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​​The Latest Legal News & Industry Information

Protester Projecting Light Messages
Creates Free Speech Issue on Capitol Hill

     A protester awaiting trial after projecting political messages onto the wall of a Capitol Hill building last week is creating a new First Amendment free speech issue for Washington, D.C. courts.
     Robby Diesu was arrested by Capitol Police after projecting a light-emitted message onto the Rayburn House Office Building.
     The message said “Discrimination is wrong” as an apparent reminder to lawmakers debating the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination against the LGTBQ community. The projected light created no damage to the building.
     Local and federal law forbids protests around buildings on the Capitol Grounds. Diesu and his projected message were inside the off-limits area.
     He is charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly violating a regulation that bans demonstrations on the steps of “any building on Capitol Grounds or in any area otherwise closed or restricted for official use.”
     Criminal law attorneys say the projected messages pit the laws of trespass and nuisance against the First Amendment.
     A similar dispute arose in Nevada when labor protesters projected a message onto a restaurant. The owner sued for trespass but a state appellate court sided with the labor union.
     A concurring opinion from one judge said, “Fundamentally, the problem here is that we are confronted with a clash between very old law and evolving new technology.”
     In Washington, other political messages have been projected onto FBI headquarters, Trump International Hotel and D.C. Superior Court. None of the messages led to arrests.
     The message projected onto Trump International Hotel said, “Pay Trump bribes here.” It appeared to refer to allegations President Donald Trump is using the presidency to financially benefit his business empire.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Supreme Court Adopts Trump Policy
In Case of Illegal Immigrant Detentions

     The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that immigrants with previous criminal records can be detained without rights to bail.
     The ruling is a significant victory for the Trump administration’s hardline immigration stance but one that appears to run counter to the Washington, D.C. Council’s policy of being a sanctuary city.
     The decision in a lawsuit by immigrants turned on an interpretation of the detention provision in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The provision says noncitizens must be arrested “when [they are] released” from police custody on some criminal charges and detained without rights to bail until their deportation proceedings conclude.
     A lower court ruled the mandatory detention provision applies only when noncitizens are arrested immediately after being released from custody.
     “Because Congress’ use of the word ‘when’ conveys immediacy, we conclude that the immigration detention must occur promptly upon the aliens’ release from criminal custody,” says the opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.
     The Supreme Court reversed the decision, saying immigrants could arrested and held without bond if they committed crimes, including minor ones, no matter how long ago they were released from criminal custody.
     The ruling said a possible long delay in arresting immigrants years after being convicted of crimes creates no conflicts with federal law.
     “An official’s crucial duties are better carried out late than never,” the ruling said.
     The 5-to-4 opinion was written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. for the conservative majority. He acknowledged that some individual immigrants might have rights to challenge their detentions on constitutional due process grounds.
     The dissent was written by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who said the majority opinion violated basic American values.
     Breyer wrote that the majority opinion “runs the gravest risk of depriving those whom the government has detained of one of the oldest and most important of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.”
     Breyer’s dissent closely follows the D.C. Council policy of granting immigrants the same constitutional protections as American citizens.
     The U.S. Supreme Court case is Nielsen v. Preap, case number 16-1363.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Amazon’s Confidentiality Clause
Enrages Open Records Advocates

     The Arlington County Board approved an incentive package for Amazon.com Saturday that includes a right for the online retailer to deny, redact or file a lawsuit to block demands for records of the county’s interactions with the company.
     Amazon plans to establish an East Coast headquarters in Arlington County that is expected to bring about 25,000 mostly high-paying jobs to the Crystal City area.
     Local officials offered incentives to attract Amazon that won approval last week from the Arlington County Board.
     The incentive that appears to override the county’s Open Records laws is attracting concern from attorneys and civil rights activists. Open Records laws give members of the public and the media a right to view records of government meetings and transactions by filing Freedom of Information Act requests.
     County officials say the provision is a confidentiality clause that is normal for economic development deals.
     The clause gives Amazon two days to respond to the Freedom of Information Act requests before the county releases open records information. It also says the county’s Industrial Development Authority will release no more information than required by law to respond to the Freedom of Information Act request.
     The clause says the forewarning is intended “to allow Amazon to take such steps as it deems appropriate with regard to the requested disclosure of records.”
     The advocacy group Virginia Coalition for Open Government says the confidentiality clause appears to imply non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.
     It also might reduce government transparency and accountability while cozying up to corporations whose primary interest is profit, according to critics of the agreement.
    The confidentiality clause is one small part of an incentive package that includes $23 million in economic incentives from Arlington County and $750 million in state grants for Amazon.
     During the County Board meeting Saturday, some protesters were ejected by police. The protesters complained that the new Amazon headquarters would drive up real estate prices, thereby forcing low and middle-income residents out of the area.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Hotels Say Expedia Uses
Bait-and-Switch for Listings

