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

Washington Legal Advocates, Lawmakers
Want Immigration Procedures Changes

     Some of Washington’s prominent legal organizations and lawmakers are scrambling to address the nation’s illegal immigration crisis while courts confront a hopeless backlog of cases.
     They are proposing new procedures to manage the flood of illegal immigrants being held in detention centers while seeking to avoid human rights violations.
     The American Immigration Lawyers Association and Federal Bar Association are urging Congress to separate immigration courts from the Justice Department.
     They say the dysfunction between them is creating due process concerns for the immigrants and slowing the process for hearings and possible deportation.
     They said in their letter to congressional leaders last week that the Justice Department has a conflict of interest because the U.S. attorney general serves “as both lead prosecutor and lead judge in immigration cases.”
     Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress introduced a bill this week to guarantee vulnerable immigrant populations a right to representation by counsel. The right would be given to persons younger than 21 years old, more than 60 years old, nursing or pregnant women, gays and anyone with religious considerations.
     Currently only about 15 percent of immigrants facing court hearings are represented by attorneys, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Many of them do not fall within the protected groups mentioned in the proposed legislation.
     If the bill wins approval, it would provide huge opportunities for immigration lawyers.
     The Justice Department reports that Immigration courts face a backlog of nearly 900,000 cases, up from 768,257 last year and roughly 262,000 in 2010.
     The Equal Justice for Immigrants Act of 2019 introduced in Congress Tuesday would allow asylum applicants to stay in the United States until their court proceedings are completed.
     Rep. Anthony Brown, a Maryland Democrat who sponsored the bill, said it is partly a response to tough immigration policies of President Donald Trump.
     “President Trump’s immigration policy — separating families and utilizing mass detention and deportation — forces migrants into an increasingly broken and politicized immigration legal system where they often are denied their due process rights,” Brown wrote in a letter to fellow House Democrats. “We must provide fair and just treatment to all people within our borders.”
     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 Subpoenas
National Rifle Assn. Financial Records

     The District of Columbia's attorney general is putting political pressure on a gun rights organization over its nonprofit status.
     The attorney general’s office issued subpoenas late last week against the National Rifle Association and its charitable foundation. Both of them are registered in the District of Columbia.
     D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement that his office issued the subpoenas “as part of an investigation into whether these entities violated the District's Nonprofit Act."
     He is questioning the groups’ tax-exempt status following a Washington Post report last month that some members of the board of directors were compensated at levels not normally found among nonprofit organizations.
     Racine’s investigation is only the latest legal trouble being confronted by the National Rifle Association and the NRA Foundation.
     In April, the New York Attorney General issued subpoenas to the NRA and its foundation seeking financial records about its tax-exempt status.
     The D.C. Council also has run afoul of the National Rifle Association in previous years by trying to enact some of the nation’s most restrictive gun ownership and possession laws. They were overturned by court judgments.
     Racine’s statement said, "We are seeking documents from these two nonprofits detailing, among other things, their financial records, payments to vendors and payments to officers and directors."
     The D.C. attorney general is empowered to use court action to dissolve nonprofit organizations that misuse funds or act inconsistent with the mission in their charters.
     William Brewer III, the NRA's attorney, said in a statement that the organization would cooperate with "any appropriate inquiry."
     "The NRA has full confidence in its accounting practices and commitment to good governance," Brewer said.
     The Washington Post reported that 18 of the NRA's 76 board members collected money from the organization, according to its own tax filings, state charitable reports and NRA correspondence. They included a former NFL player who received $400,000 for public outreach and firearms training.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Courts Could Seal Eviction Records
Under Pending D.C. Legislation

