The Latest Legal News & Industry Information

D.C. Mayor Proposes Expanding
Rights of Sexual Assault Victims

By Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
     D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser this week announced a proposal to broaden the rights of sexual assault victims and to expand the definition of a violent assault.
     The legislation is primarily intended to protect juveniles by adding new provisions to a 2014 victims’ rights law.
     The new proposal gives victims more choices for advocates to represent them during interviews by police and prosecutors. The prosecutors would be required to explain their reasons in greater detail when they decline to press charges against an accused.
     Children as young as 12 years old could choose to have an advocate during court proceedings, which currently is an option only for adults.
     The advocates typically would be attorneys or social workers.
     Bowser’s legislative bill was taken from recommendations by an independent task force the mayor organized after a nonprofit group accused Washington, D.C., police of mishandling sexual assault cases, particularly for young victims.
     Human Rights Watch said D.C. police often lost reports or concluded them without thorough investigations. One of them was an 11-year-old girl whose report to police of being raped by older youths was supported by a hospital examination and witness statement.
     Police declined to arrest the suspects but they did charge the girl with lying to police.  
     The expanded definition of an assault under the legislation would include removing the clothes of someone without their consent. The provision is supposed to respond to complaints by some women who awaken with no clear memory after they suspect they were drugged.
     Their presumed assailants sometimes admit removing their clothes but deny they sexually assaulted the victims.
     The bill also makes it easier for sexual assault victims to gain access to rape kits from hospital examinations and to compel police to preserve them.
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Business Improvement Districts
Easier to Organize in Maryland

By Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
     Business owners in Washington’s Maryland suburb of Montgomery County will be able to organize business improvement districts more easily because of new legislation approved by the General Assembly.
     Business improvement districts (BIDs) typically raise property values by adding amenities, cleaning up their neighborhoods and improving the landscaping.
     However, they require the consent of business and property owners.
     The new legislation reduces the percentage of Montgomery County business owners who must agree to participate in a BID.
     BIDs can now be organized with a signed agreement among 51 percent of commercial and high-rise residential property owners, along with owners of at least 51 percent of the county’s assessed value properties.
     For the rest of Maryland, the minimum requirement is 80 percent of the property owners within a BID neighborhood.
     BIDs are controversial among some residents because they allow the organization’s board to assess additional taxes on property owners. The tax revenue is then used for landscaping, clean-up, homeless services, marketing for the businesses and other amenities.
The legislation was introduced by State Senatory Will Smith (D-Silver Spring), who said the lower minimum requirement will help the special districts attract new businesses and market their services.
     Smith tried last year to get the threshold lowered for the entire state but his first bill failed. He tried again successfully this year by limiting the measure to Montgomery County.
     He said he derived his legislation from successful BIDs in Washington, where the special districts helped to revitalize the NoMa, Waterfront and downtown neighborhoods. He expects Silver Spring and Wheaton to be some of the first communities to organize BIDs.
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Diabetic Man Sentenced for Killing
Firefighter During Insulin Episode

     A Prince George’s County judge’s sentencing of a diabetic man last week turned on how the court defined “intent” when the defendant suffered a temporary cognitive impairment.
     Darrell Lumpkin pleaded guilty to an illegal weapons charge after shooting and killing firefighter John Ulmschneider and wounding two others.
     The firefighters broke into Lumpkin’s Temple Hills home after his brother telephoned emergency responders, asking them to check on his welfare. The brother was concerned Lumpkin might be suffering a medical emergency because of a diabetes problem.
     His attorney said Lumpkin had no intent to shoot any firefighters. He was suffering a diabetic episode from insufficient insulin that left him incoherent, leading him to believe the firefighters were intruders trying to hurt him, according to attorney Brian McDaniel.
     Black’s Law Dictionary says criminal intent requires “malice” and “a conscious decision on the part of one party to injure” another person.
    A grand jury declined to indict Lumpkin on the murder charge but said he should be charged with possessing an illegal firearm. The 62-year-old was sentenced to four years in prison. Another 11 years of the sentence were suspended.
    Lumpkin also shot and injured his own brother and a 19-year-old firefighter. Both of them recovered from their wounds.
    The incident prompted the Prince George’s County Fire Department to revamp its procedures for welfare checks on potentially sick or injured persons.
    Henceforth, firefighters will wait for police if they see no indication of fire or other immediate emergency in a home. They will force their way into a home only if an emergency is obvious.
    In addition, the fire department is considering issuing body army to its firefighters for incidents that could include shots being fired.
    Before Lumpkin was sentenced, the court heard testimony from the surviving firefighter and Ulmschneider’s wife, who described the trauma the shooting created in their lives.
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Copyright Pirates Arrested
While Recording Movie

     The arrest last week of two accused copyright pirates at a Maryland movie theater brought home to the Washington area how the Internet can threaten artistic property.
     A Motion Picture Association of America investigator reported to police that the men were recording the latest of the "Fast and Furious" movies at Hoyts Movie Theater in Linthicum.
     "Both suspects were found to be wearing recording harnesses under their shirts that were actively recording," an Anne Arundel County police statement said.
     The movie association investigator told police he had been observing the "piracy suspects" when they entered the theater and started recording an early screening of "The Fate of the Furious." Pirates typically post the stolen material on Internet sites where viewers can see it after paying a fee with a credit card number.
     Police seized the harnesses and recording equipment after arresting the men, identified as Troy Montgomery Cornish, 38, and Floyd Lee Buchanan, 35, both of the Baltimore area.
     They were charged with unauthorized recording in a movie theater.
     The U.S. movie industry estimates that it loses between $6 billion and more than $18 billion a year to copyright pirating, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Much of it comes from illegal DVDs bearing the movies and from unauthorized downloads.

Washington's Gentrification Sparks
Office-to-Residential Conversions

     Washington's move toward gentrification is fueling a wave of building conversions from offices to residential properties.
     The office rental market is lukewarm but the residential market is steaming hot, meaning there's more money for developers in condominiums and apartments than in leases to businesses, according to financial industry companies.
     Homes sales in Washington are up nearly 27 percent over a year ago, according to financial services company Evergreen Private Finance.
     By contrast, vacancy rates for offices and commercial buildings are higher than the national average and continuing to rise.
     "A substantial volume of office space is completing development in the coming years, suggesting prices will remain flat or dip further," the Evergreen Private Finance report says.
     A key factor is the move toward more residential is younger people looking for apartments in mixed-use properties and live/work neighborhoods. In other words, they want to be able to walk to work.
     Recent examples of the conversion projects include an office building at 2501 M St. NW being converted to 58 condos with a Nobu restaurant in it. Another one is in Storey Park, where a 346,000-square-foot office and apartment building is being converted to 435 residential units and a 225-room hotel.

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