     Washington, D.C.’s The Mansion on O Street is one of the top plaintiffs in a lawsuit that accuses Expedia of a bait-and-switch scam using false advertisements and hidden reimbursements.
     The Mansion on O Street is a luxury hotel in the DuPont Circle neighborhood. Expedia is a global travel technology company that aggregates airline fares and hotel fees to offer online customers the least expensive options.
     A U.S. District Court  judge last week granted The Mansion on O Street and other hotels certification for a class action lawsuit against Expedia.
     The hotels accuse the company of advertising the best travel rates for customers but then diverting them to the websites for hotels that offer Expedia kickbacks. For hotels that do not pay kickbacks, Expedia advertises them as being sold out, according to the lawsuit.
     U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said Expedia has failed to make a "meaningful attempt" to halt the false advertising when he announced the class action certification. The hotels seek an injunction against what they say is Expedia’s fraudulent online advertising.
     The judge said the evidence creates questions about whether Expedia is violating the Lanham Act by misleading customers.The Lanham Act, also known as the Trademark Act of 1946, is a federal statute that governs trademarks, service marks and unfair competition.
     "If the court were to determine that Expedia's messaging was misleading in violation of the Lanham Act, an injunction that required Expedia to communicate more clearly when it didn't have the power to book rooms at a given hotel may be warranted," the judge wrote.
     However, the judge refused to grant class action certification to seek repayment of Expedia’s profits from alleged false advertising, saying the hotels did not explain how their damages would be calculated.
     Other plaintiffs include California-based Buckeye Tree Lodge and Sequoia Village Inn, Oklahoma-based Shiloh Morning Inn and Oregon-based Prospect Historic Hotel.
     Patterson Law Group APC is representing the hotels. Expedia and its affiliates are represented by Covington & Burling LLP.
     The suit is Buckeye Tree Lodge and Sequoia Village Inn LLC v. Expedia Inc. et al., case number 3:16-cv-04721, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Employee Pleads Guilty in Trading
Welfare Benefits for Sex and Cash

     A D.C. government employee is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to charges that he granted rights to $1.45 million in food stamps and welfare benefits in exchange for sex and cash from the recipients.
     Demetrius McMillan, a case worker for D.C.'s Department of Human Services, accepted the sexual favors and $380,000 in cash last year from as many as 20 women, according to charging documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
     McMillan, 48, pleaded guilty in federal court last week. Sentencing is scheduled for June 19.
     He faces as much as 15 years in prison and a $300,000 fine. He has agreed to pay $1,456,985 in restitution, forfeit nearly $75,000 police found in his home and pay a additional fees from any court judgment.
     "The crimes and acts alleged in the charging document are despicable and demonstrate a lack of values," a statement from Mayor Muriel Bowser says. "When the Department of Human Services became suspicious of illegal activity, it reported it to the Office of the Inspector General. The District government takes suspected abusive and fraudulent activity seriously and will always work and cooperate with our local and federal partners to ensure that those who engage in criminal behavior are held accountable."
     The statement asks anyone who suspects waste, fraud or abuse by city officials to contact the Office of Program Review, Monitoring and Investigation.
     Prosecutors are considering charges against anyone who received fraudulent public welfare benefits arranged by McMillan. They also could lose their benefits.
     McMillan is the second D.C. employee in the past month to face criminal charges for welfare abuse. Former D.C. employee Gary T. Holliday was convicted last month of stealing more than $400,000 from the food stamp program and depositing it into a personal account in 2017. He also awaits sentencing.