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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.
     The hearing coincides with President Joe Biden’s recent 19 nominations for federal judgeships, which includes 11 women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
     The Senate already has confirmed U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She appears to have Biden’s support to become the first Black woman he would nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court if a vacancy opens.
     “The best judges are those who understand their limits, who see the law not as a chance to correct the world’s ills but as an opportunity to resolve specific disputes,” Braceras said.
     She referred to strict constructionists when she said, “A nominee to the federal bench must understand that the role of a judge is to apply the law as written in the U.S. Constitution or in statutes passed by Congress, not to rewrite those laws to achieve specific policy objectives.”
     Biden’s nominees represent a big change from presidential predecessor Donald Trump, who succeeded in appointing judges consisting heavily of White men.
     Michael J. McShane, a U.S. district judge from Oregon, said the outreach for a diversity of judges should begin with judicial clerks who are hired from law schools. The clerks often use their experience to get jobs first as U.S. attorneys and later as judges.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

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.
     “The issues raised by Ms. Spears, and countless other victims of conservatorship abuse, is a gross violation of human, reproductive and civil rights,” Free Britney America posted on its website.
     “Ms. Spears' case may be a very public one but it is just one of the thousands where individuals are being overly medicated, forced into labor and their estate stolen. All this, under the court’s eye and approval,” the group says. 
     In a court appearance last month, the 39-year-old pop star asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to grant her greater control over her life.
     Before her case became public in court, she told fans and the media she was happy with her life. She told a different story last month as she described what she said was her father’s oppressive supervision.
     “I want to be able to get married and have a baby,” Spears said in court. “I was told right now in the conservatorship I am not able to get married or have a baby.”  
     The abuses Spears and her witnesses described were enough to compel Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., to ask federal agencies last month to increase oversight of the country’s conservatorship systems.
     Under state laws, conservatorship refers to court-appointed guardians or protectors who manage the financial affairs and sometimes the daily lives of other persons who are unable to properly care for themselves, such as through old age, physical impairment or mental limitations.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

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.
    "This court questions whether the universities' reservation of rights enumerating certain categories of potential changes, plus a catch-all category, permits the universities to make any and all changes imaginable to course programming and educational services," the judge wrote in her ruling. "It likely would be unreasonable, for example, to interpret the reservation clauses so broadly as to permit the universities to decide in the middle of a semester to remove all professors and impose a model of self-directed learning."
     The federal court ruling is likely to provide the case law for numerous other lawsuits by university students nationwide seeking to recover tuition when their in-person learning disappeared.
     Until now, most of the other lawsuits were thrown out. Lawsuits against University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania were dismissed when judges disagreed that their contracts with students could be interpreted as promises of in-person education.
     In a student lawsuit against Harvard University, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani sided with the university when she wrote that "Spring 2020 was not a normal time."
     On similar facts, Friedrich said the “nature and scope” of the universities’ statements about courses implied they made promises they could not keep.
     "At least as alleged in the complaints, however, the plaintiffs have plausibly stated a claim for breach of an implied contract," Friedrich wrote.
     The cases are Payne v. Howard University, case number 1:20-cv-03792, and Montesano v. Catholic University Of America, case number 1:20-cv-01496, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

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.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

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 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.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

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