed significant risk to the public and have shown to not be easily deterred from future violations by present statutes and sentencing. Yet some may question the effectiveness of the program and whether it places an undue burden on offenders who might not have the means to comply.
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Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger

City of SeaTac LogoThe City of SeaTac Washington enacted a proposition narrowly approved by voters (77 vote margin among approximately 6,000 total votes) that would, among other issues, raise the minimum wage of hospitality and transportation workers to $15.00 per hour; one of the highest in the United States. The minimum wage for Washington State is $9.32 and the highest among all fifty states. Supporters of the proposition argued the cost of living for those workers is forcing them to live in substandard lifestyles given their working environment and lack of benefits provided in these industries. Opponents argue the law would put an unnecessary burden upon business and force cuts in employees and a disincentive to operate within the city. Much controversy has been generated on all sides.
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By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

This is the first of a multi-part article on the Public Interest Defense and its application to the the Edward Snowden situation. The defense is not recognized in America but other nations have considered this legal mechanism to provide an appropriate way to deflect criminal charges from whistleblowers like Snowden. Part 2 can be found here.

The Legend of Publius Horatius

The Oath of the Horatii

The Oath of the Horatii

For centuries, children in ancient Rome would recount the legend of Publius Horatius, one of three Horatius brothers (known as the Horatii), who fought to defend Rome from attack by the militaristic and close-by Italian city-state of Alba Longa. Rather than engage in a pitched battle of armies for supremacy of the peninsula and subject all of Latinium (as Italy was then known) to the vulnerability of foreign attack, Rome and her rival opted to name a triumvirate of champions to fight to the death to decide the fates of two ancient megalopolises. One would emerge as the dominating power and the other would be relegated to a vassal state. The Horatii seemed the obvious choice among the Roman legionnaires as the triplet brothers  were unequaled among their peers in strength and martial prowess. Swearing an oath to fight to the death, the brothers strode to the Field of Mars to battle for both the glory and survival of Rome. For her part, Alba Longa chose her own incredibly coincident set of warrior  triplets known as the Curiatius brothers (or the Curiatii) who swore an equally obligating oath to “return either with their shields or on them” as a Spartan might say.

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BN-AY617_kopf_D_20140102104450Not since John Ashcroft was beaten by a dead man, Mel Carnahan, in the Missouri Senate race has a more curious victor emerged in a competition. (Our own blog took the top News/Analysis Spot) Judge Richard Kopf of the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska was declared with winner of the “Courts” category in the ABA Journal competition of the top 100 legal blogs. The problem is that only a couple days before, after national criticism regarding his blog, Judge Kopf discontinued “Hercules and The Umpire.”

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eurocuptrophy80mm2008Well, the results are in and we have another distinction to crow about at the blog. We have been selected as the 2013 top News/Analysis site among the competing world blogs in the annual ABA Journal survey. The success of this blog is due entirely to our unique community around the world, which have maintained a site where the issues of our day can be discussed with passion but civility. Thanks to all of our regulars and particularly our our talented and popular weekend team of guest bloggers: Mike Appleton, David Drumm, Mark Esposito, Gene Howington, Elaine Magliaro, Larry Rafferty, Darren Smith, Mike Spindell, and Charlton Stanley. While we created and maintain this site to allow us to share our thoughts, it is always gratifying to receive such recognitions. It is always my hope that the selection will bring new people to our site to further expand the voices and views on legal, political, and sometimes just plain bizarre stories.

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250px-Sonia_Sotomayor_in_SCOTUS_robe220px-New_Year_Ball_Drop_Event_for_2012_at_Times_SquareMany of us stayed up to midnight last night and watched the ball come down in Times Square. If you were still sober enough to notice, the person triggering the dissent was none other than Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. It turns out that that was not the only thing that she was doing on New Year’s Eve. Late Tuesday with only hours to go before January 1st — and the activation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — Sotomayor granted a stay requested by Catholic-affiliated groups to prevent the implementation of part of the ACA to require them to supply contraceptive services to employees in violation of their religious beliefs. The decision follows a refusal of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to issue a stay. The stay order by Sotomayor was requested from Catholic nuns running the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged in Denver and now joins a stay issued earlier by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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gavel2Nevada Suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones has been found guilty of unethical conduct in his romantic relationship with former Deputy District Attorney Lisa Willardson. Willardson appeared before Jones. Jones was also accused of retaliating against two deputy district attorneys who helped expose his relationship but that charge was not proven.