     District of Columbia Superior Court would be empowered to seal or expunge records of residents evicted from their homes under pending local legislation.
     D.C. Council member Mary Cheh reintroduced a bill recently that she says would provide “long-needed relief to tenants” who seek affordable housing.
     The bill sets out circumstances that would authorize judges to seal or expunge eviction records. All eviction records would need to be sealed three years after an eviction proceeding is completed in court.
     “An eviction is a permanent mark on a tenant’s record, harming one’s ability to find safe and secure housing,” Cheh said during a recent D.C. Council meeting. “Eviction records can have devastating consequences for tenants. Landlords may charge a higher rent based upon the presumed risk posed by the tenant, or they may refuse to consider the tenant’s application outright.”
     Tenants who have faced homelessness suffer the worst when an eviction record haunts them for years, the Ward 3 Council member said.
     Other provisions of the bill would prohibit housing discrimination based on a tenant’s sealed eviction record. The D.C. Human Rights Act would be amended to ban real estate transactions, such as residential leases, from requiring disclosure of sealed eviction records.
     Cheh said one motivation behind the bill was to protect tenants who might not be completely at fault in an eviction. Examples include tenants whose eviction proceedings are filed in error or who withhold rent to protest poor housing conditions.
     “Situations where a tenant had adhered to his or her lease and to District law should not result in an eviction record for the tenant, let alone a permanent one,” Cheh said.
     The bill is pending before the Council’s government operations and housing committees.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Federal Appeals Court to Rule
On Subpoena Over Trump's Finances

     The Trump administration is awaiting a D.C. federal appeals court ruling on whether U.S. House Democrats can seize the president’s personal financial records from his long-time accounting firm.
     Maryland U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings issued a subpoena in April to accounting firm Mazars USA for eight years of Trump’s financial records. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held a hearing on whether the subpoena should be enforced.
     For the most part, the three-judge panel expressed doubt about whether Trump has authority to interfere with the investigation by the U.S. House Oversight Committee. Cummings is chairman of the committee.
     House general counsel Douglas Letter told the court Trump retained control over his businesses and declined full disclosure about them, which was unusual for a president while still in office.
     “He put himself in this position and we cannot forget that,” Letter said.
     Trump sued to block the subpoena. His attorney said it was unconstitutional because the House committee was exceeding its legislative authority by stepping into law enforcement.
     Judge Patricia Millett said Supreme Court precedent gave broad authority to the investigative powers of Congress. Accepting the argument from Trump’s attorneys that the president should not be bound by the subpoena could mean he is “absolutely immune from oversight,” Millett said.
     The House committee said it needs records of Trump’s real estate holdings, foundation and other investments to investigate ethics and conflict of interest questions. Congress also is considering changes to political disclosure laws.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Sues Marriott Hotels
For "Hiding" Room Prices

     Hotel giant Marriott International Inc. is being sued by the District of Columbia for allegedly “hiding the true price of hotel rooms” through hidden fees.
     The lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court says the company’s pricing policies violate Washington’s consumer protection laws. It seeks compensation for thousands of D.C. residents the lawsuit says were misled by Bethesda-based Marriott.
     The lawsuit says Marriott and other hotel companies advertise one rate on travel websites like Expedia.com and Priceline.com but add more fees when customers begin booking rooms. The fees can range from $9 to $95 per room per day at some of 189 Marriott hotels worldwide, the lawsuit says.
     None of Marriott’s 29 properties in the Washington area are accused of charging the hidden fees. Nevertheless, some D.C. residents have been forced to pay them elsewhere, according to the lawsuit from the D.C. attorney general’s office.
     Sometimes the hidden fees are listed on bills under a generalized heading of “taxes and fees,” the lawsuit says. Other times they are called resort fees, amenity fees or destination fees.
     “Marriott’s motive in continuing this deceptive practice is pure profit,” the lawsuit says. “It has reaped hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade from this deceptive ‘drip pricing.’ The District brings this action to force Marriott to advertise up-front to consumers the true prices of its hotel rooms.”
     D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement that the increasing tendency of consumers to use travel websites for price comparison increases the importance for Marriott and other hotels to advertise honest room rates.
     He accuses Marriott of violating the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive trade practices. The lawsuit follows an investigation into the hotel industry’s pricing practices by the attorneys general of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
     “In some cases, Marriott even leads consumers to believe that resort fees are charges imposed by the government,” Racine said.

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