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Legal Briefs

We Could Use Your Help

     Thousands of DC residents need a lawyer, but can’t afford one. They could be illegally evicted from their homes, lose custody of their children, experience domestic violence, and more, all because they lack legal representation. 
      You could make a difference. By making a donation to the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, you will provide free, high-quality, zealous legal representation to low-income DC residents. Click the photo above to make a donation today. 
      Your support could prevent homelessness, domestic violence, hunger, or family separation. In fact, if just 10 people who see this ad give $28 to Legal Aid, it will be enough to staff an experienced attorney at the courthouse for a day.
      That way, DC residents like Keith King (pictured above) can get the legal representation they need to win their cases. As Mr. King put it, if it wasn’t for his Legal Aid lawyer, “I would have been homeless again.”
     Here is the link to the Legal Aid website for donations: https://www.legalaiddc.org/donate-to-legal-aid/

     For more information, contact Rob Pergament at Legal Aid at rpergament@legalaiddc.org

Power the Civil Rights Work of Our Time

     Each day members of our community are experiencing wage theft, the effects of gentrification, discriminatory policing, collateral consequences, marginalization in schools, and barriers to public accommodations. 
     We fight alongside people facing the effects of gentrification like Amira Moore. Our work empowers the people and communities who need it most, “We can do more than we think. There’s a path to equity, we just have to step to it.” –Ms. Moore
     For more than 50 years, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee has been on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights in our community. We deploy the best legal talent, we tackle the tough cases, we fight, and we win. 
     Our work is as important today as it has ever been. Through your support, you can play a role in creating justice for thousands of marginalized members of our community. Together, we will dismantle injustice and pursue lasting change.
     Join us! Donate & subscribe: https://www.washlaw.org/support-us
     Volunteer with us: https://www.washlaw.org/get-involved/
     For more information, contact Gregg Kelley at Gregg_Kelley@washlaw.org​

Britney Spears Supporters Rally
For Guardianship Law Changes

     Advocates for reform of conservatorship laws rallied in front of the Lincoln Memorial last week in a show of support for pop singer Britney Spears.
     The rally was timed to coincide with Spears’ return to court in Los Angeles to continue her plea to be released from conservatorship.
    The Washington, D.C.-based group, Free Britney America, is asking Congress to amend laws they say lead to abuses of guardianship and the people who are supposed to be protected.
     One of them who claims abuse is Spears, whose father has taken charge of her estimated $60 million portfolio, and a licensed professional guardian who looks after her personal care.
     The singer accuses her father of stealing as much as $2 million of her money. Other times, she says he compelled her to use birth control, take psychotropic medication and interfered with her decisions on whether to remarry.​

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Latest News

Judge Says D.C. Universities Misrepresented
About In-Person Teaching During Pandemic

     A District of Columbia federal judge last week refused to dismiss lawsuits by students seeking tuition refunds from Howard University and Catholic University in a ruling with national implications.
     The students want at least part of their tuition and fees returned from the Spring 2020 semester, which the universities switched to online education during the COVID-19 shutdown.
     The students argue the universities’ course catalogs falsely implied they would be given access to in-person learning and campus life.
    The only claim U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich dismissed was for conversion against Howard. Conversion is an intentional tort that refers to taking other persons’ property with an intent to permanently deprive them of it.
    However, Friedrich said the universities could not get the other claims dismissed based on the “reservations of rights” they listed in their course catalogs. The reservations say the courses were subject to change, depending on various conditions.
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D.C. in Brief

    The Legal Forum welcomes letters to the editor at tramstack@gmail.com, which will be published here.

Letters to the Editor

Diversity Among Federal Judges
Sought by Congressional Panel

     The director of the Washington, D.C.-based Independent Womens Law Center made suggestions to Congress last week on increasing diversity among federal judges.
     Jennifer C. Braceras said a judiciary that looks like the rest of America’s population is more likely to reflect the will of the people rather than opinions of the White men who have predominated in past years.
     “A judiciary that reflects the vibrant tapestry of America enhances the legitimacy of our legal system and gives Americans of all backgrounds confidence that our system of justice is impartial and accessible to all,” Braceras said in her testimony.
     However, she added that diversity should only be a goal after potential judges demonstrate they have the good judgment to properly apply the laws to the facts of cases they hear.
     She testified to the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts, intellectual property and the Internet as it seeks methods to ensure qualified women and minorities are appointed to the federal bench.​
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Maryland Lawmakers Move Toward
Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

     Maryland’s Speaker of the House is taking the first steps toward asking state voters to decide early next year whether marijuana should be legalized for recreational use.
     She is organizing a work group to put together a plan that could make recreational marijuana sales and consumption a practical alternative in Maryland. It is considering methods for licensing and regulating the sales.
     Both the District of Columbia and Virginia allow possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Maryland allows possession only for medicinal use.
     “While I have personal concerns about encouraging marijuana use, particularly among children and young adults, the disparate criminal justice impact leads me to believe that the voters should have a say in the future of legalization,” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore) said in a statement. 
     She was referring to the fact that African Americans are arrested for marijuana-related offenses at nearly four times the rate of White people. Many of the offenders are teenagers and young adults.
     “The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters but we need to start looking at changes needed to state law now,” Jones said.
     The changes are likely to include provisions for expunging criminal records for marijuana offenses and releasing inmates still imprisoned for them.
     A Goucher College survey published in March showed that 57 percent of Maryland residents support legalizing marijuana.


NASA Senior Executive Sentenced
For Fraud in PPP Loan Applications

     A senior NASA executive was sentenced to 18 months in prison last week after being convicted in a Virginia court of fraudulently accepting $272,000 in federal COVID-19 relief loans.
     Instead of using the money to keep a business afloat, Andrew Tezna used $50,000 of it for a swimming pool and $6,450 for a French bulldog. Much of the rest paid down his massive personal debts and provided a down payment on a new home.
     In any case, Tezna, 36, did not use the money for the three businesses he listed on his Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications.
    He applied for the loans administered by the Small Business Administration as the pandemic made many companies teeter toward bankruptcy. The loans were forgivable if the money was used appropriately to prevent business closings.
     However, the program was fraught with the kind of fraud blamed on Tezna. The Justice Department reports having prosecuted more than 100 loan recipients and seizing $65 million so far after their fraudulent applications.
     Tezna appeared remorseful in a letter he wrote to the federal court in Alexandria before sentencing. “I desire nothing more than to show my young children a father who learned from his mistakes, a person that they would be proud of,” the Leesburg resident’s letter said. 
     Tezna’s first loan application was listed under his wife’s design business, which had no employees and minimal income. His other PPP loan applications were for two fictional companies using his own and his mother-in-law’s names.
     He also collected unemployment benefits under his mother-in-law’s name and applied for other small business loans that named his wife’s company.
     Now Tezna, who earned $181,000 a year overseeing policy for NASA’s chief financial officer, works as a loader at Lowe’s home improvement company earning $14 an hour.