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty(rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

With the end of 2013 fast approaching, I have begun to wonder what the New Year holds for the country.  It looks like the Affordable Care Act is finally getting its website to function properly and the sign ups are now being counted in the millions.  Wall Street is still booming with the Dow Jones over 16,000, but yet unemployment is still too high and Congress is still trying to push austerity for the middle class and the poor, while doing everything in its power to prevent corporations and the wealthy from paying their fair share of taxes.  The Citizen’s United decision opened the money floodgates and needs to be curbed.  The military budget was spared in the recent Budget Deal, but yet unemployment benefits for millions have not been extended.

The gun lobby continues to prevent reasonable gun control legislation and needless scores of innocents continue to be slaughtered.  Instead of closing the gun show loophole or mandating reasonable and effective universal background checks, Congress did nothing.   Although there has been some recent movement from the Obama Administration to push Congress to allow the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the facility remains open after 12 years.  With all of the bad news or non-action on many fronts, is it possible to have hope that 2014 will bring better news for all Americans?  (more…)

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Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

JFKRiceUniversityI’ve written before about the fact that the murder of JFK in Dallas was to me the most traumatic national experience in my life and the fact that I think it changed the destiny of our country in a negative fashion. I think that for many around my age this is also true, but it is now fifty years past and the majority of Americans have no real knowledge of it. The trauma of that day and the ensuing events of history have left me with an admittedly irrational repugnance towards the city of Dallas and I feel almost a shudder when I hear of Dealey Plaza, where the murder took place. These feelings are so intense that I doubt that I will ever visit Dallas in my lifetime, much less go to Dealey Plaza. When I got my weekly E Mail from my favorite investigative journalism website WhoWhatWhy.com I took note of an article about the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. The article was a humorous look at the potential for Christmas gifts that might be available at the museum’s gift shop and of course provided a link to the museum’s website, which I then followed. Going to the website and perusing it caused me to muse about the ability in our country to turn even our most solemn national events into commercial enterprises, while we pretend that they provide an educational service. (more…)

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ad611-sister-wives-season-4Incoming Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has announced that his office intends to appeal the ruling striking down the criminalization of cohabitation in the Sister Wives case. The decision will ultimately send the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, Colorado. However, the trial court has not yet issued a final order due to a couple outstanding issues. Once that order is issued, the Attorney General’s office will have 30 days to file a notice of appeal. In a surprising decision, the Attorney General also indicated that he will no longer have his office defend the Utah ban on same-sex marriage (struck down by Judge Robert Shelby) and possibly the cohabitation law (struck down by Judge Clark Waddoups). That will require the hiring of outside counsel and an outside firm to defend these laws as opposed to the Office of the Attorney General itself.

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

We have all heard the political arguments for and against an Estate Tax, or as some have called it, a Death Tax.  Over the years while I attended several Continuing Legal Education seminars and Trust School presentations, I have often learned about the estate and gift tax avoidance strategy called a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust, or GRAT.  Since these estate reduction strategies are best used with very large estates, I have rarely had the opportunity to recommend it to any of my clients or trust customers. Recently, I read an article that provided some documentation just how prominent and popular the GRATS are with the super wealthy.

Just what is a GRAT and why should any of us be concerned with its use?  In my opinion, it is important to understand that when the über wealthy complain about any tweaking of the estate tax, most of them pay little or no estate or gift taxes due to the use of techniques like the GRAT.  Just how does a GRAT work?

