The Latest Legal News & Industry Information

Supreme Court Gay Rights Case
To Revamp D.C. Business Laws

By Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
     The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in a gay rights case that is likely to have a profound effect on District of Columbia public accommodations law regardless of which side wins.
     The Court is trying to decide the limits of when businesses can refuse service to gay customers on religious grounds.  
     In the case of Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop, the question is whether the owner had a constitutional right to refuse to custom design a cake for the wedding of a same-sex couple.
     The case is being watched closely by some of Washington, D.C.’s civil rights organizations. Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the District’s non-voting Democratic delegate to Congress, signed on to an amicus brief that supports the gay couple.
     Outside the court, hundreds of demonstrators gathered during the arguments.
     Inside the Court, questions from the the nine justices showed sharp divisions between liberals and conservatives over the couple’s argument that their right to avoid discrimination superseded the cake shop owner’s religious convictions.
     The Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s had ruled that Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips unlawfully discriminated against two male customers who lodged a complaint against him.
     The Commission said Phillips violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which bans businesses from refusing service because of race, sex, marital status or sexual orientation. Phillips appealed, eventually leading to the Supreme Court case.
     The Colorado law is similar to District of Columbia law that forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing accommodations, retail sales, hotels, educational institutions, recreational facilities and other businesses open to the public.
     A ruling for Masterpiece Cakeshop could limit the right of customers to complain about being refused service. A ruling for the gay couple means businesses would have no choice but to serve them as much as any other customer.
     Attorneys for Charlie Craig and David Mullins based their arguments partly on federal law that bans discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin or disability.
     An issue in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case is whether federal law extends the discrimination ban to sexual orientation.
     Phillips argued his talents as a cake designer were more like artistic expression protected under the First Amendment as free expression, rather than being a publicly accessible service. As a result, he should have discretion to serve the persons he chooses.
     Liberal Justice Elena Kagan asked whether a hairstylist, chef or makeup artist should be allowed to refuse service to same sex couples if they claim their artistic talents are protected under the Constitution as free expression or speech.
     “Why is there no speech (right) in creating a wonderful hairdo,” Kagan said.
     Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Court’s four other conservatives in showing support for Phillips’ religious convictions.
     He asked whether Catholic nonprofit organizations that offer free legal services should be required to defend issues that conflict with their religious beliefs.
     Justice Anthony Kennedy continued his historical trend of showing sympathy for both sides in a dispute.
     At one point, he said the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed evidence of “hostility to religion.”
     At another point, Kennedy expressed concern that a court victory for Phillips would lead to widespread discrimination by businesses against gay people.
     “It means that there’s basically an ability to boycott gay marriages,” Kennedy said.
     Craig and Mullins were represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union. Phillips was represented by the conservative Christian advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom.
     The amicus brief signed by Norton warned the Supreme Court against a ruling “inviting discrimination against historically marginalized communities, including but not limited to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.”
     The Court’s ruling is expected before next June.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum ( at email: or phone: 202-479-7240. To unsubscribe, hit Reply on your email and type Unsubscribe into the subject line.

Fairfax County Proposes
Huge Redevelopment Project

By Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
     Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors plans a public hearing next month on a massive redevelopment plan that could add as many as 13,000 homes to the county’s eastern edge.
     The plan also calls for office buildings, new street grids and retail in the neighborhood near George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
     In recent years, the stretch of Richmond Highway has been known for its run-down motels, traffic congestion, fast-food restaurants and low-rent apartments.
     Fairfax County officials hope the revitalization will generate more tax revenue to fund schools and other services.
     In addition to the real estate, county officials want to complete a $40 million levee near Cameron Run and organize service for a $500 million county bus rapid transit route.
     The buses would run through new mixed-use developments, hotels and parks between Metrorail’s Huntington Station and Fort Belvoir. The plan also calls for a 3.1-mile Metro Yellow Line extension intended to create a pedestrian-friendly urban neighborhood.
     County officials say the plan would nearly quadruple the neighborhood’s population to about 40,000 residents.
     They hope one of the attractions would be the area’s American history, which includes Mount Vernon, the Pope-Leighey House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the National Museum of the U.S. Army.
     The advocacy group Coalition for Smarter Growth is pushing for the revitalization to include moderate and low-priced housing.
     The idea of affordable housing is being received favorably by Fairfax County officials, who say it could help them qualify for federal funding on the bus transit route. The Board of Supervisors plans to vote on the proposal next spring.
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Trump’s Reduction of National Monuments
Draws Lawsuits from Washington Law Firms

By Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
     Two of Washington, D.C.’s biggest law firms are leading the lawsuits filed this week against the Trump administration after the president’s announcement that he would drastically reduce the size of two wilderness national monuments in Utah.
     Hogan Lovells, representing the California-based outdoor apparel company Patagonia Works and Conservation Lands Foundation, is suing several federal agencies that oversee federal lands. Covington & Burling, representing three groups, filed suit against the U.S. Interior Department.
     Trump’s executive order would turn large portions of the vast Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments over to private development.
     Much of the land is expected to be used for mining operations, such as extracting coal. Trump’s Republican supporters say private development would create jobs and boost the economy.
     Trump’s announcement touched off protests near the White House, which was blocked off by barricades as extra police guarded against risks of violence.
     A few feet beyond the barricades, protesters gathered holding signs criticizing Trump for taking way “sacred” land.
     In Utah, the Bears Ears National Monument is shrinking by 85 percent, or 1.1 million acres, while the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is being reduced in size by about 46 percent, or 800,000 acres.
     Bears Ears was designated as a national monument dedicated to Native American culture by President Barack Obama in 2017. President Barack Obama designated Grand Staircase-Escalante as a national monument in 1996.
     They were two of the 27 national monuments the Trump administration’s Interior Department reviewed this year for the possibility of turning at least part of them over to private development.
     All but one of the 27 national monuments are in western states. The only one close to Washington, D.C. is the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. It was dedicated as a national monument by President Barack Obama on Sept. 15, 2016.
     The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is the first and only Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a response to environmentalists claiming it needed protection because of its importance as a biodiversity hotspot, habitat for numerous rare and endangered species and a valuable scientific and historical site.
     Hogan Lovells is representing conservationists and Native American tribal groups for their lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. They argue that federal law gives a president authority to designate national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act but not to take the land away.
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D.C. Council Bill Would Exempt Drivers
From Losing Licenses for Unpaid Fines

     A bill pending before the D.C. Council would prevent courts from suspending low-income residents’ driver’s licenses because they have unpaid parking fines and traffic tickets.
     Supporters of the bill say it unfairly punishes low-income persons.
     A recent study of five states reported that more than four million people nationwide have lost their licenses for failure to pay court debts. They are heavily concentrated among the poor.
     The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t track the number of licenses lost for failure to pay fines. Nevertheless, the bill introduced this week calls the license suspensions “punishment for low-income District residents.”
     The bill would exempt D.C. residents earning less than $39,000 per year from losing their licenses suspended for not paying court debts. Persons receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits also would be exempt from the suspensions.
     The bill would halt license suspensions for failure to pay debts in civil actions, such as unpaid debt to a car-insurance company. Some D.C. residents convicted of driving with a suspended license could get their licenses returned.
     The bill would not exempt persons with criminal convictions or who were cited for traffic violations, such as dangerous driving.
     The bill authored by Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) says, “In no instance will an operator’s permit or driving privileges be revoked or suspended for failure to pay a debt without a finding that the person is able to pay.”

Lawsuit Seeks to Block Pipeline
Through Southwestern Virginia

     Southwestern Virginia residents and environmentalists filed a lawsuit this week to block the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline they say would uproot homes and create safety hazards.
     The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond by the environmental group Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
     Environmentalists and residents say the pipeline would trample the property rights of landowners along the route and damage fragile ecosystems.
     Supporters, including Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, say the pipeline would create jobs and increase capacity for utilities that are struggling to serve all their residential and business customers.
     The lawsuit seeks a review of the permits issued by the State Water Control Board.
     The pipeline would run for 300 miles from West Virginia through the southwest corner of Virginia. It’s being built by a group of companies led by EQT Midstream Partners of Pittsburgh.
     Other plaintiffs who joined the lawsuit include the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Wild Virginia.
     The lawsuit says the Water Control Board and the Department of Environmental Quality overlooked some hazards as they hurried to complete the review process.
     State officials deny the allegation.

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

   The Legal Forum offers representation by Washington, D.C., attorney Tom Ramstack for real estate agents cited by the Real Estate Commission or who are being sued by clients. Unlike most lawyers and law firms, The Legal Forum requires payment only if the agents or brokers win at least part of the case against them.
   The Legal Forum's attorney also is a licensed real estate agent in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, who knows the legal risks of the real estate business.
   Agents or brokers who hire The Legal Forum to represent them usually are charged a fee only if they avoid a fine, suspension or license revocation. Other arrangements can be worked out if the attorney and client cannot agree on a contingency fee.
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