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

​Supreme Court Begins New Term
With a Conservative Super-Majority


     The U.S. Supreme Court started a new session last week under a cloud of suspicion that the justices might grant a windfall of decisions that favor conservatives.
     Some of the criticism is coming from Congress as Democrats accuse the Court of granting too many “shadow docket” orders.
     In other words, they say the Supreme Court is bypassing the need for hearings to rule on the merits of a case and instead unilaterally issuing orders.
     Justice Samuel Alito responded to the allegation by calling it “very misleading.”
    Nevertheless, it is taking on urgency as the Court considers major cases on abortion, gun rights and religious freedom. This term, the Court is operating with a 6-to-3 split of conservatives compared with liberals for the first time in decades.
     Advocates for the issues, such as the abortion rights activists who rallied in Washington, D.C. last week, say the conservative super-majority could create big shifts in the law by overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision, expanding Second Amendment gun rights and eliminating a ban on public funding for religious education.
     The abortion decision is likely to be the centerpiece ruling in the Court’s current term.
    The justices are scheduled to hear arguments Dec. 1 on Mississippi’s law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. So far, Mississippi has lost in lower courts that said the law violates Supreme Court precedent, which allows states to regulate but not prohibit abortions before a fetus could survive outside the womb.
    If Mississippi wins, it would have the effect of overturning most of Roe v. Wade. The Court said in the 1973 ruling that a woman’s decision to have an abortion is protected as a Fourth Amendment privacy decision.
     Next month, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a challenge to New York’s restrictions on carrying a gun in public.
     In previous terms, the Supreme Court turned away gun rights cases by letting lower court decisions stand. This term is starting with Amy Coney Barrett, who started as a Supreme Court justice one year ago. She is known as a gun rights advocate.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Walter Reed’s Head of Prosthetics
Sentenced for Receiving Kickbacks


    The former head of prosthetics and orthotics at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is serving eight months in prison after accepting cash and gifts from a salesman seeking government contracts.
    The judge also ordered David Laufer, 64, to pay nearly $8,000 in restitution. He pleaded guilty to violating his duty to avoid accepting gratuities in exchange for business, more commonly known as kickbacks.
     Two other men have been convicted in the scheme that implicated Germantown-based Pinnacle Orthopedic Services. Walter Reed made more than $25 million of purchases from the company over at least four years.
     The Bethesda-based hospital serves U.S. military personnel, some of them grievously wounded and needing prosthetic devices.
     Part of Laufer’s job entailed selecting contractors for medical materials. They included Pinnacle.
    From 2012 through 2016, prosecutors say he received kickbacks from Pinnacle that included cash, airline travel, lodging and entertainment tickets.
    Laufer admitted as part of his plea bargain that he turned away business from other prosthetics and orthotics manufacturers and distributors. Pinnacle acted as a clearinghouse for other companies, but with a significant markup for itself.
     The paper trail for tracking improprieties was complicated by the prosthetics department’s use of Blanket Purchase Agreements that allowed Walter Reed employees to buy materials without charging credit cards or using separate contracts for each purchase.
     The corruption scheme prompted Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to request a Pentagon review of Walter Reed’s prosthetics department.
     The lawmakers, who sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote in a letter to the acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs that the years-long scandal “indicates broader problems related to organizational culture and ethics.”
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Becomes Main Forum
For Vaccine Mandate Disputes