Simply put, the donor transfers money or stock into a trust and if the assets increase in value, any increase in the stocks beyond the principal and the minimum interest rate that must be paid back to the donor, goes directly to the beneficiaries tax-free.  When you are talking assets worth millions and in some cases, billions, huge sums of money can escape the estate and gift tax process entirely.  (more…)

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ad611-sister-wives-season-4Below is my column in the Washington Post (Sunday) on our recent victory in the Sister Wives case. The column looks at the most significant aspect of the case — the rejection of morality codes that once controlled across the country in prohibiting everything from homosexuality to adultery to fornication. These morality laws were upheld in the decision in Reynolds in 1876 in a polygamy case out of Utah. The Brown decision returned us to the same question involving the same issue in the same state. Some 136 years later however the answer from this federal court was very different. We are a different country today and, despite what one hears from politicians like Rick Santorum, I believe that we are a better country today.

There does seem to be confusion about the ruling with some saying that polygamy is still not legal after the opinion. That is simply wrong. Polygamy is not the same a bigamy. One is the crime defined under cohabitation statutes of living as a plural family or with a person married to another person. The other is the crime of having two or more marriage licenses. The latter has nothing to do with the structure of your family and has almost exclusively involved people who hold themselves out (falsely) as monogamous. We always argued that the state could prosecute people who obtained more than one marriage license. Bigamy has not been an offense committed by polygamists who traditionally have one official marriage license and multiple spiritual licenses. Indeed, the law targeted polygamy with the cohabitation provision precisely because there is a difference between the two. The state fought for years to preserve this law because it reached beyond simple bigamy. Before this opinion, it was a crime for polygamists to live, as do the Browns, in a plural family. After the opinion, it is legal. This is precisely what occurred in Lawrence v. Texas where homosexual unions were a crime but then became legal when the Texas law was struck down. This decision legalizes tens of thousands of polygamous families who will no longer been viewed as criminal enterprises. They will be allowed to be open plural families. They are now legal relationships. Legality of polygamy is entirely different from recognition of plural marriages just as the legality of homosexual relations is different from the recognition of same-sex marriage.

There is also a lack of knowledge about the existence of such laws outside of Utah. This law does exist outside of Utah. Indeed, the very same language is found in the Canadian cohabitation law. I was called as a legal expert in the recent challenge to that law. However, the Canadian Supreme Court in British Columbia upheld the law. Putting these distinctions aside, the thrust of this article is how this decision is part of a larger trend toward the repeal or the striking down of morality codes, including the rejection of a cohabitation law in Virginia this year.

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Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger

WA DSHS LOGOIf allegations are proven it would reveal a shocking and systemic dereliction of duty of Washington’s Child Protective Services to investigate and properly respond to multiple reports of abuse and neglect lasting many years of a family of children. The abuses ranged from mental and verbal abuse to felony assaults against a child.

In March of 2013 the children’s parents Sandra and Jeff Weller of Vancouver were each sentenced to twenty years in prison after having been convicted of fourteen counts of child abuse; double the statutory determinate maximum sentence. Clark County Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson levied the exceptional sentence due to the severity of the crimes.

The claim against the state on behalf of five children alleges nearly ten years of abuse of the children by the parents where little to no action was taken by Child Protective Services to address the issues and protect the children from further crimes by the parents.
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President_Barack_Obama228px-Picture_of_Edward_SnowdenBelow is my column in USA Today on the NSA proposed reforms. I do believe that there are many worthy suggestions among the 46 recommendations, particularly the amending of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. However, what is missing is any true reform in ending this massive surveillance program since the White House panel started with the presumption that it was lawful. What remains are interesting but largely collateral changes. This includes a worthy proposal of adding an advocate to the FISA secret court. However, the panel does not (as with the program itself) seriously consider the need or the questionable legality of the secret court. Indeed, by tinkering around the edges of the program, the task force would effectively legitimize the program for the future. It will become the new normal in the President’s vision of a surveillance-friendly model of privacy.

