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D.C. Advocacy Group Requests
Investigation of U.S. Attorney General

     Former Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison this week in federal court in Washington but not before creating a controversy that threatens to drag down the U.S. attorney general.
     A Washington-based advocacy group for government ethics is asking the Justice Department to investigate the U.S. attorney general for his statements about the criminal conviction of Stone. 
     Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says Attorney General William Barr violated Justice Department rules intended to prevent bias. In addition, about 2,000 former Justice Department officials signed a petition asking him to resign.
     Barr oversaw a Justice Department recommendation for a reduced sentence of Stone, the former Trump campaign political consultant who was convicted in November on seven counts, including witness tampering and lying to investigators.
     The charges resulted from the Mueller Report and Special Counsel investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential campaign.
     The Justice Department prosecutors originally recommended to the federal judge that Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison. A subsequent sentencing memorandum said the Justice Department “defers to the Court” on a sentence.
     The memorandum also cautioned that the original seven-to-nine year recommendation "could be considered excessive and unwarranted.”
     Barr’s updated recommendation prompted the entire prosecutorial team to resign in protest. Other Washington-based Justice Department attorneys are considering resigning in protest.
     In addition, former prosecutors and Justice Department officials wrote an open letter to Barr criticizing him for ignoring the rule that White House officials not intervene in criminal cases.
     Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is increasing pressure on Barr with a complaint it filed with the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
     “Attorney General Barr’s prejudicial statements further appear to be part of a pattern of conduct,” the complaint says.
     Previously, Barr implied that he agreed with Trump’s claims the FBI spied on his presidential campaign.
     “Since the beginning of his tenure at the Department of Justice, Attorney General Barr has operated more as the president’s personal attorney than as the country’s chief law enforcement officer,” Noah Bookbinder, director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Virginia Lt. Governor’s Libel Suit
Dismissed for Lack of Actual Malice

     A federal judge in Alexandria dismissed a libel lawsuit last week filed by Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax against television network CBS over its story on sexual assault allegations against him.
     CBS broadcast interviews with two women who accused the lieutenant governor of sexually assaulting them more than 15 years ago. Fairfax says they were consensual relationships.
     Fairfax sought $400 million in his lawsuit but U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga said he failed to prove CBS acted with “actual malice” to prove libel. Instead, the network followed standard journalistic practices.
     Actual malice is the standard required before public figures can recover for libel, slander or defamation. It requires them to prove a defendant published or communicated a false statement with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard of the truth.
     Fairfax argued that comments by CBS News journalists after Gayle King interviewed the women showed the network was trying to prove his guilt, rather than acting objectively.
     An example his attorneys mentioned was a comment by CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell. She said after the interview with one of the accusers that it “feels like she was forced.”
     However, Trenga wrote in his 30-page opinion that CBS also reported Fairfax’s claims of innocence. Its reporters reached out to him for an interview but he declined.
     Trenga also said the context of the entire broadcast indicated the network avoided slanting the story against Fairfax.
     “Most basically, none of the CBS This Morning co-hosts state that Fairfax did in fact commit the alleged sexual assaults or that they believed he committed the assaults. In fact, at the conclusion of each interview, King, in studio and surrounded by her co-hosts, promptly announces Fairfax’s assertions of innocence, including that he passed a polygraph exam,” Trenga wrote.
     CBS responded to Fairfax’s lawsuit with a countersuit that sought reimbursement for legal expenses. It accused Fairfax of abuse of legal process.
     Trenga disagreed, saying Fairfax was making a sincere effort to clear his name, or what the judge called “a public vindication and restoration of his reputation.”
     Fairfax said he will appeal the dismissal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He said in a statement, “I will not stop until I do and can put an end to this political smear campaign.”
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

