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

D.C.-Based Lawyers Join Allegations
Of Discriminatory State Election Laws

     Members of Washington, D.C.’s legal community are joining the calls to reform the nation’s election laws as outrage continues over Georgia’s new legislation that critics say suppresses the votes of low-income and minority residents.
     Some of the attorneys testified before Congress recently as the House and Senate consider a proposal that would set national minimum standards for access to the vote.
     “State legislatures across the country have introduced legislation to make it harder to vote, ranging from reverting to ‘no excuse’ absentee ballots, to unnecessary and arbitrary burdens on voting by mail,” said Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Voting Rights Project of the Washington-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
     She testified before the House Administration subcommittee on elections.
     The bill, the For the People Act, would extend voting by mail, eliminate requirements of photo identification by voters and allow same-day voter registration.
     Other provisions would ban states from purging voter registration lists, limit gerrymandering and impose new campaign finance ethics rules on politicians.
    Johnson-Blanco mentioned Georgia’s law that limits mail-in voting and changes eligibility for absentee and early voting as an example of why national standards for elections are needed. 
     Similar laws are close to votes in their state legislatures in Texas and Arizona.
     Also joining the criticism was former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who is now a partner in the Washington office of Covington & Burling.
     He agreed some states abuse their constitutional authority to control how and when their residents vote by allowing gerrymandering, dark money in campaign financing and suppression of some voters to influence elections.
     The national standards proposed in the For the People Act pending in both the House and Senate provides a means of “getting rid of all of them at once,” Holder said during a Senate hearing.
     Some state attorneys general defend their proposed changes to election laws as ways to reduce voter fraud. 
     Since the last election and former President Donald Trump’s accusations of voter fraud, state legislators have introduced 367 bills in 47 states that could restrict some voters’ access to ballots, according to the public policy institution Brennan Center for Justice.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Arrests Continue of Jan. 6 Insurrectionists
But Face Roadblocks with Prosecutions

    Arrests of Jan. 6 insurrectionists at the U.S. Capitol are continuing this week even as the zeal to throw the defendants in prison with severe sentences begins to subside or run into stumbling blocks of criminal law.
    In the few weeks after the violent takeover of the Capitol by Trump supporters, the new U.S. attorney general announced prosecuting them would be one of his top priorities.
    In one typical case, Michigan resident Anthony Williams was scheduled for an appearance last week in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan after a recent arrest for his role in the Jan. 6 uprising.
     Prosecutors are trying to get the case transferred to D.C. Superior Court, where sentiment in the local community is more intense against the rioters.
     A tip led FBI agents to screenshots Williams posted on Facebook that show him inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. 
     Williams is charged with obstruction of official proceedings, entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct.
     However, actions and statements by prosecutors indicate he and other insurrectionists among the more than 300 arrested so far are likely to get no more than a slap on the wrist if they are convicted, often with no jail time, according to a new report.
     The news organization Politico reported that nearly a quarter of the defendants charged so far face only misdemeanors. Most commonly, they are charged with some form of trespassing.
     In other words, they entered the Capitol but did no harm to persons or property.
     In a court appearance last week, an assistant U.S. attorney recommended to a federal judge “a non-trial disposition” for the case against Kevin Loftus, who is charged with unlawful presence and disrupting official business at the Capitol.
    A non-trial disposition normally refers to a plea bargain on a lesser charge. Unlawful presence and disrupting official business at the Capitol are two of the most common charges against the insurrectionists.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Baltimore Ceases Prosecutions
For Low-Level Non-Violent Crimes

