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 ​​​​​​​​​​​The Latest Legal News & Industry Information

Virginia’s Governor to Sign
Bill to Abolish Death Penalty

     Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said this week he plans to sign a bill to repeal his state’s death penalty.
     The repeal makes Virginia the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty. It also represents a historic turn of events for the state that has executed more criminal convicts than any other state.
     The Democratic majority who voted to approve the bill argued that it unfairly punished persons of color, the indigent and mentally ill more than anyone else. Republicans argued the death penalty would be deserved by convicts who commit the most heinous crimes.
     “It is vital that our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably. We all know the death penalty doesn’t do that. It is inequitable, ineffective, and inhumane,” Northam said in a statement with the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader.
     Virginia has executed 113 people since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in the 1976 case of Gregg v. Georgia.
     Previous Supreme Court rulings banned them as “cruel and unusual punishment” that violated the Eighth Amendment.
     The bill means the only two men who remain on Virginia’s death row will have their sentences converted to life in prison.
     The General Assembly’s vote won praise from the advocacy organization Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. They said the Black Lives Matter movement renewed state lawmakers’ willing to abolish the executions.
     Five states executed prisoners in 2020. Amnesty International reported that only 20 of the world’s 195 nation’s allow the death penalty.
     The federal government resumed executions in 2020 with support of former President Donald Trump.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Maryland Bill Would Eliminate
Qualified Immunity for Police

     A new bill pending in the Maryland General Assembly would remove the qualified immunity for police officers who are accused of wrongdoing.
     The proposed legislation would grant private citizens aggrieved by police action broader discretion to sue for damages.
     Other provisions in the bill introduced by Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery) would increase the limit on monetary damages and allow the state to decertify officers found liable in lawsuits. In addition, local jurisdictions would be authorized to cancel officers’ pensions and use the money to pay legal settlements.
     “The ability of officers to claim immunity is the antithesis of accountability and justice, and it perpetuates the challenges that we are facing when it comes to policing,” Wilkins said during a press conference last week.
     Civil rights advocates from the Cato Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP joined to speak in support of her bill.
     Qualified immunity is a legal principle that grants government officials immunity from lawsuits unless the plaintiffs show the officials violated "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." The language of the immunity is taken from the 1982 federal court case of Harlow v. Fitzgerald.
     It is designed to protect officials who "make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions."
     Opponents of Wilkins’ bill include the state Fraternal Order of Police along with associations representing counties and municipalities. They said the bill could punish officers who are making good faith efforts to do their jobs, perhaps making them less willing to help members of the public in dangerous situations.
     They also said during a General Assembly hearing last week that it would be expensive for local jurisdictions. The officers and their jurisdictions would be jointly liable for civil damages under the bill.
     So far, any efforts to remove the qualified immunity of police have failed in every state except for Colorado.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Maryland Inmates Sue in Class Action
After Exposures to Coronavirus

     Inmates at Maryland’s Chesapeake Detention Facility claim in a new class action lawsuit that unsanitary conditions created a COVID-19 outbreak that infected 234 employees and prisoners.
     The lawsuit says guards rarely wore masks and healthy inmates were put into contaminated cells that were not sanitized after infected persons used them.
     The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore shows again that jails and prisons in the Washington area have suffered some of the worst of the pandemic, which is why D.C. officials put inmates on a priority list for vaccinations.
     Attorneys for the roughly 400 inmates at the Chesapeake Detention Facility say the outbreak in detention facilities proves prison officials place a low priority on protecting the prisoners.
     As an example, they said one of the facility’s strategies for controlling the disease is to put infected persons in solitary confinement, which the lawsuit says hurts their mental health.
     The lawsuit seeks a court order to speed up vaccinations for prisoners. It also asks for more personal protective equipment for inmates as well as measures to prevent mental health problems when they are segregated from the rest of the population because of illness.
     Other examples of health hazards mentioned in the lawsuit include the case of a woman placed into a cell with men in other cells on both sides who had tested positive for COVID-19. In another case, a male inmate was assigned a cellmate with clear symptoms of infection, such as coughing and fever, the lawsuit says.
     The complaint quotes the man saying, “I was sleeping with my mask on. I tried to clean my cell. But I couldn’t really sanitize it.”
     Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services officials said in a statement that the state’s 21 detention facilities follow Maryland Health Department guidelines for halting the spread of disease.
     The procedures include frequent testing, isolating infected persons and required social distancing among inmates.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Sues AT&T for Alleged Breach
Of Cellphone and Internet Contract

     The District of Columbia is suing AT&T for what the lawsuit describes as overcharges for cellphone and Internet services to the city.
     AT&T agreed in a contract to provide telecommunications services at the "lowest cost available."
     The lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court said the company’s overcharges meant taxpayers were forced to pay the bill for services the city did not need. It estimated damages “into the millions of dollars.”
     City officials contracted with AT&T in 2012 in a deal they said would save them money. The contract ended in 2018.
     The lawsuit says AT&T breached the contract in three ways, namely by overbilling, by failing to offer standardized base rate plans and by not providing quarterly reports on how the company provided price optimization.
     AT&T sent the city reports but they were not the required quarterly reports that explained how the city’s pricing was saving money. They consisted of "an array of other reports using similar and misleading phrases like 'plan optimization' and 'rate plan analysis'"
     "This made it appear as though it was complying with the contract, even though the reports did not include the data or information necessary to be a price optimization report," the city said.
     D.C. officials were notified of what they allege were AT&T’s misleading reports by a city contractor who works in the telecommunications industry. The lawsuit alleges violations of the False Claims Act.
     The lawsuit is filed as District of Columbia, ex rel., Jeffrey Smith v. AT&T Mobility National Accounts, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

D.C. Judge Says Landlords Can File
For Evictions Despite Moratorium

     A D.C. Superior Court judge last week refused to extend the city’s moratorium on landlords filing for evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
     The ruling by Judge Anthony Epstein responded to a motion by the city to stay the eviction filings. Attorneys for the city argued the filings would increase the mortality rate among residents who could become infected with the disease.
     Epstein ruled that the city failed to show “that a stay would prevent harm” to tenants. He partially sided with landlords who said they were suffering potentially catastrophic financial losses by their inability to collect all the rent due to them. They also said their best tenants are endangered by disagreeable and potentially dangerous fellow tenants.
     D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and the D.C. Council enacted the moratorium last summer as job losses mounted during the pandemic. The moratorium bans both physical removal of tenants from their homes and blocks landlords from filing evictions against tenants.
     The judge ruled that landlords have a constitutional First Amendment right to file for evictions. However, the city’s ban on physical evictions will allow tenants to remain in their homes.
     In other words, the court proceedings can continue but the tenants can stay in their homes even if they lose their cases.
     Epstein said there were no studies or other evidence the court proceedings could lead to a higher death rate among evicted tenants.
     The “District has not offered such a study, and its contention that conducting hearings in eviction cases would increase morbidity and mortality due to COVID-19 amounts to speculation based on a handful of anecdotes of limited relevance,” the judge wrote.