The task force does call for serious changes in clearance rules however to avoid future disclosures of the abuses revealed by Edward Snowden. What is lacking is one measure that would go far in showing good faith by this President after years of rolling back on privacy: a pardon for Edward Snowden. Such pardons are not given because the subject is innocent or that a president agrees with his actions. They are granted in the totality of circumstances that mitigate the crime, including the disclosure of abuses that were long ignored, if not supported, by both the White House and Congress. A pardon can be legitimately conditioned on certain measures such as the return of undisclosed documents (which is a massive amount of files) and the signing of a non-disclosure agreement to allow prosecution for future disclosures. That would prevent further damage with disclosures, as suggested by at least on ranking intelligence official. I do not take violations of classification laws lightly and I understand the anger of many officials. However, the current standoff is not just undermining the credibility of the Administration but also doing little to limit further damage. I do not believe that Snowden is using the document to force such a pardon which remains unlikely. However, it is time to consider it. Despite the President’s understandable opposition to his method for raising the abuses, the Snowden disclosures have caused a comprehensive and international reexamination of surveillance rules, including new international measures to protect privacy. Perhaps it may be time to stop hunting the man and focus exclusively on the abuses that he disclosed. The column below is unfortunately limited in space, but it tries to raise some of these issues.

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Submitted by Charlton Stanley (aka Otteray Scribe), Guest Blogger

“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
- Sir William Blackstone KC SL, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765)

Sir William Blackstone

Sir William Blackstone

One of the oldest cliché movie scenes of the past half century is the Gestapo agent, wearing a monocle, slapping a riding crop against his gloved hand, saying with a leer, “Ve haf vays of making you talk…..” Unfortunately, that caricature figure has come to life in in recent years, taking the form of rogue psychologists, unscrupulous investigators, and even the Vice President of the United States.

My motivation to write this is because of a phone call a few weeks ago. An old case I worked on back in the 1980s resurfaced with that phone call out of the blue. Of all the cases I ever worked on, the one I got the call about has been the most bothersome. It involved a murder, a coerced confession, a judge with a troubled psychological burden of his own, and a jury that would not believe confessions could be coerced. Plus, a district attorney with a reputation of wanting to win at any cost. Since this case has resurfaced and the new investigation is still under way, I can’t say too much about it now. As details become public, I will be writing more.

Let me start off by saying that most confessions may be legitimate, but since we have no way of knowing how many are false, no solid statistics are possible. The simple fact that so far, over three hundred people have been released from prison due to wrongful convictions is enough to give one pause. It is reasonable, based on the number exonerated so far, to assume there are a lot of them. We just don’t know which ones. Not all those overturned convictions were due to false confessions, but about a fourth of them were. If a defendant does make a false confession, and there is solid DNA evidence showing the defendant to be innocent, juries convict over 80% of the time, despite the physical evidence. One thing I find curious is the fact some prosecutors continue to prosecute cases even after the physical evidence proves they have the wrong person.

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100px-Seal_of_Detroit,_Michigan_svg

Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty-(Guest Blogger)

The main stream media was full of stories in the last week concerning a judge’s decision in Michigan to allow the Bankruptcy of Detroit to go forward.  What the media seems to have omitted from the discussion, is just how pensions in Detroit and across the country have come under attack.

“Now that a federal judge, Steven Rhodes, has ruled that the bankruptcy can proceed, a central issue will be whether the city can jettison up to $3.5 billion in accrued pension benefits owed city workers (which Orr claims are unfunded). With accrued state and municipal pension benefits protected by the Michigan constitution, Judge Rhodes’ ruling sets a chilling precedent for future municipal bankruptcies.” Truth-out  (more…)

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Mallard_DuckSubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

A family of three from Marshfield, Massachusetts, could face criminal charges. Their crime? Harassing duck hunters.  Police Chief Phil Tavares said his department is seeking a clerk magistrate hearing in order “to determine whether there is probable cause to charge the family members with three counts of hunter interference and two counts of threatening to commit a crime.”

Julie Carreiro said that her family was awakened very early one October morning this fall by the sound of gunfire. She, her husband, and their son ran outside. They found hunters on conservation land that abuts their property. The hunters reportedly told police that the Carreiros had threatened them with physical harm if they didn’t leave. Chief Tavares said, “Members of the family began to use air horns to possibly attempt to scare away the water fowl, which is interference with a hunter.”

