Supreme Court Re: US Citizens detained abroad by US
Legal Topics | 2008/06/13 15:46

The US Supreme Court ruled Thursday in the consolidated cases of Munaf v. Geren and Geren v. Omar that federal courts have jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions filed by American citizens detained abroad by US military personnel, even if the military is operating under a multinational force. Although the Court found such a right exists, it rejected the appeals of two Americans held in US custody in Iraq who had sought to use US courts to challenge their foreign convictions, holding that:

Munaf and Omar are alleged to have committed hostile and warlike acts within the sovereign territory of Iraq during ongoing hostilities there. Pending their criminal prosecution for those offenses, Munaf and Omar are being held in Iraq by American forces operating pursuant to a UN Mandate and at the request of the Iraqi Government. Petitioners concede that Iraq has a sovereign right to prosecute them for alleged violations of its law. Yet they went to federal court seeking an order that would allow them to defeat precisely that sovereign authority. Habeas corpus does not require the United States to shelter such fugitives from the criminal justice system of the sovereign with authority to prosecute them.

For all the reasons given above, petitioners state no claim in their habeas petitions for which relief can be granted, and those petitions should have been promptly dismissed.
Read the Court's opinion per Chief Justice Roberts, and a concurrence by Justice Souter.

Mohammad Munaf was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2005 kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad, and the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled in April 2007 that it lacked authority to interfere with the Iraqi court case. Two months earlier, however, the same court had ruled that Shawqi Omar, arrested for allegedly harboring insurgents in Iraq, had a right to argue his case in US courts. The appeals court blocked Omar's transfer to Iraqi courts. In March, Munaf's conviction was overturned by an Iraqi appeals court. Lawyers for the detainees argued that because they are in US custody, they should have access to US courts.

Mohammad Munaf was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2005 kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad, and the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled in April 2007 that it lacked authority to interfere with the Iraqi court case. Two months earlier, however, the same court had ruled that Shawqi Omar, arrested for allegedly harboring insurgents in Iraq, had a right to argue his case in US courts. The appeals court blocked Omar's transfer to Iraqi courts. In March, Munaf's conviction was overturned by an Iraqi appeals court. Lawyers for the detainees argued that because they are in US custody, they should have access to US courts.



Court OK's Discrimination Suit Against Restaurant
Areas of Focus | 2008/06/12 15:55
A California appeals court reinstated the discrimination claims of a disabled customer who was ridiculed and denied service at a restaurant.

Ron Wilson followed his occasional visits to Murillo's Mexican Food with letters to owner Frances Murillo, suggesting ways the restaurant could become more accessible.

Murillo spent about $130,000 to bring the restaurant into compliance with disability law.

But in March 2005, Murillo asked Wilson and a friend to leave, saying, "You guys are not welcome here, and you know that ... You're only here to harass me. You're not here for the food."

When Wilson refused, the bartender allegedly took his food while another employee took pictures of him, sarcastically telling him to "smile for the camera."

Wilson sued Murillo for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The district court ruled that the behavior was too trivial to be actionable, but Justice Ruvolo disagreed, stating that Wilson should be allowed to make his case.

Ruvolo said restaurants may not refuse to serve customers because the patrons filed ADA complaints against them.  

The alleged intimidation and harassment would also constitute a violation of disability law, Ruvolo wrote.


Indian trust mismanagement case goes to trial
Legal Topics | 2008/06/11 16:15

The US District Court for the District of Columbia began hearings Monday in Cobell v. Kempthorne, a class-action suit brought in 1996 alleging US government mismanagement of trust funds for a group of some 500,000 Native Americans and their heirs. Judge James Robertson will decide how much the government owes the class members for land-use violation penalties and royalties that plaintiffs say the US Department of the Interior (DOI) has not paid since 1887. In March 2007, the plaintiffs rejected a $7 billion settlement proposal from the US government, and have since asserted that the DOI owes them $58 billion. In January, Robertson ruled that the DOI "unreasonably delayed" the accounting of billions of dollars of American Indian money, holding that it was impossible for the DOI or for Congress to remedy the breach.

