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

Attorneys General Push Back Against
Senators Who Protect Oil Industry

     Democratic attorneys general from the District of Columbia, Maryland and 15 other states fought back this week against warnings from Senate Republicans who told major law firms to avoid getting too pushy with promoting socially conscious investing to their clients.
     The senators wrote letters to major law firms earlier this month threatening a congressional investigation into lawyers who advocate for ESG investment.
     ESG stands for environmental, social and governance. It refers to an investment strategy that screens investments based on corporate policies and that encourages companies to act responsibly.
     The strategy generally recommends staying away from investments in the coal, oil and gas industries.
    Senate Republicans are concerned that aggressive promotion of the investment strategy by law firms could hurt the fossil fuel energy industries, perhaps eventually raising prices for consumers as the businesses struggle for profitability.
     The Democratic attorneys general argued that good environmental policy is a higher priority in letters to the heads of the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee. They said ESG represents sensible investing.
     "For over twenty years, the finance industry has understood — and studies have confirmed — that consideration of ESG factors yields important information about risks and rewards, which leads to greater value for beneficiaries," the attorneys general letter says. "Companies that fail to take climate-change risks into account, for example, can suffer serious financial consequences, both in terms of physical damage and litigation and regulatory costs."
    In an example this month, Kirkland & Ellis advised Blue Source Sustainable Forests Co. on a $1.8 billion acquisition of properties managed by The Forestland Group, which owns 1.7 million acres of timberland.
     Blue Source is committed to prioritizing climate mitigation in its forestry enterprises. The deal will allow Blue Source to sequester hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide through sustainable forestry management, according to Kirkland & Ellis.
    The 51 law firms that received the Senate Republicans’ letters of concern included some of Washington’s largest, such as DLA Piper, Covington & Burling LLP and WilmerHale.
     The letters said ESG could be considered an attempt "to weaponize corporations to reshape society in ways that Americans would never endorse at the ballot box."
     "Of particular concern is the collusive effort to restrict the supply of coal, oil, and gas, which is driving up energy costs across the globe and empowering America's adversaries abroad," the senators wrote.
     District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine accused the Republican politicians of "kowtowing to the demands of a small group of corporate donors" by "engaging in a dangerous misinformation campaign to influence how investment decisions are made."
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Trump Hit with Second Round of Lawsuit
By Female Journalist Claiming Rape

     An advice columnist who accused Donald Trump of raping her before he was president refiled her defamation lawsuit against him this week and added a new legal claim.
     The new claim of battery results from the sexual assault that E. Jean Carroll says Trump inflicted on her in a New York department store in the mid-1990s.
     She seeks compensation for what she says is damage to her reputation as a journalist after Trump called her a liar.
     Carroll added the battery allegation as her lawsuit for defamation faces increasingly dim chances of success.
     Last week, Trump pushed back with support from the Justice Department by urging the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to dismiss the lawsuit.
     He argued that his comments about Carroll were a response to media inquiries while he performed his official duties as president. As a matter of federal law, presidents are immune from liability for their official actions.
     "The president's ability to effectively deal with personal accusations (which typically affect any president) was part and parcel of his position as chief executive of the United States," Trump argued in a legal brief.
     Federal court precedent has traditionally sided with public officials who claim immunity from defamation lawsuits based on their public comments.
     The Justice Department agreed in a separate legal brief that Trump should be immune from the lawsuit but added that it did not agree with his comments.
     Trump's statements "were without question unnecessary and abhorrent," the Justice Department wrote but added that they should be tolerated because they dealt with his fitness to hold office.
     "When reporters ask the mayor (or the president or a member of Congress) to respond to serious public allegations of wrongdoing, their questions are posed to that official in her capacity as an elected official accountable to the public," the Justice Department said. "Likewise, when the mayor (or the president or member of Congress) responds to reporters' questions with denials of wrongdoing, she acts within the scope of her public office."
     Caroll’s attorney revealed plans to modify the lawsuit in a court filing last week.
     Attorney Roberta A. Kaplan said the amended lawsuit revives the defamation claim based on statements Trump made after he left office.
     One of them was last month, when Trump again accused Carroll of lying in a social media post and called her “a complete con job.”
     The refiled lawsuit's claim of battery is allowed under a new state law in New York called the Adult Survivors Act. It offers adult sexual assault victims an opportunity to sue years after the attack, despite the fact the statute of limitations otherwise would have extinguished any opportunities for a lawsuit.
     The Adult Survivors Act opens a time frame for the lawsuits that begins this week on Nov. 24.
     Carroll, now 78, wrote in a 2019 book titled “What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal” that Trump raped her after they met at the Bergdorf Goodman luxury department store in New York City. She said he pushed her against a wall, pulled down her tights, opened his pants and forced his way into her.
     At the time, she wrote the “Ask E. Jean” column for Elle magazine.
     Trump denied ever meeting Carroll when he first called her a liar.
     The lawsuit is Carroll v. Trump, case number 22-SP-0745, in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Sues Washington Commanders Again
Claiming Season Ticket Holders Cheated

