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

Trump Nominates New Candidate
For Washington’s U.S. Attorney

President Trump’s nomination this week of Justin Herdman to become the new U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia appears to be timed to put an end to political controversies swirling around the office.
     Herdman, 44, who is currently the U.S. attorney in Cleveland, would be taking over from interim U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea.
     Like his predecessor, Shea is enduring allegations of political patronage for going too easy on Trump’s political associates who have faced criminal prosecution.
     Within weeks of taking office in February, Shea sided with Justice Department administrators who sought to reduce the sentence of former Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone.
     Stone was convicted last year on seven counts, including witness tampering and lying to investigators who were checking into possible Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. He was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison.
     Shea was criticized again this month when he filed a motion to dismiss the guilty plea of former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn. He was accused of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador before Trump’s inauguration.
     Shea is Trump’s leading contender to take over as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
     Although Herdman’s nomination still requires Senate approval, he is not expected to face stiff opposition.
     He has largely avoided controversy by following a straight-laced path as a law firm partner and prosecutor.
     One of his most high profile prosecutions as an assistant U.S. attorney was the case of five violent dissidents who plotted to blow up the Ohio 82 Bridge over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 2012. Before becoming a U.S. attorney, he was a partner handling white collar defense for Jones Day and a Judge Advocate General in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
     The U.S. attorney’s office in Washington is the nation’s largest with about 300 attorneys.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Area Courts Slowly Reopen
While Restrictions Continue

     Washington area courts are gradually reopening but with many restrictions as the coronavirus epidemic continues.
     In D.C. Superior Court, the number of courtrooms operating remotely is increasing from from eight to 19. They are handling civil, criminal, domestic violence, family court and probate cases to varying degrees, but not with juries.
     Criminal cases, for example, consist mostly of adult arraignments and detained status hearings. 
     Jailed defendants participate in preliminary hearings from a secure room at the D.C. jail. Lawyers and judges communicate through their computers.
     Civil cases are being used primarily for temporary restraining orders as well as pretrial, motion and status hearings.
     The court is scheduled to resume presiding over additional kinds of cases next month.
     “At this point, we are ready to add additional courtrooms and case types to the list of those that will be heard while the pandemic distancing requirements are still in place.” D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Morin said in a statement.
     Loudoun County is following one of the region’s most aggressive schedules for court reopenings.
     Two of the courts are resuming in-person hearings but with restrictions. Both of them are located in the Leesburg courthouse.
     Anyone entering the courthouse will have their temperatures checked for fever. They also must answer questions to assess their risk of exposure to coronavirus. The visitors must wear cloth masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
     All of the local courts continue to struggle with giving witnesses, parties and victims access to court proceedings. If they don’t have Internet connections or smartphones, the courts are enlisting help from nonprofit organizations willing to allow them to use their computers.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Attorneys General Threaten EPA
Over Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

     All three attorneys general in the Washington area are threatening to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce water quality standards to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
     They accuse the EPA of ignoring its court-ordered duty to prevent polluters in New York and Pennsylvania from dumping sewage and agricultural runoff into waterways that makes its way south into the Chesapeake.
     The result has been algal blooms that block sunlight, reduce oxygen in the water and threaten marine life, according to statements from the attorneys general of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
     “This is a fight we cannot win without our neighbors and the commitment of the EPA. The EPA has flat out walked away from its responsibility," Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) said.
     Maryland has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to prevent wastewater runoff only to have its efforts undermined by upstream states unwilling to make the same commitment, he said.
     A letter of intent the attorneys general sent the EPA last week gives the agency 60 days to respond by explaining how it will address their concerns.
     Officials from the EPA and environmental agencies in New York and Pennsylvania called the threat of litigation premature. Both states signed a six-state agreement in 2009 to clean up the Chesapeake.
     They were motivated partly by a lawsuit environmental groups filed under the Clean Water Act. It led to a consent decree with the EPA and court-ordered requirements in 2011 to enforce water pollution standards for the Chesapeake.
     EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said his agency plans to spend $6 million to reduce wastewater runoff from the six Chesapeake Bay states.
     He said in a statement that the funding would help with “continued reduction of nitrogen from agricultural sources, one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome as we strive to make the Bay ever cleaner.”
     He accused the three attorneys general of seeking publicity with their threat to sue.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Virginia Voters Sue to Block
Widespread Absentee Voting

     A group of Northern Virginia voters is suing their state over a plan for wider use of absentee ballots during the primary election next month as coronavirus restrictions continue.
     The Virginia lawsuit argues that absentee ballots create a disincentive to vote, effectively blocking many residents from the election process.
     Widespread use of absentee ballots “would be a logistical nightmare and increases the risk of disenfranchisement,” says the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Virginia.
     The lawsuit by six suburban Washington residents was a response to an executive order from Governor Ralph Northam. It allows anyone to obtain an absentee ballot by claiming “illness or disability” on the application.
     Normally state law requires a doctor’s excuse or a qualified witness to verify the illness or disability. Northam’s executive order waives the requirement.
     Northam also postponed the primary election by two weeks to June 23 as state health officials try to manage the pandemic that has killed about 1,200 Virginians.
     “Due to the sudden surge in absentee ballots that will result from the Plan, many voters will be disenfranchised because requested ballots never arrive or arrive too late and filled-out ballots get lost or are delayed in the return process,” says the lawsuit.
     Northam’s executive order throws Virginia into a dispute over voting by mail that has entangled a growing number of states.
     Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring argued in a brief filed in the lawsuit that coronavirus has elevated the absentee ballot issue beyond a voting rights case.

Former D.C. Council Member
Fined For Conflicts of Interest

     Washington’s ethics board last week fined former D.C. council member Jack Evans $35,000 for conflicts of interest that benefited his personal finances.
     The fine was part of a settlement agreement following FBI and police investigations of possible criminal conduct.
     No charges were filed but the investigations turned up ethics violations that showed Evans used the influence of his office while being employed as a lawyer and consultant by local businesses.
     Evans arranged meetings between a client and government officials. He also advocated against increasing commercial parking lot taxes while he was being paid by a parking garage operator.
     He said he was helping clients in the same way he represented the interests of other businesses and residents who sought to deal with the D.C. government.
     The $35,000 fine was the largest ever imposed by the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. Last year, the agency fined Evans an additional $20,000 for using government resources to seek employment by local law firms.
     “Respondent failed to seek specific ethics advice as guided, failed to maintain a high level of integrity in connection with the performance of his official duties, and adversely affected the confidence of the public in the integrity of the District government,” the settlement agreement says.
     Evans apparently does not perceive the ethics citations as a barrier to his political career. He is running again in the Democratic primary election to reclaim his seat on the D.C. Council.