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The Latest Legal News & Industry Information


Trump Political Advisor Argues Against
Gag Order Before His Criminal Trial


     Political advisor Roger Stone is setting up a First Amendment free speech challenge during his pre-trial proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
     He told a federal judge Friday that she had no constitutional right to silence him with a gag order she is considering. He also asked that she be removed from the case.
     Stone is charged with lying to Congress about his efforts to publicize information embarrassing to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as well as obstruction of justice and witness tampering. He pleaded not guilty on Feb. 1.
     Since being arrested by the FBI on Jan. 25, he has informally argued his innocence in interviews outside courthouses, on cable television and over the Internet.
     U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson warned Stone during the Feb. 1 hearing that he risked tainting the jury pool with his media blitz. Stone has refused to keep quiet, instead hiring lawyers to defend his free speech rights.
     Stone was a strategist for the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump when he allegedly spoke with Julian Assange, founder of the investigative news site Wikileaks. During the campaign, Wikileaks released information stolen from the Democratic National Committee that hurt Clinton’s campaign against Trump.
     U.S. intelligence agencies say Russian agents hacked the information from Democratic Party computers.
     Prosecutors have said in court filings that Stone’s case is "part of the same alleged criminal event or transaction."
     Stone denies any contacts with Wikileaks or obtaining information about Hillary Clinton from Russians.
     The gag order Jackson is considering would prohibit Stone from talking about his case publicly.
     Stone and his attorneys tried to argue in a pleading filed Friday that he was not adequately famous to represent a threat to the integrity of his trial. Kim Kardashian was famous, but not Stone, the court filing says.
     "While Roger Stone may be familiar to those who closely follow American politics, he is hardly ubiquitous in the larger landscape of popular consciousness,” the filing says. “Kim Kardashian has 59.5 million followers on Twitter. By contrast, Roger Stone has no Twitter account at all and, thus has no Twitter followers. On Instagram, Kim Kardashian has 126 million followers. Roger Stone’s Instagram following amounts to 39 thousand subscribers.”
     Stone’s lawyers also argued the case should be re-assigned randomly to another judge because prosecutors helped select Jackson as someone likely to be unsympathetic toward the political advisor.
     Jackson is an Obama administration appointee who also presided over the case of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman. Both Manafort and Stone were arrested based on information gathered by Justice Department Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.
     During the Friday hearing, Jackson decided to give the Mueller investigation prosecutors until Feb. 15 to respond to the request for a different judge. She did not announce a decision Friday on a gag order for Stone.
     Stone remains free on a $250,000 bond. The case is U.S. v. Stone, 19-cr-18, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Turns Over Gun Cases
To Federal Prosecutors


     Washington’s mayor announced a program last week to drive down gun violence by prosecuting the cases in federal court instead of D.C. Superior Court.
     The U.S. Attorney’s office predicted the new initiative could double the number of repeat offender gun cases prosecuted in the District of Columbia.
     The program is a response to a 40 percent increase in homicides last year to 160.
     U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu said, “This strategy will enable us to leverage local and federal law enforcement resources throughout the District from the ground level up, giving us an opportunity from the very start of a case to try to find out where these firearms are coming from, how they’re being used and what we can do to prevent further violence.”
     Most of the federal prosecutions would be for “felon-in-possession” gun cases likely to result in longer prison terms than defendants would receive in D.C. Superior Court, U.S. attorney officials said.
     Defendants with previous felonies convicted in D.C. for illegal gun possession can be sentenced up to 15 years in prison. More often, they are sentenced between one and three years, according to D.C. Superior Court records.
     There were 350 gun cases prosecuted in D.C. last year but only 25 percent of the defendants were charged with federal crimes.
     D.C. police blamed repeat felons and easy access to guns for the increase in illegal firearms cases. Armed carjackings were among the most troublesome, police said.
     Under the new initiative, all of the gun prosecutions would fall under federal law, resulting in longer sentences in most cases.
     “I support the U.S. attorney’s strategy and believe it will send a clear message that violence will not be tolerated in the District,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. and States Say EPA Violated
Rules on Greenhouse Gas Standards


