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

Senate Sets Vote Date to Confirm
Judge Barrett to Supreme Court

     The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote next Thursday on whether to confirm Amy Coney Barrett as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.
     The Senate Judiciary Committee set the date this week on the fourth day of contentious confirmation hearings in which Republicans and Democrats split along party lines on whether to support the conservative federal judge.
     Republicans are rushing the vote only days before a presidential election in which Democratic candidate Joe Biden is a double-digit frontrunner.
     “You’re just trying to ram through this justice,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat.
     Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., added, “It’s going to create a lot of bad will that doesn’t need to be created.”
     Republicans said the timing of the vote was not as important as ensuring the nominee was competent for the Supreme Court. 
     “There is no way you will convince me that Amy Coney Barrett is not qualified,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
     Until the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 18, the Supreme Court was divided 5-to-4 between conservatives and liberals. If Barrett is appointed, conservatives nominated by Republican presidents would hold a 6-to-3 supermajority.
     Her Republican supporters in the Senate hold a majority that makes her confirmation next week nearly certain, according to legal experts who spoke during televised interviews this week. At 48 years old, she is expected to serve on the Supreme Court for decades.
     The last day of the hearing was taken up by witnesses who testified about what Barrett’s career as a lawyer and judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago indicates about how she is likely to perform on the Supreme Court.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Child Advocacy Organization Accused
Of Inflating Annual Report Figures

     A nonprofit group that provides counseling and medical services for abused children in Montgomery County is defending itself against financial impropriety allegations.
     The county pays the organization, called the Tree House, nearly $1 million a year.
     Its contract is in jeopardy after whistleblower employees accused the Tree House of exaggerating the number of its patients and failing to protect their personal information.
     The accusations started with three psychologists and a social worker, all of whom were fired shortly afterward.
     They said the Tree House’s 2019 annual report showed it served 693 family advocacy clients. The annual report is used in grant applications and reviewed by potential donors.
     The actual number of clients listed in the Tree House’s internal system was 111, according to the whistleblowers.
     They also said the Tree House conducted 162 medical exams but reported doing 444 in the annual report. Similarly, the number of mental health clients was inflated from 233 to 296, according to the former employees.
     A lawyer for the Tree House said in a statement an investigation that included representatives from the county’s Department of Health and Human Services found no evidence of fraud or misrepresentation.
     In addition, the county’s Office of the Inspector General reported this month that the public-private venture put records of children it serves on computers that could be viewed by hundreds of county workers. The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 requires that mental health records be kept private.
     The Tree House is Montgomery County’s only accredited child advocacy organization. The county paid it $979,800 last year, or 60 percent of its revenue, according to the annual report.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Long Court Procedure Likely 
For “Beatles” Terrorism Suspects

     Attorneys handling the criminal prosecution in Alexandria, Va. of two accused Islamic State terrorists predict a long procedure before the case concludes.
     U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said during a first appearance hearing last week that the case is “complex and unusual.”
     “Time is required in order to achieve the ends of justice in this case,” Ellis said. He set the next hearing for January 15.
     The suspects, El Shafee Elsheikh, 32, and Alexanda Kotey, 36, face a long list of charges associated with the kidnappings, torture and murder of ISIS captives.
     They included American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and relief workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. British and Japanese citizens also were among the victims. Some were beheaded.
     The suspects appeared remotely by closed circuit television for their hearing last week.
     Both pleaded not guilty. They also waived their Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.
     However, Elsheikh and Kotey admitted in an interview televised in July by NBC News that they participated in abusing ISIS captives. U.S. and British authorities accuse them of involvement in 27 killings.
     American law enforcement personnel called them “the Beatles” because of their British accents. Both are former British citizens.
     They were captured in Syria in 2018 by Syrian Democratic Forces and held in American military custody in Iraq.
     The families of the American victims released a statement expressing relief over the start of the criminal prosecution. Now our families can pursue accountability for these crimes against our children in U.S. court," their statement said.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Voters Consider Initiative 81
To Decriminalize Psychedelic Drugs

     Absentee voters in the District of Columbia are seeing a controversial proposal on the ballot to decriminalize consumption of “magic mushrooms.”
     The proposal is contained in Initiative 81, the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020.
     It would allow plants and fungi with psychedelic drug characteristics to be grown and consumed in the nation’s capital with minimal risk of prosecution. They contain the chemicals ibogaine, mescaline and the hallucinogen psilocybin, which help some people overcome post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction.
     Critics of the proposal say Initiative 81 would tolerate recreational drug use that ultimately leads to other kinds of drug abuse and the societal problems it causes.
     The initiative was placed on the back of the ballot by the D.C. Board of Elections after public hearings last February.
     The campaign was spearheaded by the advocacy group Decriminalize Nature D.C. They submitted a recommendation to the Board of Elections that said, “Practices with entheogenic plants and fungi have long existed, have been considered sacred to a number of cultures and religions for millennia and continue to be enhanced and improved. Citizens of the District of Columbia seeking to improve their health and well-being through the use of entheogenic plants and fungi currently use them in fear of arrest and prosecution.”
     The initiative does not legalize the psychedelic drugs but says prosecution for growing, possessing or selling them would become “among the Metropolitan Police Department’s lowest law enforcement priorities.”
     Decriminalize Nature D.C. collected about 25,000 signatures to get Initiative 81 on the ballot. Part of the roughly $700,000 funding for the campaign came from Dr Bronner's Magic Soaps company.
     Opposition has been weak. The D.C. Democratic Party endorsed it this month but U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, has spoken out against it, saying it could lead to drug abuse.
     The District of Columbia would become only the nation’s fifth city to decriminalize psychedelic plants if voters approve Initiative 81. The others are Denver, Oakland and Santa Cruz in California and Ann Arbor, Mich.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Hackers Tap Fairfax School Computers
To Collect Ransom for Private Data

     Hackers are being investigated again after tapping into computer systems of the Fairfax County Public Schools.
     They have published private information of hundreds of employees on the dark web in an attempt to extort money from the school system.
     The dark web refers to Internet-based networks that can be accessed only with specific software, configurations or authorizations. It often is used to hide criminal activity, including publishing private financial information that can be exploited by identity thieves.
     The information from Fairfax County Public Schools computers includes employees’ names, Social Security numbers and details about their health insurance. The hackers also published letters discussing disciplinary actions against students.
     The hackers notified school officials that they have much more sensitive information and threatened to publish it if they are not paid a ransom.
     Fairfax County Public Schools has hired a cybersecurity expert to counter the hackers. School officials also said the FBI is investigating.
     The first hack attack was in September, followed by a second one last week.
     Fairfax County Public Schools issued a statement saying, “We are working around the clock to identify the information that was taken and will notify impacted individuals as appropriate. We have implemented several cybersecurity-related enhancements and are continuing to evaluate additional steps that may be taken to harden our defenses.”