Court upholds ban on Minnesota video game law
Legal Topics | 2008/03/17 23:59
A federal appeals court on Monday upheld an injunction against a Minnesota law that targeted at children under 17 who rent or buy violent video games.

A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with a lower-court judge that Minnesota went too far when it passed its law two years ago because the state couldn't prove that such games hurt children.

The law would have hit kids under 17 with a $25 fine if they rented or bought a video game rated "M" for mature or "AO" for adults only. It also would have required stores to put up signs warning of the fines.

Game makers and retailers swiftly challenged the law, arguing it was an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum ruled in their favor in July 2006.

But the appellate opinion, written by Judge Roger l. Wollman, showed the judges weren't entirely happy about it.

"Whatever our intuitive (dare we say commonsense) feelings regarding the effect" of violent video games, precedent requires undeniable proof that such violence causes psychological dysfunction, Wollman wrote.

"The requirement of such a high level of proof may reflect a refined estrangement from reality, but apply it we must," he wrote.



Sex scandal passes but Spitzer may face legal woes
Legal Topics | 2008/03/14 16:27
Resigning won't spare Eliot Spitzer from the heat of a criminal investigation — federal prosecutors must still decide what to do with the case of the disgraced New York governor and the prostitutes.

A law enforcement official said Spitzer's high-powered defense team was believed to be negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors over his connection to a high-end prostitution ring, but attorneys would not comment Thursday about the discussions.

"Corruption cases often pose a dilemma for the prosecutor," said Evan Barr, a private practice lawyer who once handled such cases for the same Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office that is now weighing how to proceed with Spitzer.

"If you charge a public figure under an obscure or rarely used legal theory, the critics will say the prosecution is politically motivated; if you decline to charge under the same circumstances, the critics will say the prosecutor is going easy on the would-be defendant because he or she is a prominent person," Barr said.



French court unfreezes Iranian funds
Legal Topics | 2008/03/12 21:38

In a setback for terror victims, a French court lifted a freeze on Iranian state funds.

Victims of Iranian-sponsored attacks in Israel in 1995 and 1997 are suing Iran for compensation.

While the Paris Court of Appeal this week released the $117 million held in the Natexis Banques Populaire, it did not seek interest and court fees from the plaintiffs, their Paris-based attorney Christoph Martin Radtke told the JTA in a telephone interview.

The court told the attorneys to reapply for the Iranian funds once a decision is made on whether funds in the Iranian Central Bank may be confiscated to pay the damages in a U.S. court decision.

Federal judges in Washington ordered Iran to pay damages and interest of $87.5 million to 12 U.S. citizens injured in the two terrorist attacks in Israel. The U.S. courts determined that Iran was liable for the damages due to its sponsorship of Hamas, which orchestrated the attacks.

Radtke said the French court decided to release the Iranian funds because "the law that protects state accounts does not allow an exception for provisional seizure measures."

In January, Radtke in another Paris court sought the enforcement of the U.S. court judgments. He told JTA he hoped for a decision within a few months.

In an e-mail to the JTA, the plaintfffs' U.S.-based attorney, David Strachman of Rhode Island, said they "are really disappointed with the outcome" in the French court.



Miami appraiser pleads guilty to fraud scheme
Legal Topics | 2008/03/11 16:59

A Miami real estate appraiser has pleaded guilty to wire fraud for her involvement in the Southwest Ranches-area fraud scheme in Broward County, the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida said.

Martine Yanisse Castrillon is one of 15 defendants charged with buying homes through straw buyers at an inflated price, and then getting cash back at the closings. So far, nine defendants have pleaded guilty to various federal charges in the indictment.

Castrillon admitted that she did fraudulent appraisals -- valuing the properties at the amount requested by another defendant, not the true market price -- and forged the name of the certified appraiser who was to review her work.

According to the indictment, co-defendants Lazara Villalba and Henry Quintero-Lopez would offer the owner's full asking price and then inflate the contract purchase price to allow their companies, New World International and D&H Investments of South Florida, to receive a finder's fee, assignment fee or additional funds to allegedly construct improvements to the properties. They would then recruit individuals, who, for a fee, acted as straw buyers of the properties. Villalba and a co-defendant would obtain fraudulent pay stubs, IRS documents, verification of employment and verification of deposit forms; documents would be submitted to cooperating mortgage brokers and the loans were approved to purchase the properties.

Castrillon faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the wire fraud counts and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count. Sentencing is scheduled for May 22.



