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Law Requiring Nonprofit Disclosures
Meets Skepticism in Supreme Court


     The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a First Amendment case with far-reaching implications for the Washington region’s nonprofit community and election campaigns.
     The case involves a California law that requires nonprofit organizations to disclose their donors to the state attorney general. 
     Similar laws, which can be found in Hawaii, New Jersey and New York, have been considered by state and local lawmakers in the Washington area.
    The law is opposed by coalitions of nonprofit organizations that say the disclosures could dry up their contributions and trample the privacy of donors. The Arlington-based Americans for Prosperity Foundation is a lead appellant.
     The law’s supporters say it is a hedge against “dark money” that can sway elections and allow corporations to evade responsibility for influence-peddling.
     Nonprofits that solicit donations must identify their substantial donors to the California attorney general or lose their legal status as nonprofits under the law.
     The attorney for the nonprofits, Derek L. Shaffer, told the Supreme Court the law is a "totally gratuitous First Amendment violation."
     Justice Samuel Alito largely agreed, saying nonprofits that take "unpopular" positions might have "reasons to fear reprisal” against their contributors, even when they are truthfully expressing their opinions. 
     The Supreme Court’s liberal justices admitted to misgivings about the breadth of the law but said they understood the reasoning behind it, namely concern over dark money.
     Dark money refers to political spending by nonprofit organizations that are not bound by the donation limits imposed on political candidates. They can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals and unions without needing to report it to state governments.
     As a result, donors can spend money to influence elections without voters knowing the source of it.
     Justice Stephen Breyer expressed concern that the Americans for Prosperity Foundation case "is really a stalking case" for campaign finance laws.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Women and Minorities Targeted
For Access to More Patents


     A Howard University law professor is urging the U.S. Senate to make access to patents more accessible to women and minorities.
     When they profit from their inventions, the whole nation could reap the economic rewards, said Lateef Mtima of Howard University School of Law.
     “Systemic inequities relating to race, gender, socio-economic class and even geographic situs  … have at times stunted the social efficacy of our [intellectual property] system,” Mtima said in his testimony.
     He testified recently to a Senate subcommittee looking at why women and minorities are left behind in the search for new technologies.
    The ultimate goal of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on intellectual property is to create incentives for more women and minorities to participate in developing inventions.
     Lawmakers were motivated partly by recent studies that show a wide gap in the number of U.S. patents issued to women and minorities compared with White men.
     Patents are property titles that give the owners a legal right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention for a limited period of years while they try to market them. The owners range from individuals to large research institutions and corporations.
     A U.S. Patent and Trademark Office report last year showed that women earn only 12.8 percent of patents.
     The disparity is even greater for Latinos and African Americans. Only 3.3 percent of the patents granted in 2016 went to Hispanics while 0.4 percent were granted to Black or African Americans.
     At the Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Mtima said in his testimony, “Whatever the causes, it is critical that we appreciate that whatever the opportunity loss to individual innovators and creators, the greatest loss is to our nation as a whole.”
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Judge Orders Prince George’s Police
To Revise Their Promotion Procedure