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equal justiceby Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

UPDATED: The recent case of Ethan Couch, 16, out of Burleson, Texas has been previously addressed on this blog (here and here) in general terms of the fundamental unfairness and apparent bias of the plea deal and in psychological terms concerning both the social isolation wealth can engender and the consequent lack of empathy that creates. Let’s look at this in a little more detail as relates to justice and the corrosive effect such rulings have on social order.  The pattern of facts in this case are critical to examining whether or not Couch’s sentence was just and inform whether or not such rulings are corrosive to society as a whole.  To summarize:

Hollie Boyles, 52, Shelby Boyles, 21, Brian Jennings, 41, and Breanna Mitchell, 24, are the primary victims.

From left: Brian Jennings, Breanna Mitchell, Hollie Boyles, Shelby Boyles.

From left: Brian Jennings, Breanna Mitchell, Hollie Boyles, Shelby Boyles.

Just before midnight on June 15, 2013, Mitchell was driving west on Burleson-Retta Road when she had a blowout, forcing her pickup truck into a roadside ditch. Living nearby, Hollie and Shelby Boyles heard the blowout and went to render assistance. Jennings, a Burleson youth minister, was returning from his son’s high school graduation party when he stopped to assist Mitchell as well. All four were on the roadside when they were struck by a pickup truck driven by Ethan Couch. The Ford F-350 pickup was going between 65 and 70 miles per hour in a 40 mile per hour speed zone when it clipped Mitchell’s stranded truck before striking and killing the four bystanders. Couch’s truck then struck Jenning’s pickup truck (in which two young boys were waiting) sending it back into the roadway. There it collided with an eastbound Volkswagon carrying two Burleson girls before going off the south side of the road. Couch’s truck then flipped over, coming to rest against a tree on the north side of the road. Two other teenagers riding in the bed of Couch’s truck were thrown from the vehicle. One suffered broken bones and internal injuries. The other suffered a traumatic brain injury that left them unable to move or talk.

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Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

104248208I believe that it is impossible to deal with any problem until one understands the underlying nature of that problem. The analogy of a Physician treating the symptoms of a patient, but ignoring the cause of those symptoms, comes to mind. We have the medicine to deal with the specific manifestation of an illness like a headache and a fever, but in ameliorating the discomfort of the symptoms, we may miss the underlying pathology. This happened to me last March when shortly after being prescribed a change in the anti-rejection medicines that keep me alive after my heart transplant, I began to get so sick that I needed hospitalization in intensive care. I won’t bore you with the grimy details of this sudden downturn in health, but I must note that my most important bodily functions began to shut down. What is curious about this incident is that my wife, who is internet savvy, immediately began to suggest to my Doctors that I was having a bad reaction to the medicinal change. At first they ignored her as they had Department Heads in Cardiology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Neurology, Proctology, Urology and even Dermatology come in to examine me and pore over my medical charts. Finally, in response to my wife’s unfailing advocacy, they returned me to my prior anti-rejection medication. To my Physician’s surprise and possible chagrin the symptoms almost immediately began to abate and within in days I was home from the hospital and on the mend. (more…)

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240px-sister_wives_tv_series_logoIt is with a great pleasure this evening to announce that decision of United States District Court judge Clarke Waddoups striking down key portions of the Utah polygamy law as unconstitutional. The Brown family and counsel have spent years in both the criminal phase of this case and then our challenge to the law itself in federal court. Despite the public statements of professors and experts that we could not prevail in this case, the court has shown that it is the rule of law that governs in this country. As I have previously written, plural families present the same privacy and due process concerns faced by gay and lesbian community over criminalization. With this decision, families like the Browns can now be both plural and legal in the state of Utah.  The Court struck down the provision as violating both the free exercise clause of the first amendment as well as the due process clause.   The court specifically struck down language criminalizing cohabitation — the provision that is used to prosecute polygamists.  The opinion is over 90 pages and constitutes a major constitutional ruling in protection of individual rights.

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220px-Nelson_Mandela-2008_(edit)We have been discussing the alarming erosion of free speech principles in England in recent years. This trend includes both humorous and political speech. Now a sandwich shop owner has been arrested, his computer seized, and questioned for hours because he merely made a joke about Nelson Mandela. Neil Phillips, 44, was not charged but the message clear: even jokes are now subject to criminal investigation if deemed insulting by the police or sensitive public members.

