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VA Properly Denied Voter Registration, Court Rules
Areas of Focus | 2008/08/12 15:41
The Department of Veterans Affairs was fair in its denial of a Democratic group's attempt to register voters at one of its buildings, the 9th Circuit ruled.

Judge Graber found that the district court erred when it ruled Steven Preminger and the Santa Clara County Democratic Committee lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.

However, the VA prevailed, because the Democrats failed to prove that the VA had violated their First Amendment rights.

A nurse at the VA's Menlo Park nursing home called the VA police after one of the Democrats showed up for the voting drive wearing a John Kerry button.

Since the nursing home building is not a public forum, the VA is allowed to make a "reasonable" restriction on free speech, in this case a prohibition of "partisan activities."


SEC investigating bank over auction-rate securities sales
Areas of Focus | 2008/08/11 15:45
The Bank of New York Mellon Corp. disclosed Friday in its quarterly report that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating possible breaches of procedure by one of the bank's subsidiaries in auction-rate securities sales and purchases. Auction-rate securities are long-term bonds with varying interest rates that change based on weekly or monthly auctions. In the report, bank officials wrote:

   The Company self-disclosed to the SEC that Mellon Financial Markets LLC placed orders on behalf of issuers to purchase their own Auction Rate Securities. The SEC is conducting an investigation of those transactions. MFM is cooperating fully with the SEC in its investigation.

On Thursday, the SEC agreed to a preliminary settlement with financial firm Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. over the firm's auction-rate securities practices, and Friday the agency entered into a similar settlement with the firm UBS. UBS is also facing a lawsuit filed late last month by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for allegedly misrepresenting auction-rate securities as low-risk despite the actual volatility of such investments.


Former Bush Assistant Sues over 'Swing Vote'
Areas of Focus | 2008/08/08 16:08
Bradley Blakeman, a former member of the Bush administration, claims the movie "Swing Vote" is based on a copyrighted treatment he gave to actor Kelsey Grammer, who passed it along to Disney's Touchstone Pictures without his knowledge or permission.

Blakeman sued for copyright infringement in Federal Court, claiming the newly released "Swing Vote" - a comedy about an incumbent president and his challenger vying for the deciding vote of a man named Bud Johnson - is so similar to his "Go November" treatment that it "can only be explained as a deliberate copying on the part of the defendants."

Blakeman's script allegedly features a "down-to-the-wire" presidential election that hinges on swing voters.

The plaintiff claims he pitched the idea to Grammer in 2006, and the "Frasier" star agreed to develop the movie and play the incumbent Republic president.

Instead, Grammer allegedly pitched the idea to Touchstone and Treehouse Films, and was cast as the incumbent president in "Swing Vote."

Blakeman is a former deputy assistant to President Bush and is a regular political commentator for Fox News, MSNBC and others. He also played a prominent role in the 2008 HBO movie "Recount."

He seeks a declaration that "Swing Vote" infringes on "Go November" and an injunction barring the defendants from exploiting Blakeman's work. He also demands proper credit, along with actual and punitive damages. He is represented by Todd Rubenstein of Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Greenberg, Formato & Einiger LLP.


Pakistani woman alleged to be al-Qaeda appears in US court
Legal Topics | 2008/08/07 16:06
The first woman scheduled to stand trial in the US on charges related to suspected al-Qaeda ties has been extradited to the US and appeared before the District Court for the Southern District of New York Tuesday on terrorism charges. Aafia Siddiqui, who comes from Pakistan, was charged with assault and the attempted murder of a US officer after allegedly opening fire on agents at the Afghan detention facility where she was being held last month. According to the complaint:
   AAFIA SIDDIQUI, the defendant, who will be first brought to and arrested in the Southern District of New York, unlawfully, willfully, and knowingly did use a deadly and dangerous weapon and did forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, and interfere with a person designated in Title 18, United States Code, Section 1114, namely, officers and employees of the FBI and the United States armed services, while engaged in and on account of the performance of official duties, to wit, SIDDIQUI obtained a United States Army Officer's M-4 rifle and fired it at officers and employees of the FBI and the United States armed services.
If convicted, she could face 20 years in prison on each charge.

Siddiqui's family has insisted that she is not an al-Qaeda agent and that the FBI has publicized misleading information about her. They say that Siddiqui, a former student at Brandeis University and MIT in Boston, may have been a victim of extraordinary rendition after she vanished from Karachi, Pakistan in 2003. Family lawyer Elaine Whitfield Sharp alleged that Siddiqui may have been wrongly detained and tortured at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.