     Promotions for Prince George’s County police are on hold as they await revisions by an independent consultant on the exams officers must take to advance their careers.
     A lawsuit by Black and Hispanic officers led a federal judge to rule the exams had a disparate impact on minority candidates for promotion, particularly at the level of police officer first class and corporal.
     Disparate impact normally refers to practices in employment, housing, and education that adversely affect one group of people of a protected class more than another. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other laws extend the protections based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex and disability.
     In this case, the plaintiffs pursued their claims as a 14th Amendment equal protection issue. As a result, they had to prove discriminatory intent and disparate impact to prevail.
    U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang wrote in his ruling there are “notable disparities” in test passage rates on the exam between White officers and Black or Hispanic officers.
    The lawsuit filed in 2018 accuses the Prince George’s County Police Department of systemic racism and job discrimination by disproportionately promoting White officers, partly because of the exams.
     Chuang declined to grant the plaintiffs’ request to halt last month’s promotion exam but did order the county to revise the tests for the next round in October.
    Prince George’s County attorneys denied the disparate impact of the exams. They said the tests were race neutral and given equally to all candidates for promotion, regardless of race.
     The county’s population of 909,000 residents is 64 percent Black and 20 percent Hispanic.
    Chuang wrote that the police department "has been aware of the significant disparities in promotion rates based on race dating back at least to 2012 but has done virtually nothing to address them."
     The 13 officers who sued were represented by Joanna Wasik, an attorney with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
     "This decision is an important step to begin to fix the discriminatory practices at PGPD and make sure that there is an inclusive process for deciding on the right officers to lead the force," Wasik said in a statement.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Government to Pay $1.6 MIllion
To Protesters at 2017 Inauguration


     The D.C. government last week agreed to pay $1.6 million to settle two lawsuits by protesters during the January 2017 presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.
     In one of the lawsuits, six demonstrators represented by the ACLU of the District of Columbia will split $605,000 after D.C. police rounded them up during a sweep to stop vandals near the site of the inauguration ceremony.
     Their lawsuit alleged violations of the First Amendment rights of journalists, legal observers and protesters by the indiscriminate way they were selected for arrest.
    The D.C. government will pay nearly $1 million in a second lawsuit to about 200 others who say they were falsely arrested. Police held them for as much as 16 hours without food, water or restrooms, according to their class action lawsuit.
     Police arrested 234 people during the Inauguration Day protests near Franklin Square at 12th and L streets NW. In addition to breaking windows, the protesters set fires and tried to interrupt Trump’s oath.
     The only convictions were 21 defendants who pleaded guilty before trial. Charges against all the others were dropped after prosecutors were unable to definitively link most defendants to specific acts of vandalism.
     As part of the settlements, police agreed to modify their mass arrest policies. The new policies require police to assign identification numbers on wristbands for each detainee, put their personal possessions in bags and take photos of each defendant along with the arresting officers.
     Another part of the settlement would limit police to rolling stingballs on the ground instead of throwing them in the air, except in extreme circumstances. Stingballs release smoke, rubber pellets and chemical irritants.
     “MPD’s unconstitutional guilt-by-association policing and excessive force, including the use of chemical weapons, not only injured our clients physically but also chilled their speech and the speech of countless others who wished to exercise their First Amendment rights but feared an unwarranted assault by D.C. police,” ACLU-DC Legal Director Scott Michelman said in a statement.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Prince George’s County Charges
Five Firefighters with Arson


     Prince George’s County prosecutors are pursuing charges against five firefighters accused of setting fires in vacant houses to create an opportunity for more work for themselves.
     Preliminary evidence indicates they were trying to create an opportunity for a friend to get hired by the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department.
    The charges are based on an investigation that started in January 20, after investigators found evidence of arson at a house fire. Further investigation revealed that three previous abandoned house fires also had been set.
     Tips from neighbors and a pattern of evidence led police and prosecutors to execute more than 60 warrants at the fire station and against individual firefighters. Much of the evidence seized in the searches consisted of emails and text messages that led to the five accused firefighters.
     Most county employees are loyal to their oaths to serve the public good, said State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy. 
     “When they violate that oath, we have to take action,” she said at a press conference last Friday.
     The indictments list arson and misconduct in office as the most common charges against the five firefighters, who are named in court filings as:
-- 26-year-old Jeremy Hawkins of North Potomac, Maryland. 
-- 19-year-old Nicholas Holzberger of Riverdale, Maryland.
-- 24-year-old George Smith of Purcellville, Virginia.
-- 24-year-old Jay St. John of Centreville, Virginia.
-- 21-year-old Cole Vazquez of Bowie, Maryland.
     “It is unacceptable and it’s disheartening and it makes us angry,” Braveboy said.

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