     Washington, D.C. is shaping up as the prime legal battleground for vaccine mandates as a November 1 deadline approaches for all local teachers, childcare workers and some federal employees to get vaccinated or lose their jobs.
     Vaccine mandates won the backing of the Supreme Court this month when Justice Sonia Sotomayor refused to block New York City's requirement that its public school teachers and employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.
      Nevertheless, other anti-vaxxers are pledging to continue their resistance, even if it means starting a new career.
     Ten of them filed a class action lawsuit late last month in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. They include D.C.-based military personnel, a Secret Service agent and other federal employees.
     Their lawsuit seeks an injunction to block Biden administration vaccine mandates. The complaint says, “Americans have remained idle for far too long as our nation’s elected officials continue to satisfy their voracious appetites for power.”
     The plaintiffs say the mandates violate First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom as well as federal statutes.
     Even within the Secret Service details that protect Biden, some agents have expressed their opposition to the mandate.
     Originally, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser planned to allow anti-vaxxers to opt out of the mandate as long as they agreed to weekly COVID-19 testing. Her revised order late last month eliminates the option for testing instead of vaccination.
     The revised rule also applies to all workers who have regular contact with children, even in the private sector. The original rule applied only to public schools and other publicly-funded institutions.
     Meanwhile, Biden administration officials tried to assure a Senate panel recently that the nation’s schools are following the right strategy to remain open while minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19.
     The new school year is two months old but controversies still rage in lawsuits and municipal meetings about whether students are becoming the hosts that keep the pandemic going.
     Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said the funding and equipment are adequate to protect teachers and students. The main obstacle is ensuring that school systems and their contractors distribute it properly.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal
To Grant D.C. Voting Rights


     The Supreme Court last week declined to allow the District of Columbia to have a voting member of Congress in another setback for the nation’s capital to acquire many of the rights of states.
    The ruling came in a lawsuit by 11 D.C. residents who argued they are being denied the constitutional rights of American citizens when they pay taxes but their congressional delegate is not allowed to vote.
    Their claim of taxation without representation “violates the constitutional guarantees of equal protection, due process, and the constitutional right of association,” says the lawsuit titled Castañon et al v. United States of America.
     Eleanor Holmes Norton is the District of Columbia’s only member of Congress. She holds seats on House of Representatives committees but cannot vote on any of the bills presented to lawmakers.
     The Supreme Court’s summary disposition did not explain the justices’ reasoning. It said only, “On appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the judgment is affirmed.”
     The plaintiffs won support from many of the same groups that support the movement for statehood of the District of Columbia. They include the ACLU, League of Women Voters, DC Vote, Neighbors United for D.C. Statehood and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
      The lower court decision acknowledged possible unfairness for D.C. residents who lack a voting member of Congress but added that only Congress could grant that right.
     The District of Columbia is a federal district under the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of Congress. Legislative proposals to grant D.C. voting rights in Congress have been introduced in Congress several times since 1978 but never made it to a final vote.

Appeals Court Reviews Negotiated
Settlement of Attorney Discipline
 

     The District of Columbia Bar’s disciplinary office is awaiting a decision by an appeals court on whether it has authority to negotiate lesser penalties for lawyers facing disbarment.
     The District of Columbia Court of Appeals is considering a case in which a lawyer is accused of "reckless misappropriation" of client funds.
     His Bar license was suspended for three years. Normally misappropriation cases result in disbarment.
     However, the attorney, Paul Mensah, negotiated a lesser penalty with the D.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
     Some D.C. Bar Counsel representatives say the punishment might be too lenient.
     "What is the public perception going to be if we say that, 'Here's a lawyer who has engaged in misconduct and is willing to be immediately suspended,'" Hamilton Fox, a D.C. disciplinary lawyer, told the three-judge panel. "Removing that lawyer more quickly serves the interest of the disciplinary system."
     A key issue is how much discretion the Office of Disciplinary Counsel has in negotiating attorney punishments.
     The Court of Appeals decision is expected to turn on a 1990 ruling of the same court that said disbarment should be the penalty for reckless or intentional misappropriation of funds unless there are "extraordinary" circumstances.
     The extraordinary circumstances in Mensah’s case appear to be his remorse and attempt to make amends to his client. He was accused of misappropriating client funds in a personal injury matter and a debt collection lawsuit that settled in 2017 for $15,200.
     Mensah’s attorney told the appeals court, "This case is the model for what this court wants to set forth for the Bar, knowing that he has a problem with this trust account, admits to it, owns it, has remorse, hires a bookkeeper and makes sure that everything is correct."
     The case is In the Matter of: Paul T. Mensah, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, No. 20-BG-560.