18-month sentence for South Korean blogger
Headline Legal News | 2009/04/16 18:04
Prosecutors demanded an 18-month sentenceMonday for a popular South Korean blogger who is accused of spreadingfalse financial information in a case that has ignited a debate aboutfreedom of speech in cyberspace.


The 30-year-old blogger, a fierce critic of government economic policy,was arrested and indicted in January after he wrote that the governmenthad banned major financial institutions and trade businesses frombuying U.S. dollars.

Prosecutorshave said the posting was not only inaccurate, but it had affected theforeign exchange market and undermined the nation's credibility.

Butopposition parties and critics have claimed the arrest is aimed atsilencing criticism of the government and restricts online freedom ofspeech.

Seoul District Court spokesman Kwon Tae-young saidprosecutors demanded 18 months in prison for the blogger, identified asPark Dae-sung, and the court is scheduled to deliver a verdict on April20.

The charge carries up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 50 million won ($38,000).

Theblogger, known by his pen name "Minerva" after the Greek goddess ofwisdom, had rocketed to fame after some of his predictions, includingthe collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, proved to becorrect.



El Segundo Ponzi Scheme Targets Latinos
Headline Legal News | 2009/04/15 21:02
An El Segundo woman took $23 million in a Ponzi scheme that targeted Latinos, the SEC says in Los Angles Federal Court. Clelia A. Flores and her business, Maximum Return Investments, took the money from more than 150 people in seven states, by "guaranteeing" 25 percent returns in 45 days, the SEC says.
Flores roped in customers by offering high-yielding investments in oil, gold, and real estate, the SEC says. It claims she spent more than $3.5 million of it on herself, $443,000 to buy a home, and almost $1.5 million to finance MRI's operations and pay for a lavish party to celebrate the company's alleged success.
Flores promised "guaranteed" returns of up to 25 percent within 45 days, according to the complaint. But she allegedly used only $5.6 million to invest in high-risk ventures and start-up companies that never paid MRI any returns. She allegedly ran the scam from 2006 through 2008.
The SEC seeks an injunction, disgorgement, and fines.


Tainted Chinese drywall shows up in Katrina homes
Headline Legal News | 2009/04/14 17:57
Thomas Stone and his wife rebuilt after their home was flooded by sixfeet of water during Hurricane Katrina, never dreaming they would facethe agony of tearing it apart all over again.

They tapped Lauren Stone's 401(k) retirement savings and saved $1,000by installing Chinese-made drywall throughout their two-story home. Nowthe Stones are among hundreds of Katrina victims facing another, thistime unnatural, disaster.

Sulfur-emittingwallboard from China is wreaking havoc in homes, charring electricalwires, eating away at jewelry, silverware and other valuables, andpossibly even sickening families.

"The bathroom upstairs has acorroded shower-head, the door hinges are rusting out," said50-year-old Thomas Stone, the longtime fire chief of St. BernardParish, outside New Orleans. And then there's the stench, like rotteneggs, that seems to get worse with the heat and humidity.

"It makes me wish there would be another flood to wash it out," said his wife Lauren, 49.

Chinesemanufacturers flooded the U.S. market with more than 500 million poundsof drywall around the same time Katrina was flooding New Orleans, anAssociated Press review of shipping records has found.



Differing Views in GOP Voting
Headline Legal News | 2009/04/11 17:25
The GOP's struggle over its future and the party's fitful steps to attract minorities are on full display in the differing responses of Republican governors to a major Supreme Court case on voting rights.


The court will hear arguments April 29 about whether federal oversight of election procedures should continue in 16 states, mainly in the South, with a history of preventing blacks, Hispanics and other minorities from voting.

In 2006, as Republicans sought to improve their standing with minorities in advance of congressional elections, the GOP-controlled Congress extended for 25 years the Voting Rights Act provision that says the Justice Department must approve any changes in how elections are conducted. Republican President George W. Bush signed the extension into law.

But some Republicans said the extension was not merited and that some states were being punished for their racist past. A legal challenge has made its way to the high court.

GOP Govs. Sonny Perdue of Georgia and Bob Riley of Alabama have asserted in court filings that the continued obligation of their states to get advance approval for all changes involving elections is unnecessary and expensive in view of significant progress they have made to overcome blatant and often brutal discrimination against blacks.

Perdue pointed out that President Barack Obama did better in Georgia than did Democratic nominees John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000.


Texas Court Upheld Civil Verdict
Headline Legal News | 2009/04/09 17:24
A Texas appeals court has upheld a multimillion dollar civil verdictagainst a Florida private prison company in the beating death of aninmate.

The 13th Court of Appeals ruled last week that Wackenhut CorrectionsCorp., now known as The GEO Group, and Warden David Forrest have to pay$42.5 million to the family of Gregorio de la Rosa Jr.

Thecompany was accused of allowing two inmates to beat de la Rosa withpadlocks stuffed in socks. He died in 2001, four days before hisexpected release from a facility in Raymondville.

A WillacyCounty jury had ordered the company to pay de la Rosa's family $47.5million in a 2006 civil judgment. The Brownsville Herald reports thatthe appeals court reduced the judgment because a family member had died.