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kozinskiDeptofJusticeI have long been a fan of the opinions of Chief Judge Alex Kozinski. While we disagree on many cases, Kozinksi often defies predictions and more ideological colleagues in ruling against the government. Chief judge of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and considered a leading libertarian, Kozinski often rules in favor of individual rights — making him a refreshing voice on the federal courts which tend not only to be highly conservative on police powers but also populated by a disproportionate number of former prosecutors. Kozinski’s dissenting opinion this week in the case of Kenneth Olsen continues that legacy and further puts the bias of the federal court in favor of prosecutors into sharp relief. Kozinski opposed the denial of an en banc rehearing with four of this colleagues in the case of Kenneth Olsen, whose trial was marked by prosecutorial abuse. Kozinski began his decision with the chilling but true observation that “There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land. Only judges can put a stop to it.” They didn’t. The court voted overwhelmingly to deny a rehearing in United States v. Olsen,
704 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 2013), a case where the Justice Department failed to fully disclose exculpatory evidence. For those who have been objecting to the expansion and abuse of police powers, it is important to remember that these abuses only continue because federal judges turn a blind eye to them.

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eddie-murphyYesterday, we discussed a case of a former law student who got off lightly after being found to have been practicing law without a license. We can now add an Iowa lawyer to the list of the fortunate among bar defendants. Robert Allan Wright Jr. arranged for various people to give him money to secure inheritance of $18.8 million from a mysterious long-lost Nigerian cousin. Most people above the age of six would immediately scoff at the classic Nigerian scam, but the Iowa Supreme Court found that Wright not only believed the scam to be true but still believes that it is true. It is the village idiot defense but in this case the subject is an attorney who secured loans of thousands from clients. Now here is the most disturbing fact: Wright was not disbarred. He was suspended, leaving open the possibility that he will represent people in the future.

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Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger

Washington State SealWashington State Constitution Article II Section 1(a) “Initiative: The first power reserved to the people is the initiative.”

The initiative process in Washington State is designed to allow individual citizens to participate in the law making process and collectively to work together to bring this cause to fruition. But is this century old tradition, rather uncommon in the various governments of the world, suffering from the effects of corporate interest and losing its original purpose?
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Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

USDistrictCourtSealMany blogs have been written here that deal with the phony “War on Drugs” and the negative effects it has on society, particularly those lacking resources, or being people of color. This piece is not about the “War on Drugs”, but this ridiculous “war” has actually driven the abuses of our criminal justice system that is my topic today. Because the “War on Drugs” provides context for this subject I’ve included links at the bottom that supply the context behind my opinions here. Human Rights Watch produced a report this week about how most defendants in Federal drug cases are forced to plead guilty under the threat of the imposition of a mandatory sentence. I read an article in Huffington Post referencing this study and it immediately brought to mind two aspects of law enforcement and prosecution today that raise my ire.

The first is the process of plea bargaining, which I believe makes a mockery of our Criminal Justice System. The second is the concept of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing (MMS) which in my opinion leads inevitably to miscarriages of what we would like to call justice. The idea of negotiation, bargaining if you will, is that each of the two sides has the ability to provide enough of value to be able to establish a mutually beneficial contract. Clearly though when it comes to a Prosecutor bargaining with a defendant there is, except in the case of the wealthy/powerful, an unequal negotiation. The Prosecution has the authority and resources of the State backing it up. Most defendants and indeed most people in prisons, have little resources. In the public’s (thus jury’s) mind, most defendants are really guilty until proven innocent, despite the “presumption of innocence” that is supposedly a hallmark of our legal system.  Adding immeasurably to the Prosecution’s resources are “Mandatory Minimum” sentences (MMS). They were instituted by legislators who wanted to appear “tough on crime” and so represent drastic solutions to punishment needs, in order to appear as “tough” as possible. With the trump card of MMS prosecutors are in a position to threaten a defendant to “cop a plea” to avoid a more draconian prison sentence. The Human Rights Watch study shows how these two procedures have become a feature of American Criminal Justice that in my opinion makes a mockery of it. (more…)

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