U.S. Attorney Report Says Bad Forensics
Endangers D.C. Criminal Prosecutions

     A new U.S. attorney’s report accuses the Washington, D.C. crime lab of sloppy work that imperils criminal prosecutions.
     Much of the criticism from former U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu focuses on the firearms division of the crime lab. Liu resigned from her job Jan. 31.
     Liu raised questions about whether prosecutors were compelled to rely on evidence from potentially flawed forensic examinations of guns and bullet fragments while prosecuting dangerous felons.
     Forensic examiners might have glossed over any mistakes to hide their misdeeds, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said after a three-month investigation.
     Findings from the investigation were turned over to the D.C. inspector general, according to a Washington Post story. Liu asked him in a letter to check into “mismanagement, poor judgment and failures of communication” within the crime lab.
     Prosecutors also asked the inspector general to review whether the ballistics analyses meet professional standards and whether the crime lab lacked an “institutional grasp of the importance of integrity issues to its work.”
     Liu said in her letter to the inspector general that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, only evidence of mismanagement.
     The problems appear to have been exacerbated by conflicts between the U.S. attorney’s office and the D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences. The conflicts were evident by responses to prosecutors’ questions that Liu’s report described as “defensive.”
     The investigation was prompted by a former firearms examiner’s whistleblower account last fall of falsified records on ballistics tests. The FBI participated in the investigation by interviewing witnesses.
     D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences officials recently tried to assure the D.C. Council that any previous problems have been corrected. D.C. Inspector General Daniel W. Lucas has not said whether he will investigate.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Protesters Warn Against Court Decision
For Dispute Within Unification Church

     Religious liberty advocates are urging D.C. Superior Court judges to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks a judgment on which faction of the Unification Church should prevail in a battle for control.
     They warn that a court judgment would place the government in a position of deciding whose religious principles are most important.
     The First Amendment is supposed to keep the government out of religious doctrine decisions.
     When the Reverend Sun Myung Moon died in 2012, he left behind a church that operated in several countries with a billion dollar-plus business enterprise. In the United States, it includes real estate and media holdings.
     Moon’s widow and son Sean have reorganized the church’s orientation in a way that appears to be a new denomination. Other family members want to cling to Moon’s original plan of keeping the church inclusive of all denominations, which is why it is called the “Unification Church.”
     Their dispute led to the lawsuit, The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification International vs. Hyun Jin Preston Moon, awaiting a final judgment in D.C. Superior Court.
     Protesters rallied outside the court last week with words of caution for judges presiding over the case.
     "The central factors of this case are clearly internal religious issues,” said Bishop Dr. Paul Murray, public policy director for Religious Liberties with One Way Churches International. “The courts have no authority to interpret such matters of religious structure, purpose or meaning.”
     Implications of the court’s decision could reach far beyond Washington, D.C., according to the protesters.
     “Any decision other than a dismissal violates the First Amendment right to freedom of religion and sets a dangerous precedent for religious liberty going forward," Murray said.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Law Firms Lose Unfinished Business
When Clients Move to Other Firms

     Law firms lose all their rights to client billings when the clients move to other firms, even if their cases are not finished, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled last week. 
     The ruling was based on a lawsuit that the failed Washington, D.C.-based law firm Howrey filed against other firms.
     When Howrey went out of business in 2011, its top partners moved to competing law firms, often taking Howrey’s clients with them.
     Attorneys trying to wrap up Howrey’s unfinished business said their exiting partners unjustifiably took their clients’ business. Money from the unfinished business should remain property of Howrey’s estate, the firm’s lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court said.
     After an appeal to the D.C. Court of Appeals, the judges disagreed with Howrey.
     “We hold that hourly-billed client matters are not ‘property’ of the law firm,” the appellate ruling said.
     Any property right in a client’s business belongs exclusively to the client, including the right to change attorneys and firms.
     “A client has an almost ‘unfettered right’ to choose or to discharge counsel,” the ruling said. “Therefore, a law firm has no more than a ‘unilateral expectation,’ rather than a ‘legitimate claim of entitlement,’ to future fees earned from continued work on hourly-billed client matters.”
     The Howrey trustee’s lawsuit was targeted primarily at Jones Day, which hired 22 former Howrey partners. Hogan Lovells; Perkins Coie; Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and other firms joined in arguments against Howrey.
     The case is Allan B. Diamond, Chapter 7 Trustee of Howrey LLP v. Hogan Lovells US LLP, et al., D.C. Ct. App. No. 18-SP-218, Feb. 13, 2020.For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

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