The Latest Legal News & Industry Information

Family of Police Shooting Victim
Says Investigation Takes Too Long

by Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
     The family of a man killed by Washington, D.C. police is asking for results in a criminal investigation of the officer who shot him.
     The family of Terrence Sterling says the officer killed him after he accidentally hit the door of a patrol car with his motorcycle.
     Police say the officer was getting out of the car to stop the motorcycle after Sterling was seen operating it erratically. They also say Sterling appeared to ram the police car’s door intentionally, prompting the officer to fire shots into Sterling’s neck and back.
     The investigation into the Sept. 11, 2016 shooting near the Third Street tunnel in Northwest D.C. is continuing, which is part of the reason the family is complaining.
     Critics of the way police handle officer-involved shootings say the Sterling case is another example of the U.S. Attorney’s office and D.C. police engaging in excessive delays with their investigations.
     Similar criticisms were found in a report last year by an independent auditor hired by city officials.
     The auditor reviewed 21 fatal shootings by police from 2009 through 2014. Prosecutors averaged more than 19 months to complete their investigations.
     None of the investigations resulted in criminal charges for the officers who killed someone.
     The auditor recommended that investigations of police killings be completed within six months.
     The U.S. Attorney’s Office answered the report by saying scheduling conflicts between multiple agencies that participate in the investigations mean six months is an unrealistic deadline. Instead, the U.S. Attorney’s Office recommended nine months as the goal for completing investigations.     
     Sterling’s family has filed a lawsuit seeking $50 million against the city and D.C. police. They say police quickly complete investigations when police are not accused in killings but take their time when their own officers are involved, apparently in an attempt to evade liability.
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D.C. Council Considers Changing
Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act

by Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
     The Washington, D.C. government is considering changes to the Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) as complaints increase about tenants using the law to extract money from landlords.
     The law gives tenants a first right of refusal to purchase a property when the landlord decides to sell it.
     The law also could be abused by tenants if they decide to delay a property sale until the owner gives them money to relinquish their TOPA rights, according to critics of the legislation.
     The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors has been collecting stories from real estate agents about TOPA abuses. GCAAR officials plan to present them to the D.C. Council in hope of getting the law changed.
     Some of the stories tell about low-income residents being stuck in buildings that are inadequately maintained because TOPA has interfered with the owners’ ability to sell a property. Instead, the owners are forced to keep the buildings as rental properties despite lacking adequate income to operate them properly.
     The D.C. Council enacted TOPA in 1980 to protect renters’ rights in a city where more than 30 percent of the residents’ rent their homes.
     It slowed tendencies of developers to purchase low-income housing, convert it to a higher rent property and expel tenants who could not afford to pay more.
     Although TOPA relieved many problems caused by developers who had no concerns for low-income residents, it created others.
     In some cases, tenants would exercise their right to purchase a property but would have no means of paying for it. They also would sell their rights to purchase to third parties, such as other developers.
     In cases where tenants sell TOPA rights, a sale of the property can be held up for long periods of time while the purchasers of the rights decide what to do with the buildings.
     The sales of TOPA rights occasionally have produced bidding wars, which was not what the D.C. Council intended when council members approved the law.
     Some developers call abuses of TOPA “tenant blackmail.”
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Justice Department Says D.C. and Maryland
Lack Standing for Lawsuit Against Trump

by Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
    The Justice Department is saying plaintiffs in lawsuits like the one filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C. this month lack standing to sue the president for his business dealings.
    The Justice Department filing responded to a lawsuit that says government payments to Trump’s business empire violate the emoluments clause of the Constitution.
    D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh say Trump is using his role as president to attract business from foreign and domestic governments to his hotels, including the Trump International Hotel a short walk from the White House.
    The attorneys general say local governments in Maryland and Washington feel pressured to give special treatment to Trump’s businesses, thereby drawing revenue away from other companies.
    Racine and Frosh are asking the U.S. District Court in Maryland for a court order blocking Trump from receiving any money beyond his salary as president.
    The emoluments clause forbids the president from receiving any payments from domestic governments and bans gifts or money from foreign governments unless Congress approves.
    Racine and Frosh say they have standing to sue because their citizens would be hurt if payments to Trump’s businesses influence how he allocates federal funds.
    The lawsuit filed by Racine and Frosh was the second against the president alleging violations of the emoluments clause. The first was filed by a private advocacy group. A third was filed this week by Democrats in Congress.
    Trump has dismissed allegations of a conflict-of-interest as partisan politics by Democrats. Both Racine and Frosh are Democrats. Trump is a Republican.
    Trump turned over management of his businesses to a trust overseen by his two oldest sons when he was elected president. His sons said they would donate profits earned from foreign customers to the U.S. Treasury.
    The Justice Department argues that the plaintiffs cannot prove enough specific harm from Trump’s businesses to claim standing to sue. The government attorneys plan to request a dismissal of the lawsuits.
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Study Shows Higher Accident Rates
In States with Legalized Marijuana

     Personal injury attorneys in the District of Columbia should expect more business from traffic accident lawsuits, according to results from a new industry study.
     The Highway Loss Data institute reports that collision claims have risen an average of three percent in states that legalized recreational use of marijuana.
     In the District of Columbia, residents can legally possess as much as two ounces of marijuana after a 2015 change in the law.
     Previous studies about the effects of marijuana on drivers have been inconclusive. Some showed marijuana use doubles the risk of a traffic accident. A recent federal study found no effect on driving risks.
     The Highway Loss Data Institute compared collision reports in Colorado, Oregon and Washington with surrounding states before and after recent changes in the law. Colorado, Oregon and Washington have each legalized recreational marijuana but the surrounding states continue to make it illegal.
     “The combined-state analysis shows that the first three states to legalize recreational marijuana have experienced more crashes,” says Matt Moore, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, a research organization for the insurance industry. “The individual state analyses suggest that the size of the effect varies by state.”

Alexandria City Council Delays Vote
On New Business Improvement District

     The Alexandria City Council voted this week to delay a decision on whether to organize a business improvement district (BID) until no later than October to give residents more time to comment on the proposal.
     The controversy involves a tax that 735 property owners would be forced to pay for the opportunity to benefit from the marketing and downtown beautification the BID could offer.
     The tax would be levied at ten cents per $100 of assessed value, which would raise about $2.2 million a year for BID activities.
     The City Council is considering organizing a BID in response to an economic study that shows retail stores in Old Town need to coordinate their marketing to be able to compete successfully in the Washington area’s tough business community.
     The proposal calls for the city to organize the BID but then turn over control to a 25-member board that would negotiate with the city for services.
     Mayor Allison Silberberg is one of the Council members warning against a hasty approval. She said enough members of the business community have expressed opposition to a BID in emails to her office that city officials need to listen to more of their opinions.

Big Referral Fees for Little Work

   Do you know someone who wants to sell a home, office or other real estate?
   If you do, you could earn thousands of dollars with a quick phone call or e-mail. The Legal Forum pays a base fee of $1,500 for referrals to sellers’ property that sells for at least $200,000. Each $100,000 of value to the property over $200,000 gives the person making the referral an extra $100. A $700,000 dollar property value, for example, would earn a referral fee of $2,000.
   Your only obligation is to phone or e-mail Tom Ramstack with the name, address, phone number or e-mail address of the seller. In most cases, it should take no more than 10 minutes of your time.
   The referral fees are offered to anyone in the District of Columbia but only real estate licensees in other states. However, non-real estate agents can receive credits equal to the referral fee toward the purchase or sale of property in Virginia and Maryland.
   For more information, contact Tom Ramstack of The Legal Forum,, at phone: 202-479-7240 or e-mail:
   The brokerage for the Legal Forum is Fairfax Realty at 3091 Fairview Park Drive, Unit 100, Falls Church, VA 22042, phone: (703) 533-8660. 

Legal Advice

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