     States’ attorneys argued in D.C. Circuit Court last week that the Environmental Protection Agency violated its own regulations by deciding to downgrade vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards.
     The attorneys general for the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia have joined in the lawsuit filed against the EPA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
     They were angered when the EPA announced it had re-evaluated greenhouse gas emissions standards approved under the Obama administration and determined they were too strict.
     The standards were supposed to gradually decrease the allowed emissions for vehicles in the United States between 2017 and 2025. Automakers complained the standards were unrealistic.
     The Trump administration’s EPA agreed with automakers, saying the standards should be frozen at 2020 levels.
     Seventeen states and the District of Columbia sued in federal court to have the Obama-era standards reinstated. They argued that the EPA made an arbitrary decision that was not backed up by scientific research or proper procedures.
     “Because this flawed and erroneous revised determination violates multiple regulatory requirements and bedrock principles of administrative law, the court should vacate the revised determination and reinstate the 2017 determination,” the states said in a pleading.
     They accused the Trump EPA of failing to make publicly available the information it used to determine that the previous emission standards should be downgraded. They also said the EPA did not give an adequate explanation in the public record, as required by administrative law.
     A brief filed by Consolidated Edison Co. of New York and other power companies said that “the revised determination consists primarily of a summary of certain stakeholder comments, and does not reflect meaningful independent analysis on EPA’s part.”
     A dozen states prefer that automakers follow standards developed by California environmental agencies but the Trump administration says they have no separate authority to require their own regulations. Instead, manufacturers will fulfill all their obligations for cars and light trucks by following the federal standards, according to the EPA.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Prince George’s County Seeks Dismissal
Of Lawsuit by Police Alleging Bias


     Prince George’s County officials plan to seek dismissal of a lawsuit filed by 12 police officers who say their department is biased against officers of color.
     A new court filing says the lawsuit filed in December in U.S. District Court in Maryland erroneously alleges a “pattern or practice” of bias against non-white officers.
     The lawsuit claims officers of color often are denied promotions and suffer retaliation for reporting misconduct by white police officers. The plaintiffs also say they are disciplined more severely and demoted if they complain about bias.
     The county acknowledges disputes with some officers but says it does not represent bias based on ethnicity. The plaintiffs are of different races.
     Instead, the officers should file lawsuits separately if they believe they have valid complaints, according to a letter from attorneys for Prince George’s County to the federal judge handling the case.
     The plaintiffs “assert different types of discrimination and retaliation by different decision makers, at different times, under markedly different circumstances,” the letter from lawyers representing the county says. “Apart from conclusory allegations, Plaintiffs allege no facts showing a policy or statement — formal or informal — of the PGPD that links their claims together.”
     One of the plaintiffs who was disciplined had texted a “picture of his genitals to the victim of a domestic violence case he was investigating,” the county said in its letter to the court. Another was investigated for threatening a parking attendant with his gun during a dispute, the letter says.
     The police officers filed the lawsuit with support from the ACLU of Maryland and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Regulatory Agency Revamps Procedures
To Inspect Renovated Historic Buildings

 
     Washington’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is instituting new procedures to ensure historic buildings are protected against “illegal construction” during renovations.
     The new procedures were mentioned during a D.C. Council meeting last week by Garrett Whitescarver, the acting head of buildings for the DCRA.
     His agency instituted the procedures after revelations that developers of a new interactive language arts museum inside the Franklin School on K Street NW destroyed portions of the building that were supposed to be protected as a National Historic Landmark.
     The Franklin School was the city’s first high school when it was built in 1869. Changing key parts of the structure would require a lengthy bureaucratic process that developer Ann Friedman’s employees bypassed by acting without authority.
     Under the DCRA’s new procedure, building inspectors plan to make illegal construction inspections of historic structures a regular part of their daily work, instead of an occasional duty. The inspections also will be coordinated with the D.C. Historical Preservation Office.
     Friedman has acknowledged her crews’ mistakes and pledged to city officials that the damaged finishes would be restored.
     The museum, called Planet Word, is scheduled to open later this year.
     Friedman gave an update on the work in a recent blog post, which said, “Right now, the ornate cast-iron handrails, marble-tiled stairways and landings, and other beautiful, historic features of the building are being cleaned and restored. The building contractor, Whiting-Turner, is also preparing to stabilize and replicate the peeling frescoes in the Great Hall and recreate a classroom as it existed in 1869, when the school opened.”
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.