ICE launches voluntary deportation program
Legal Topics | 2008/08/06 17:41
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched a new program Tuesday that allows certain illegal immigrants to coordinate their removal from the US with ICE without the risk of home raids, arrest or detention. The Scheduled Departure Program, a pilot program that will run through August 22 in five major cities, is designed for illegal immigrants without criminal records who have ignored official removal orders. According to the ICE press release:
 
The agency recognizes there are those less inclined to accept the intentions of such a compassionately conceived enforcement initiative, but remains committed to providing sensible alternatives that balance the welfare of the individuals and families in question with its clear obligation to uphold the law.

   The Scheduled Departure Program will not alter a participant's immigration status or provide any immigration benefit. The program is not a form of voluntary departure or voluntary return. Participants will continue to have a final order of removal, deportation or exclusion.

ICE stressed that illegal immigrants without formal removal orders, those with criminal records and those who pose a threat to national security would not qualify for the program and would be detained, but said that participation by those who qualified would ease the transition process and the impact on the immigrants' families. ICE also began an ad campaign in the five participating cities, but critics have said the program will be ineffective because eligible immigrants will not voluntarily surrender.

ICE maintains a number of additional initiatives [fact sheet] to combat illegal immigration. In May, 270 illegal immigrants arrested during an ICE-led raid at an Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant in Iowa were each sentenced to five months in prison and 27 more received probation after pleading guilty to the use of false immigration documents. ICE also carried out a raid in California the same month targeting 495 people who had ignored deportation orders, resulting in the arrest of more than 900 illegal immigrants. In general, US immigration prosecutions continued to increase in March 2008, jumping nearly 50 percent from the previous month and nearly 75 percent from the previous year, according to a report released by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.


'Junior' Gotti Arrested on Murder Charge
Areas of Focus | 2008/08/05 15:46
John A. "Junior" Gotti has been arrested on charges linking him to three New York murders, The New York Times reported. He is expected to be indicted on racketeering and murder-conspiracy charges over the killings, which took place nearly two decades ago. Gotti is the son of "Dapper Don" John Gotti, the late boss of the Gambino family.

Junior Gotti was arrested Tuesday morning at his Oyster Bay Cove home in New York.

In 1999 he pleaded guilty to racketeering crimes, including bribery, extortion and fraud, and was sentenced to 77 months in prison. He was released in 2005.

Junior Gotti was also tried three times on racketeering charges for allegedly plotting to kidnap Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa. He was never convicted, because the trials ended in hung juries and mistrials.


Third Circuit rules on confiscation of materials
Legal Topics | 2008/08/01 15:42
The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Thursday affirmed a decision to dismiss claims filed by fifteen current and former inmates alleging that various employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections violated their constitutional rights when they confiscated inmates' legal materials. After a DOC inmate filed fraudulent liens against a state court judge, a superintendent and the DOC secretary in June 2005, the DOC banned all materials related to the copyrighting of names, the filing of liens, and filings under the Uniform Commercial Code. Upon a search of the plaintiff inmates' cells, prison officials discovered these contraband documents and subsequently confiscated all of the inmates' legal materials, including items that had not been designated as contraband. The inmates filed suit, alleging that the seizures violated the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of Due Process as well as their right to access the courts and possess publications and legal materials under the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals dismissed the inmates' Due Process claims, noting that prison officials provided the inmates with three separate opportunities to reclaim their non-contraband property following the seizures, explaining that:

[A]n unauthorized intentional deprivation of property by prison officials does not violate the Due Process Clause if a meaningful postdeprivation remedy for the loss is available.

In affirming the lower court's determination that the DOC's confiscation did not unreasonably deprive the inmates of their right to possess publications and legal materials, the Third Circuit found that:

In light of the DOC’s experience with the inmate’s June 2005 filing, which demonstrated that fraudulent UCC filings are easy to file but burdensome to remove, along with the research that informed their judgment on this policy, we conclude that the defendants’ decision to engage in preemptive action in this case was reasonable

The court dismissed the inmates' claims that the seizures blocked their access to the courts, ruling that their initial pleadings were insufficient to support a claim. The court found that "the plaintiffs’ claim rested solely on the ground that the defendants confiscated their legal materials, contraband and non-contraband alike" and did not show an actual injury or that the inmates possessed no other remedy to compensate them for their lost claims.

Jurisdictions across the country have seen an increase in the malicious filing of fraudulent liens, which can cause great hardship for the affected parties. Some experts attribute the rise in such filings to a bizarre and convoluted new scam known as "redemption", in which participants are told that every American has a "strawman" account created by the the US government. Participants pay large sums to obtain fraudulent instructions said to be grounded in the UCC. These materials claim to show how to access the government money in that strawman account, and participants are encouraged to exact financial revenge against government officials. In February, a Texas inmate was sentenced to 12 years in prison after he filed fraudulent liens against a US District Judge and Assistant US Attorney involved in the prosecution of his initial drug convictions.


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