CA Court to Rule Over Gay Marriage Ban
Headline Legal News | 2009/03/04 17:38
The California Supreme Court may reveal Thursday whether it intends to uphold Proposition 8, and if so, whether an estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages will remain valid, during a high-stakes televised session that has sparked plans for demonstrations throughout the state.

By now, the court already has drafted a decision on the case, with an author and at least three other justices willing to sign it. Oral arguments sometimes result in changes to the draft, but rarely do they change the majority position. The ruling is due in 90 days.

Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who wrote the historic May 15, 2008, decision that gave same-sex couples the right to marry, will be the one to watch during the hearing because he is often in the majority and usually writes the rulings in the most controversial cases.

Most legal analysts expect that the court will garner enough votes to uphold existing marriages but not enough to overturn Proposition 8. The dissenters in May's 4-3 marriage ruling said the decision should be left to the voters.

One conservative constitutional scholar has said that the court could both affirm its historic May 15 ruling giving gays equality and uphold Proposition 8 by requiring the state to use a term other than "marriage" and apply it to all couples, gay and straight.

"The alternatives are for the court to accept Proposition 8 and authorize the people to rewrite the Constitution in a way that undermines a basic principle of equality," said Pepperdine law professor Douglas Kmiec. If the court overturns Proposition 8, "that is the short course toward impeachment."

The court is under intense pressure. Opponents of gay marriage have threatened to mount a campaign to boot justices who vote to overturn the initiative. The last time voters ousted state high court justices was in 1986, when then-Chief Justice Rose Bird and two colleagues lost a retention election.

On the other side, the Legislature has passed two resolutions opposing Proposition 8, and protests are being planned statewide to urge the court to throw out the measure.

Thousands are expected to descend Thursday on the San Francisco Civic Center to watch the hearing live on a giant outdoor screen, just steps from the courtroom where the justices will be prodding lawyers in a jammed courtroom.

"It is one of the most important cases in the history of the California Supreme Court," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. "The core tenet of our constitutional democracy is that fundamental rights of historically disadvantaged minorities are not dependent on the whim of the majority."

The challenges to the initiative are based on novel legal theories. Gay rights lawyers argue that the measure was an illegal constitutional revision, rather than a more limited amendment. The court has struck down constitutional amendments passed by voters as impermissible revisions only twice in its history, and there are relatively few precedents on the subject.

"While no case forecloses the revision argument, there is no case that really supports it, and most of the cases mildly cut against it," said UC Davis law professor Vikram Amar.

Upholding existing same-sex marriages would be a lower hurdle for the court, Amar and other scholars said.

"There is enough ambiguity in Prop. 8 that the court could easily interpret the measure as not applying to existing marriages," Amar said. "That is a legally plausible interpretation, and it is so clearly the just interpretation that I think getting four votes for that seems easier."

State Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown's office will ask the court to uphold the marriages and strike down the initiative as an illegal repeal of an inalienable right without compelling justification. Brown's argument is even more novel than the revision challenge, which his office said had no merit.

The Proposition 8 case has attracted more friend-of-the-court briefs than the marriage dispute that led to last year's historic ruling -- the previous record-holder. Most of the outside groups that have weighed in have asked the court to overturn the initiative.

Pepperdine's Kmiec said replacing the word "marriage" with another term would both leave intact the court's May 15 ruling and deter a recall campaign that could damage the court as an institution. He said couples could still marry in their religious communities.

That would "restore a religious meaning to a word that is a religious word," he said. Kmiec, a Catholic, said he reluctantly voted for Proposition 8 "because of the instructions of my faith community" but felt "entirely unsatisfied" with the outcome.

"I am not sure Ron George wants to be remembered as the chief justice who denied the principle of fundamental equality," the law professor said. "It is not a legacy we should ask anyone to live with, and it is wholly unnecessary."

George, a moderate Republican, is considered a swing vote on the court and, until the marriage decision, was widely regarded as cautious. Scholars have said the marriage ruling would be pivotal to his legacy on the court.

"It is difficult to imagine, although obviously plausible, that the majority of justices who ruled in the marriage cases would so quickly endorse an undermining of at least a significant portion of their ruling," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Pepperdine law school Dean Kenneth Starr, hired by the Proposition 8 campaign, will urge the court to uphold the measure and declare that existing same-sex marriages are no longer valid. Benefits, such as inheritance, acquired by couples during their marriages would not be taken away, but couples would have to register as domestic partners to protect their future rights.

"The people ultimately decided," Starr wrote in his final brief in the case. "Under our system of constitutional government, that is the end of the matter."


US Demands 52,000 IDs from Swiss Banks
Headline Legal News | 2009/02/20 17:34
The United States filed for an injunction Thursday against Swiss bank USB AG, asking it to disclose the identities of the bank's nearly 52,000 American customers with Swiss accounts. The complaint claims that an estimated $14.8 billion in assets was hidden in these secret accounts as of the mid-2000s.
The United States says the Swiss bank marketed its services to wealthy U.S. citizens and helped set up dummy offshore companies to make it easier for them to duck taxes on income from the accounts.
The lawsuit, in Miami Federal Court, alleges that the bank trained its agents to avoid U.S. detection, and sent them to the United States to meet with U.S. clients nearly 4,000 times per year, in violation of federal law.
"This action sends a strong signal to taxpayers hiding their money offshore," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, who urges taxpayers to come forward under the IRS' voluntary disclosure process.


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