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

Park Police Criticized for Use of Force
During Lafayette Square Protest​

     A political protester and an Australian television reporter led criticisms during a congressional hearing last week against U.S. Park Police who aggressively cleared Lafayette Square park June 1.
     Police forced Black Lives Matter protesters to back away from the area while President Donald Trump crossed the street to stand in front of a church for a photo opportunity.
     Reporter Amelia Brace was broadcasting live to Australia when she was hit by what she called an unknown “projectile,” pushed and hit in the back with a police baton.
     "As a reporter I have no interest in becoming the story but over recent weeks many of us have been left with no choice," Brace told the House Natural Resources Committee.
     The Australian audience who viewed the confrontation was “alarmed,” she said.
     Kishon McDonald, an aircraft mechanic and Navy veteran, said a tear canister went off near him, forcing him and other protesters away.
     “It is unacceptable to treat protesters that way,” McDonald said.
     In addition to tear gas, police used pepper spray capsules, rubber bullets and flash bombs.
McDonald is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by protesters against the Park Police and government officials. They claim that police violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.
     They are represented in their lawsuit by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia and the law firm of Arnold & Porter.
     The main Republican witness was Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor.
     He said the law left little doubt police were authorized to clear the park, which lies on federal land in a high-security zone. In addition, the protesters lacked a permit and dozens of police officers reported injuries in clashes with them.
     The lingering question is whether the police procedure was appropriate, he said.
     “These facts, however, do not give the government carte blanche to clear the park in in any manner that it desires,” Turley said.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forurm (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Legal News Service Wins Judgment
For Quick Access to Court Filings​

     Virginia court clerks’ offices were hit with a $2 million judgment last week for their failure to give the media same-day access to new filings.
     A federal judge’s ruling said the clerks in Prince William County and Norfolk violated the First Amendment rights of the press corps by delaying their access to filings until employees scanned the documents and entered them into computer databases.
     Reporters were unable to view the filings for as much as two workdays, long after their deadlines for same-day news had passed.
     The lawsuit was filed by legal news service Courthouse News in the Eastern District of Virginia.
     “The First Amendment requires that such documents be made available contemporaneously with their filing,” U.S. District Court Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr. said in a ruling from the bench. “Contemporaneously means the same day unless that’s not practicable.”
     The judge described Courthouse News’ prompt access to court filings as important to its business as it competes with major news organizations.
     “The public and press are entitled to have news and public information presented in an accurate, fair and unbiased manner and to complete their entitlement under the First Amendment in a complete and timely manner as well,” the ruling said.
     Court clerks across Virginia supported their colleagues in Prince William County and Norfolk by arguing their first priority was to protect confidential information.
     Their resistance to the lawsuit prompted Courthouse News to subpoena an official in the state Supreme Court’s administrative office for evidence of delays by the clerks. Judge Moran criticized their reluctance to offer the information as “an exercise in obfuscation.”
     Courthouse News was represented by the law firms of Bryan Cave and Willcox Savage. The clerks were represented by Thompson McMullan. The news service sought the $2 million judgment to pay its legal fees.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forurm (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Court Upholds Maryland's Ban
On Rapid Fire Gun Bump Stocks

     Maryland Governor Larry Hogan won a judgment last week against gun rights advocates who wanted to overturn the state’s ban on bump stocks and other attachments.
     Bump stocks speed up the firing rate on semi-automatic weapons, turning them into the equivalent of machine guns.
     The gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue Inc. said in a lawsuit that Maryland’s ban violates the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on government takings of private property without compensation.
     The law, SB-707, makes it unlawful for any person to “manufacture, possess, sell, offer to sell, transfer, purchase or receive a rapid fire trigger activator” or to “transport” such a device into the state.
     The Maryland General Assembly and Hogan approved the bump stock ban after the October 2018 attack by gunman Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas. He killed 58 people while firing at concert-goers from a hotel room window.
     The majority opinion written by Fourth Circuit U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanie Thacker says Maryland’s ban does not require bump stock owners to turn them over to the government. As a result, there is no violation of the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause.
     Instead, the law requires the owners to dispossess themselves of the bump stocks and attachments or face fines up to $5,000 and three years in prison.
     The Maryland law is similar to a national ban on bump stocks imposed by President Donald Trump under an executive order. The state law grants an exception to gun owners who obtain permits from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives. 
     For more information, contact The Legal Forurm (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Bar Allows Payment
Of Fees by Cryptocurrency

     The District of Columbia Bar recently approved payment of legal fees in cryptocurrencies but with a cautionary note that the exchanges must be fair and secure.
     The D.C. Bar opinion said there is no reason for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to be considered "a uniquely unethical form of payment."
     However, the opinion also noted that widely fluctuating values for cryptocurrencies could make them problematic for properly assessing legal fees.
     "The nature of digital currency — as a new technology, a volatile alternative currency or asset, or client property — raises ethical challenges for lawyers that simply do not exist with fiat currency," the bar opinion said. "But lawyers cannot hold back the tides of change even if they would like to, and cryptocurrency is increasingly accepted as a payment method by vendors and service providers, including lawyers."
     Valuations of the legal services are particularly a concern for advance payments, the bar opinion said.
     Washington-area law firms now accepting cryptocurrency payments include Quinn Emanuel, Perkins Coie LLP and Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
     In addition to a fair value assessment, lawyers must explain “the nature of a client's particularized financial risks, in light of both the agreed fee structure and the inherent volatility of cryptocurrency," the bar said.
     The opinion warned against risks of loss for the payments.
     "Because blockchain transactions are unregulated, uninsured, anonymous, and irreversible, cryptocurrency is regularly targeted for digital fraud and theft," the bar said.

Protester's Upcoming Trial
Tests Local v. Federal Policies

     A George Washington University student’s preliminary hearing scheduled for July 21 is shaping up as a test of whether local or federal policies should influence his criminal trial for damaging a statue in Lafayette Square.
     He was arraigned in D.C. Superior Court but the case was transferred to U.S. District Court for the charges of destruction of federal property.
     The student, Connor Matthew Judd, is one of four men charged with damaging the statue of President Andrew Jackson across the street from the White House. He was among hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters last month.
     Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and Attorney General Karl Racine are urging leniency toward the protesters. The Trump administration is taking a get-tough policy toward them.
     D.C. officials describe their difference of opinion with Trump as an intrusion into their local discretion.
     The Justice Department complaint against Judd says he was seen on video trying to pull down the statue. The other three men charged in the case were seen trying to pry the statue off its base.
     “The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia will not stand idly by and allow our national monuments to be vandalized and destroyed,” Acting U.S. Attorney Michael R. Sherwin said in a statement. “This Office remains steadfast in its commitment to protect the sacred First Amendment right of individuals to peacefully protest, but these charges should serve as a warning to those who choose to desecrate the statues and monuments that adorn our nation’s capital: your violent behavior and criminal conduct will not be tolerated.”
     Former President Jackson was a slave owner, which prompted protesters to try to pull down his statue with a strap and ropes.
     The National Park Service estimated the damage at $78,000.