Virginia’s Governor Seeks
Legalized Marijuana Use
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said last week he wants to legalize recreational use of marijuana.
He plans to propose legalization during the next legislative session, where the idea is expected to win support among the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. Republicans blocked similar proposals previously.
Like other lawmakers, Northam has shifted his attitude toward marijuana in recent years as studies emerged showing its medicinal benefits and potential for new state tax revenue. Earlier this year, Northam signed legislation reducing the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana to $25.
The District of Columbia and Maryland already have joined 14 other states that allow limited use of recreational marijuana. The first was Colorado in 2012.
Part of the change in attitudes comes from racial inequities in arrests.
In Virginia, police arrest more than 20,000 people per year on marijuana offenses. A disproportionate number of them are Black, according to Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report.
The General Assembly also plans to consider sealing criminal records for marijuana-related convictions.
The JLARC report said the state would need to spend $8 million to $20 million to set up the administrative framework for marijuana sales. It would take a year and include licensing private companies and arranging regulatory oversight.
However, the financial return could be great, the JLARC report says.
Legalization would generate more than 11,000 jobs and $300 million in annual sales tax revenue. The jobs would be mostly lower-paying positions in retail, security and production.
Loudoun County Elite STEM School
Revises Admissions to Avoid Racism
An elite high school in Loudoun County, Va., is being forced to revise its admissions policies after a report by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office late last week that alleges discrimination against Black and Hispanic students.
The 61-page report recommends that the suburban Academies of Loudoun seek assistance from the NAACP for a “conciliation process” to develop new policies. The high school accepts only students likely to excel at science, technology, engineering and math.
The report claims “disparate impact” discrimination, in which a policy or practice affects members of a protected group so disproportionately that discrimination can be inferred.
The state attorney general says the Academies of Loudoun uses a “facially neutral” admissions policy but that it bars qualified Black and Hispanic students. The policy requires that eighth grade student applicants be rated first on their science and math skills using standardized tests, followed by a teacher evaluation of their writing styles and letters of recommendation.
“Here, a simple statistical analysis revealed evidence disparities between Black/African-American students and Latinx/Hispanic students as compared to White students and Asian-American students,” the attorney general’s report says.
The report also cites specific instances of racism, such as when a White teacher marked a Black student’s test answers as wrong even though they were correct. In a separate incident, a Black student was compelled to “reenact being a runaway slave on the underground railroad” during a class lesson.
The attorney general decided to leave some decisions to school officials after determining they were aware of the problem and already trying to be proactive.
They unveiled their “Action Plan to Combat Systemic Racism” last summer. It includes plans to revise the admissions process as well as racial sensitivity training for students and staff.
The attorney general launched its 13-month investigation in response to a discrimination complaint from the NAACP of Loudoun County.
Telework for Government Lawyers
Becoming Viable After the Pandemic
A Senate hearing last week showed strong support among government officials for continuing telework among employees even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
The kind of regulatory and litigation work done by government lawyers and their contractors is a top contender for telecommuting. Many Justice Department and D.C. Attorney General’s Office attorneys already are working remotely.
Federal agency executives and senators said telework is bringing down their costs and improving the quality of job applicants without reducing productivity.
“We should at least have something good come out of this pandemic,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee that held the hearing.
Lankford said he is working with the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee on regulatory affairs and federal management to develop new legislation that would broaden government use of telework.
D.C. in Brief
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/
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Baltimore Pays $8 Million to Two Men
Improperly Convicted of Drug Crime
Two Maryland men improperly convicted on drug charges will receive a nearly $8 million settlement soon after Baltimore’s spending board approved a settlement for them.
They served time in a federal prison after what was supposed to be an elite team of the Baltimore Police Department planted drugs on them in 2010.
The truth of the improper conviction, along with scathing details of corruption, were revealed through a federal investigation.
Eight of the nine members of the police department’s Gun Trace Task Force were charged with serious crimes and civil rights violations. Six pleaded guilty. The other two were convicted this month.
In the cases of Umar Burley and Brent Matthews, Task Force members said they saw the two men conducting a drug transaction when they were arrested. Burley left quickly in his car as plainclothes officers moved in to arrest him.
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U.S. Attorneys Get Court Order
To Audit D.C. Forensics Lab
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. is reviewing forensics reports for errors that might have led to wrongful convictions in recent years.
The prosecutors had to get a court order for the records after the D.C. forensic sciences lab resisted turning them over.
The dispute started as evidence emerged of a flawed 2017 ballistics analysis that incorrectly linked shell casings to two murders. The U.S. Attorney’s Office followed up with an audit of numerous cases handled by the forensics lab.
Prosecutors said they had little choice because they are required by federal procedure to turn over exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys. A letter they wrote to the head of the Department of Forensic Sciences explained that they were trying “to protect the viability of our prosecutions.”
They acknowledged the audit, which started in the spring, for the first time this month. Among the 60 cases reviewed so far, 12 of them showed potential problems.