     Baltimore’s State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is turning her COVID-19 policy of dismissing minor charges into a long-term strategy for addressing crime.
     Under the new policy, drug possession, minor traffic offenses and non-violent crimes involving prostitution and trespass will not be prosecuted.
     “Clearly, the data suggest there is no public safety value in prosecuting low-level offenses,” Mosby said at a press conference.
     Mosby described the shift in plans as an effort to use crisis intervention techniques to moderate offenders’ behavior for minor offenses rather than criminal convictions.
     She is partnering with the mental health organization Baltimore Crisis Response Inc. to help in the interventions, mediation and counseling, especially in cases of drug addiction or mental illness.
     The effort runs exactly counter to other law enforcement strategies that target low-level criminals in hopes of preventing them from becoming higher-level offenders. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, for example, asked police to vigorously apprehend fare-beaters on the subway system, which resulted in a decline in unrelated violent crimes for the city.
     Nevertheless, police administrators and city officials in Washington, D.C. and other cities are re-evaluating their crime-fighting efforts in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. They are expressing concern that robust enforcement of misdemeanors falls unfairly on minority populations.
     In Baltimore’s case, the policy against low-level crime prosecutions started a year ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mosby was trying to reduce the prison population to avoid the risk of an outbreak behind bars.
      Prosecutors dismissed 1,400 criminal cases and roughly the same number of warrants.
     Under the new procedures, 911 dispatchers and patrol officers are supposed to connect suspects in low-level crimes with social services or addiction treatment. If a situation is out of control and an arrest is necessary, officers are supposed to ask supervisors for approval.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Superior Court
Resumes Jury Trials

      D.C. Superior Court resumed jury trials this week after a more than year-long suspension of in-person court proceedings caused by the pandemic.
      A slight uptick in COVID-19 cases in the Washington area in the past two weeks is part of the reason for additional safety measures in courtrooms.
     They include six feet of separation between seats, temperature scans, health questionnaires, capacity limits, mask requirements and plexiglass shields at the judge’s bench and defendant and plaintiff’s tables.
     Jurors can complete many of the required procedures online, including check-in. More details can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUR-mFZvuls
     “We’ve put many procedures in place to ensure your health and safety as you perform your civic duty,” said Chief Judge of D.C. Superior Court Anita Josey-Herring in the video.
     The D.C. Code requires that jail inmates can be held pre-trial no more than 100 days.
     However, recent D.C. Department of Corrections data shows some men have spent nearly 11 months in the city’s jail while jury trials were suspended. Some women were in jail for nearly nine months.
      More than 200 have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least two have died from it, according to Department of Corrections figures.

Exxon Mobil Forced to Continue Defense
Against Environmental Lawsuit in D.C.

     Oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. is being sued in District of Columbia Superior Court over its environmental record despite its ongoing efforts to get the case removed to federal court.
   The Washington-based environmental group Beyond Pesticides accuses Exxon Mobil of violating the District of Columbia’s consumer protection laws with its advertisements saying clean energy production is a high priority for the company.
     The lawsuit calls the statements deceptive based on the fact Exxon Mobil invests hugely in fossil fuel production but a relatively tiny amount in renewable energy.
     D.C.’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act forbids a wide variety of deceptive and unconscionable business practices.
     Exxon Mobil argues that D.C. Superior Court is the wrong venue for the lawsuit.
   The company is headquartered in Irving, Texas, and the environmental issues involved stretch far beyond the District of Columbia. As a result, diversity jurisdiction should put the lawsuit in federal court, Exxon Mobil argues.
     In addition, the legal fees and other expenses involved put the lawsuit over the $75,000 threshold for claims in U.S. District Court, the company’s attorneys have said in their motions for removal.
     Exxon Mobil is seeking a stay to prevent the lawsuit from continuing in local court while it appeals its efforts to get it switched to federal court.
     So far, the company has lost. U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly wrote an order that "the court perceives no public interest in granting" Exxon Mobil's motion for a stay.
    He also disagreed with the company’s argument that it would suffer irreparable harm if the case is tried in D.C. Superior Court. He said Exxon Mobil failed to cite any case law that would prove its claims of irreparable harm.
     The case is Beyond Pesticides v. Exxon Mobil Corp., case number 1:20-cv-01815, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.