In July 2005, Judge Royce Lamberth ruled, that the DOI must apologize to the plaintiffs for its handling of the trust, and must admit that information being provided to them regarding outstanding lost royalties on earnings from Indian land may be unreliable. Lamberth also held two former Secretaries of the Interior, Gale Norton and Bruce Babbitt, in contempt and forced the department to protect Indian files by disconnecting its computers from the Internet. In 2006, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit removed Lamberth for alleged lack of objectivitgy and reassigned the case to Robertson.



Supreme Court Allows RICO Tax Lien Lawsuit
Legal Topics | 2008/06/10 15:45
A pair of Chicago-area companies have the right to sue their competitors under federal racketeering law for allegedly gaining more than their fair share of tax liens, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

BCS Services Inc. and Phoenix Bond & Indemnity Co. sued their competitors under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, claiming they committed mail fraud when they sent notices to delinquent taxpayers.

At issue were the competitors' statements that they were independent organizations bidding for the tax liens, when there were instances of relatives bidding for the same properties, the plaintiffs claimed.

The district court had ruled that BCS and Phoenix did not have standing because the taxpayers did not receive the notices in the mail. Justice Thomas, writing for the unanimous court, upheld the 7th Circuit's reversal of that decision, which ruled that BCS and Phoenix had standing because they were injured by the defendants' actions.

The competitors had argued that BCS and Phoenix did not rely on the competitors' statements of independence because they were made to the county, not to BCS and Phoenix.


Shareholders Sue Baker Hughes For Bribery
Areas of Focus | 2008/06/09 17:35
Directors of Baker Hughes, worldwide oil services, failed to stop bribing foreign officials despite a court order to do so, shareholders claim in Federal Court. Shareholders say the "Code of Conduct" the company instituted in 2002, after the SEC sued it, "was a farce," and the company continued paying "illegal bribes totaling millions of dollars ... to foreign officials."

Baker Hughes paid $44 million in April 2007 and was ordered to disgorge illegal profits to settle more bribery complaints, from the SEC and the Department of Justice, plaintiffs say, including an $11 million criminal fine.

Plaintiffs want restitution and exemplary damages from the Baker Hughes board members.

Plaintiffs' lead counsel is Crowley Norman.


Two Foreclosure Crooks Plead Guilty
Legal Topics | 2008/06/05 16:13
Two men pleaded guilty Tuesday to defrauding homeowners in a "foreclosure rescue" scam that netted the criminals titles to more than 80 houses, more than $20 million in fraudulently acquired home equity loans and $1.4 million in fees, federal prosecutors.

Maurice McDowall, 49, faces up to 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, plus a fine of twice his ill-gotten gains. McDowall directed the illegal operation, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Aleksander Lipkin, 29, faces the same sentence on the same charge. He was a mortgage broker who coordinated the submission of fraudulent information to lenders. Lipkin also pleaded guilty to another charge of defrauding subprime mortgage lenders.

One other defendant has pleaded guilty in U.S. v. McDowall and three more await trial. Four have pleaded guilty in U.S. v. Lipkin, and 22 await trial.

As is often the case in mortgage rescue scams, the men offered to "help" distressed homeowners by refinancing, selling the homes to straw buyers who would apply for a new mortgage, which they would use to pay off the old debt, and then resell the house to the victims.

But McDowall and Lipkin sometimes failed to make even a single payment on the loans; in nearly all the others they eventually stopped making payments and defaulted, cashing out the property. In some cases, they just stole the houses by forging homeowners' signatures transferring the property, prosecutors said.

"As a result, the distresses homeowners lost the titles to their homes and faced eviction, the straw buyers owed the lenders hundreds of thousands of dollars that they were unable to repay, and the lenders suffered losses from the defaulted loans," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.


Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon Can't Block Movie
Areas of Focus | 2008/06/03 16:14
A federal judge has denied Yoko Ono's and Sean Lennon's request that producers of the movie, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" be prohibited from distributing it because it contains 15 seconds of the John Lennon tune, "Imagine."

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein found that "defendants are likely to prevail on their affirmative defense of fair use. ...(T)he fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes of criticism and commentary is not an infringement of copyright."


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