Judge delights Moraga Movers lunch event
Legal Topics | 2008/03/09 03:27
Moragan Judge John Minney educated and entertained a full house at the Moraga Movers lunch at St. Mary's College Soda Center.

Born and raised in the East Bay, he went on from Castlewood High to Yale, then to Cal Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law. Admitted to the California Bar in 1958, he served as attorney for the Franchise Tax Board in Sacramento before private practice in Oakland until January 1975.

That's when Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Walnut Creek-Danville Municipal Court where he became chairman of the County Municipal Court Judges' Association and an officer of the California Judges' Association. In August 1987, Judge Minney was appointed to the Contra Costa Superior Court by Gov. George Deukmejian, where he'd advanced to presiding judge in 1996, and Supervising Criminal Judge from 1998-2005.

He retired in May 2005 (sort of), as he's been working since then as part of the statewide retired judges' program on assignment to courts in need of assistance due to vacations or illness.

"A hundred years ago we had Justice Courts in California: you didn't have to be a lawyer and the court justice's wages were a percent of the fines," the speaker revealed. "When a city reached 40,000 population, you could convert to Municipal Court."



Akron attorney sanctioned again by Ohio Supreme Court
Legal Topics | 2008/03/07 03:07

Akron attorney Edward P. Markovich, who is already serving a suspension has been sanctioned again by the Ohio Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court today suspended Markovich, 53, from the practice of law for one-year, citing multiple violations of state attorney rules.

The court, following the recommendation of it's Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline voted 5-2, to sanction Markovich for one-year with six months stayed. The board found Markovich had committed professional misconduct involving seven different cases.

In January, the Supreme Court placed Markovich on a one-year interim suspension, with six-months stayed, stemming from additional new charges of misconduct, including fraud and corrupt activity. That suspension went into effective immediately at the time, prior to a board hearing being held because of the previous complaints against Markovich. The court's decision today were based on charges filed in October, 2007.

Jonathan W. Marshall, secretary of the court's grievances and discipline board, said that today's decision will be in addition to Markovich's January sanction. The court has yet to make a ruling on the latest charges.

Both complaints against Markovich were filed by the Akron Bar Association.



James E. Felman Speaks to Senate on Drugs
Legal Topics | 2008/02/28 00:58
The crack-powder disparity is simply wrong and the time to fix it is now," stated James E. Felman in his remarks on behalf of the American Bar Association before the Senate Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Subcommittee, earlier today. The ABA is part of a broad consensus that finds disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses "unjustifiable and plainly unjust."

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 enacted the 100-to-1 quantity sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, which are pharmacologically identical drugs.  Reports by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2002 and 2007 opposed the sentencing disparity.  In December 2007, the commission – which had in May 2007 voted to adjust downward the sentencing guidelines relative to crack cocaine offenses and had urged Congress to end the 100-1 disparity – voted unanimously to make the guidelines change retroactive.

Felman, co-chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section Committee on Sentencing, appeared at the hearing, Federal Cocaine Sentencing Laws: Reforming the 100:1 Crack Powder Disparity.  Speaking to the vastness of the disparity, Felman stated, "Crimes involving just five grams of crack, 10 to 50 doses, receive the same five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence as crimes involving 500 grams of powder cocaine, 2,500 to 5,000 doses."

Citing the 2007 Sentencing Commission report, Felman also highlighted the disparity's effect on African Americans, saying that, while African Americans constituted 82 percent of those sentenced under federal crack cocaine laws, "66 percent of those who use crack cocaine are Caucasian or Hispanic." Because of the disparity, "African Americans [spend] substantially more time in federal prisons for drug offenses than Caucasian offenders."

Felman concluded by urging Congress to act to correct the disparity, citing legislation introduced by Sen. Joe Biden, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “Enactment of S.1711 would restore fairness and a sound foundation to federal sentencing policy regarding cocaine offenses by ending the disparate treatment of crack versus cocaine offenses and by refocusing federal policy toward major drug traffickers involved with weapons and violence.”

You may read the full prepared remarks by Mr. Felman http://www.abanet.org/poladv/letters/crimlaw/2008feb12_crackdisparity_t.pdf

For the last ten years, Felman has organized and moderated the Annual National Seminar on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which is jointly sponsored by the Federal Bar Association and the United States Sentencing Commission.  In addition to being the co-chair of the Committee on Sentencing of the ABA, Felman also served as former co-chair of the ABA’s Committee on Corrections and Sentencing.

With more than 413,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.  As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.


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