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

Supreme Court Says Bladensburg Cross
Can Stay on Public Land as a Memorial

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a World War I memorial cross can remain on public land at an intersection in Bladensburg, Maryland.

The cross "has become a prominent community landmark, and its removal or radical alteration at this date would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions," the court’s majority opinion says.

The court ruled on a challenge from the American Humanist Association, which filed a lawsuit asking that the 40-foot high concrete Bladensburg Peace Cross be taken down. The group argued that a Christian cross on public land maintained at taxpayer expense represented government recognition of a religious denomination.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment forbids the government from taking formal action “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

A federal appeals court agreed with the American Humanist Association. The appeals court ruled the cross should be moved to a private location and taxpayer funding should cease.

In reversing the decision, the Supreme Court decision written by Justice Samuel Alito said, “The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent. For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices for our nation.”

Tearing it down would not advance the First Amendment’s requirement of religious liberty, the Supreme Court said.

The ruling could have large implications for other religious symbols, particularly crosses on public property and Christmas decorations. 
If they are intended as memorials or designed for holiday celebrations, they could remain, even if taxpayers foot the bill.

If they are intended to promote Christianity, the Supreme Court ruling would not protect them. More likely, they would need to be taken down.

The Bladensburg Peace Cross was erected after World War I by mothers of soldiers killed in the war. The American Legion and several religious groups supported keeping it at the Bladensburg intersection.

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

D.C. Attorney General Joins Suit
Against T-Mobile-Sprint Merger

The District of Columbia’s attorney general joined nine states in filing a lawsuit last week to block a planned merger of telecommunications giants T-Mobile and Sprint.

They argue the merger would violate antitrust laws, threaten healthy competition and hurt service to consumers.

The $26 billion merger is winning support from the Federal Communications Commission but words of warning from the Justice Department.

“This anticompetitive merger will harm every District resident with a cell phone plan, especially our lower-income consumers, for whom even a small price increase can mean not having cell service at all,” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement. “If this merger is allowed to go through, it will lead to higher prices and lower quality wireless service across the board for all District consumers, not just those who use Sprint or T-Mobile.”

Racine’s opinion is different from the FCC, which has said the deal would create greater efficiencies and lead to improved service for consumers, such as next-generation wireless services called 5G. The FCC is scheduled for a vote on the T-Mobile-Sprint merger next month.

The companies silenced their early critics at the FCC by offering to preserve some prices and rate plans. They agreed to sell off Sprint’s prepaid phone business, called Boost Mobile, to a third party competitor.

However, Racine and the other attorneys general say the combined company is unlikely to live up to its promises.

"Direct competition between Sprint and T-Mobile has led to lower prices, higher quality service and more features for consumers,” the attorneys’ general lawsuit says. "The cumulative effect of this merger, therefore, will be to decrease competition in the retail mobile wireless telecommunications services market and increase prices that consumers pay for mobile wireless telecommunications services.”

The attorneys general from Maryland and Virginia also joined the lawsuit. They base their case on Section 7 of the Clayton Act, which bans mergers that would diminish competition in interstate trade.

“In some areas, including in the New York City metropolitan area, the combined company’s share of subscribers would exceed 50 percent,” the lawsuit says. “The combined market share of Sprint and T-Mobile would result in an increase in market concentration that significantly exceeds the thresholds at which mergers are presumed to violate the antitrust laws.”

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

Convicted National Security Advisor
Hires New Attorney Before Sentencing

Former national security advisor Michael Flynn recently hired a new Washington, D.C. attorney to represent him as he faces sentencing on a charge of lying during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

He dumped Big Law firm Covington & Burling LLP to replace them with Sidney Powell, a former federal prosecutor who accused the special counsel of a conspiracy against President Donald Trump.

Powell has called special counsel Robert Mueller and his team "creeps on a mission" to take down the president.

"Attorney Powell is honored to represent General Flynn, and he will continue to cooperate with the government in all matters," Powell’s office said in a statement.

While he still was represented by Covington & Burling, Flynn pleaded guilty to giving false statements to the special counsel’s investigators about his discussions with Russia’s ambassador. He also agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team.

His ongoing cooperation with the investigation led U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to delay sentencing the former Army lieutenant general during a hearing in December. However, Sullivan made no effort to conceal his outrage at Flynn.

"I'm not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense," Sullivan said.

Flynn admitted to lying when he concealed from the FBI his discussions with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about possible Russian retaliation against U.S. sanctions.

He also lied about his discussions with Kislyak on delaying or defeating a vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution.

He has been accused of making "materially false statements and omissions" in reports to the Justice Department about work his lobbying company, Flynn Intel Group Inc., did for the Turkish government.

The case is U.S. v. Flynn, case number 1:17-cr-00232, in 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.

D.C. Prep School Student Appeals
After Poor References to Colleges

A former Washington, D.C. high school student is awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether to grant her a hearing on her complaint that her prestigious prep school forced her into an inferior college.

She says racism explains the mediocre grades and references to colleges she received from Sidwell Friends School.

The petition filed by Dayo Adetu says she "was the only student in her graduating class of 126 students who did not receive unconditional acceptance from any educational institution to which she applied.”

Sidwell Friends is an elite private school whose students have included Chelsea Clinton, both daughters of former President Barack Obama and the granddaughter of former Vice President Joe Biden.

Adetu, an African-American, said in her Supreme Court petition that "Sidwell has long been perceived as a 'feeder-school' to Ivy League institutions and other top universities."

She initially applied to top-tier universities like Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Cornell and Johns Hopkins. She was rejected by all of them.

During her second round of applications, she was accepted by the University of Pennsylvania in 2015. She has since graduated.

The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in January Adetu appears to be claiming emotional damages but that she failed to show "any adverse action taken by Sidwell."

ACLU Accuses D.C. Police
Of Blocking Video Release

The Washington, D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is accusing the Metropolitan Police Department of trying to block the release of stop-and-frisk video the organization seeks while it investigates suspicions of racial bias.

The ACLU asked for information about the race or ethnicity of persons subjected to traffic stops in a Freedom of Information Act request. D.C. law requires the police to keep records of suspects’ racial background.

The police responded that the information could be collected only be reviewing 31,521 five-minute videos of the police stops. The MPD offered to turn over information from the video to the ACLU but only if it would pay more than $3.6 million.

“Based on a prior bill we received from MPD for body-worn camera footage production at $23 per minute of video, the bill for 31,521 five-minute videos would exceed $3.6 million: a preposterous amount to get access to data that should be free to the public,” said Scott Michelman, the ACLU of the District of Columbia’s legal co-director.

Michelman is lead counsel in a lawsuit, Black Lives Matter D.C. v. Bowser, that alleges violations of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act. The pending lawsuit was filed in D.C. Superior Court in May 2018.

The D.C. Council passed the NEAR Act in 2016 to help reduce an alarming rise in homicides. One part of the Act requires training for MPD officers on community policing, bias-free policing and cultural competency. It also requires surveys and data collection to assess the relationship between MPD and District residents, which includes tracking trends in crime, police stops and use of force.

The ACLU petitioned for a court order to compel the MPD to collect and report stop-and-frisk data. The court’s decision is pending.

The ACLU informed the court last week about the MPD’s response to their Freedom of Information Act request while repeating a plea for an order.

A spokesman for Mayor Muriel Bowser said the police department is completing an information technology upgrade to help respond to information requests from the public. He also said the mayor’s office always has sought transparency.