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

Airbnb Cancels Reservations
Of Potential D.C. Troublemakers

     Airbnb’s announcement last week that ii canceled or blocked all reservations in the Washington area around the time of Inauguration Day risks entangling the company in lawsuits by angry customers.
     The online vacation housing rental company said it had linked some reservations to “numerous individuals who are either associated with known hate groups or otherwise involved in the criminal activity at the Capitol Building.”
     Airbnb’s announcement coincides with FBI warnings that violent hate groups plan potentially illegal action during the inauguration. Local officials are telling travelers to stay away from the Washington area until calm is restored.
     The company said it would refund guests and reimburse hosts for the canceled reservations.
     The bigger question for Airbnb is whether its move into politics could lead to lawsuits that allege either breaches of contract or violations of free speech rights.
     Airbnb’s announcement said the company was responding to reports “regarding armed militias and known hate groups that are attempting to travel and disrupt the Inauguration.”
     Generally, local and federal law allows merchants to refuse service for any reason other than civil rights issues, such as race, religion, national origin, gender or disability. The main federal law is the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
     Contracts attorneys say the law often does not stop plaintiffs when they believe a refusal of service violates their First Amendment right to speak freely and to assemble for political dissent.
     "Many common reasons for denying a person service is if they are creating an unsafe or hostile environment," said Matthew Kreitzer, an attorney with Booth & McCarthy in Winchester, Virginia, who was quoted in a blog of the online business insurance marketplace Insureon.
     He advises allowing police to get rid of troublemakers when possible but otherwise keeping good records of any bothersome incidents with customers.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Virginia Lawmakers Set to Abolish
Long-Standing Death Penalty

     A Virginia General Assembly bill introduced last week to abolish the death penalty won quick support from the governor in a state that has led the nation in the number of convicts given lethal injections.
     Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam spoke in favor of the bill in the same week that a man convicted of murdering seven people in Richmond was put to death.
     During Northam’s State of the Commonwealth Address to a virtual joint meeting of the General Assembly, he said, “But when we all agree that a crime deserves the strongest punishment we can give, it’s still vital to make sure our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably. We know the death penalty doesn’t do that. But make no mistake—if you commit the most heinous crimes, you should spend the rest of your days in prison.
     “But here are the facts about the death penalty. Virginia has executed more people than any other state—more than 1,300 people. And here’s another truth: a person is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death when the victim is white, than when the victim is Black.”
     With a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate, as well as a Democratic governor, the bills, SB 1165 and HB 1779, are nearly certain to pass, ending a four century tradition of the death penalty in Virginia.
     Among the supporters for abolishing the death penalty is the advocacy group Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
     “The death penalty in Virginia is a failed government program,” the organization said in a statement to The Well News. “It is expensive, unnecessary and does nothing to deter violent crime.”
     Nevertheless, some Republicans continue to insist the death penalty should remain as a crime deterrent.
     One of them is Republican Delegate Rob Bell, who says the death penalty should be an option for the family members of murder victims to help them give closure.
     Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty. Three others -- California, Oregon and Pennsylvania -- have enacted moratoriums on the punishment. The other states still allow it.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

College Sports Faces Bribery Scandal
After Conviction of Adidas Marketers

     College sports are being dragged through another scandal after a federal appeals court last week upheld the convictions of three Adidas sportswear company executives for paying bribes to basketball recruits to direct them to specific universities.
     The bribes were supposed to ensure the recruits signed with Adidas-sponsored schools. If they later turned pro, they also agreed to endorse Adidas products.
     Federal prosecutors successfully argued the marketing scheme violated NCAA rules, similar to the earlier bribes paid during the Varsity Blues scandal by parents to coaches to get their children into good schools under fraudulent athletic scholarships. One of them was Georgetown University, where a tennis coach was fired and prosecuted.
     In the Adidas case, prosecutors said the payments to recruits or their families defrauded the universities of their right to recruit athletes eligible under NCAA rules.
     George Mason University, whose basketball team is the George Mason Patriots, is an Adidas-sponsored school.
     Although no George Mason University staff members are implicated in the bribes, a National Collegiate Athletic Association investigation of Adidas-sponsored schools continues.
     Prosecutors convinced the court that the executives behind the scheme, former Adidas marketing head Jim Gatto, former Adidas consultant Merl Code and sports agent Christian Dawkins, knew they were committing illegal acts.
     The three men denied knowing there was anything wrong with the payments.
     Instead, they said they were trying to ensure the schools won top athletes. They also said the universities knew they were making the payments or intentionally avoided checking them out.
     Judge Denny Chin of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York wrote in the majority opinion, "The ends, however, do not justify the means, and that others are engaging in improper behavior does not make it lawful."
     Corporations like Adidas sometimes pay universities millions of dollars per year for marketing rights, which can include putting logos on flat surfaces at sporting events, hanging banners in rafters, sponsoring fan festivals and half-time giveaways.
     Schools with the best athletes and playing records get the most air time on television, which means their corporate marketing is seen by a greater number of potential customers.
     The case is USA v. James Gatto, Merl Code and Christian Dawkins, case numbers 19-0783, 19-0786 and 19-0788, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Police Lockdown of D.C. Quiets Protesters
But Prompts First Amendment Debate

     Demonstrators made good on their pledge to protest the inauguration Wednesday of Joe Biden as president but not in the way they wanted.
     This time, there was no large-scale protest of the election that drew thousands to Washington like the Jan. 6 riot that included an invasion of the Capitol.
     The tamer demonstrations Wednesday by two groups were restricted to a small area between the National Archives and the Canadian Embassy in downtown Washington. The total number of demonstrators was about 200.
     Anywhere else during the inauguration, anyone police considered a troublemaker was excluded from the area around the National Capital Mall or arrested.
     Concerns about what the National Guard and police lockdown of downtown Washington means for First Amendment free speech rights continue among local residents and visitors.
     Local and federal officials tried to address the concerns during a press conference on Friday. 
     Jeffrey Reinbold, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said at the press conference that government officials would prefer to allow First amendment activities, which often mean demonstrations.
     “We are the premier First Amendment arena in the country, in the world, probably,” Reinbold said.
     However, he added, “These are different times and require different measures.”
     Matt Miller, who manages the Secret Service’s Washington field office, said the government would not allow a recurrence of the Jan. 6 mob violence.
     “Our democracy is built upon the rule of law,” Miller said at the press conference.

U.S. Attorney Searches for Assailants
Of Journalists During Capitol Riot

     The U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia is searching for the assailants who attacked members of the media during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
     At least nine media members were assaulted, including reporters from The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and the Associated Press, according to the news organizations. Several of the organizations reported damage to their cameras and other equipment.
     Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, put out a notice saying, “We will spare no effort to bring to justice all those who committed lawless and violent acts of any kind, including against members of the media.”
     He is asking that anyone with evidence of threats, assaults or property damage against the media email their information to: USADC.CAPITOLRIOTS-PRESS-INJURY-DAMAGE@usdoj.gov.
     “Such violence will not be tolerated,” Sherwin said.
     One of the threats was found scrawled on a door inside the Capitol building. It said, “Murder the Media.”
     The National Press Club put out a statement after the riot saying, “The attacks on the press covering the scene last Wednesday were driven by President Trump’s repeated rejection of truth and his demonization of the purveyors of it.”
     The National Press Club characterized the assaults of journalists as an attack on First Amendment rights to a free press.
     Police arrested at least five people for attacking the media during the siege.