     The District of Columbia’s attorney general sued the Washington Commanders football team last week for allegedly keeping refundable deposits that were supposed to be returned to season ticket holders.
     The lawsuit says the team violated Washington, D.C.’s consumer protection laws.
     D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said the refund dispute is “another example of egregious mismanagement and illegal conduct by Commanders executives who seem determined to lie, cheat, and steal from District residents in as many ways as possible.”
     The lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court was the second in eight days by Racine’s office.
    The first accused team owner Dan Snyder of encouraging a hostile work environment that included sexual harassment of cheerleaders. It also accuses National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell of helping to cover up the workplace abuses.
     The lawsuit filed Thursday invokes the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act when it says the Commanders were required under their contracts with ticket holders to return their security deposits. The law bans misleading statements by merchants or businesses that could harm local residents.
     Whistleblower employees disclosed what they called financial improprieties to a congressional committee that was investigating how Snyder and his executives managed the team behind the scenes. The House Oversight and Reform Committee started its investigation after news reports in 2020 about the team’s treatment of employees.
     The committee reported its findings in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission. It said that the team might have withheld as much as $5 million in refundable deposits from season ticket holders and possibly hid funds that were supposed to be shared with other NFL teams.
     Since then, the Commanders have returned some of the deposits to season ticket holders but still hold about 200,000, according to Racine.
     “They have also forfeited thousands of dollars from District consumers’ security deposits and converted that money into revenue for the team, to use for its own purposes,” Racine said in a statement.
     The lawsuit seeks a court order against the alleged exploitation of customers and financial penalties against the team.
     The Commanders’ contract with season ticket holders promised their deposits would be refunded within 30 days after the contracts expired. The deposit amounts varied with the seats purchased but typically ran into hundreds of dollars.
     When ticket holders requested the refunds, the Commanders would impose additional conditions they did not disclose previously, according to the lawsuit. 
     At one point, a Commanders employee alerted the team’s corporate officers in 2009 that withholding the refunds violated the contract terms, “but the team continued to impose these additional obligations on consumers,” Racine said.
     The Commanders denied most of the allegations, saying they have not required security deposits in more than a decade and returned the ones they did accept.
     The team also said in a statement that they “engaged an outside law firm and forensic auditors to conduct an extensive review of the team’s accounts which found no evidence that the team intentionally withheld security deposits that should have been returned to customers or that the team improperly converted any unclaimed deposits to revenue.”
     Commanders owner Snyder in recent weeks reportedly hired an investment bank to search for potential buyers of the NFL franchise.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Mayor Hesitates on Signing
Law Revising Criminal Code

     Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser still is hesitating on whether to sign a bill into law that updates and overhauls the local criminal code.
     It passed unanimously in the heavily Democratic D.C. Council last week but Bowser expressed concerns that it advances soft-on-crime policies that could contribute to a rising crime rate.
     She said she agreed with 95 percent of it but was “disappointed with several provisions."
     Her greatest criticism focused on reducing prison time for carrying a pistol without a license and being a felon in possession of a gun.
     The new code eliminates nearly all mandatory minimum prison sentences, including some for the gun crimes blamed for the worst of Washington’s violence.
     Many of the concerns mentioned by Bowser are being repeated in cities nationwide. Crime was a major issue in the nation’s midterm elections this month.
     Other provisions of the D.C. criminal code revision would require jury trials in nearly all misdemeanor cases and reduce the maximum penalties for offenses such as burglaries, carjackings and robberies. The law will take effect in three years to give the courts and police time to implement it properly.
     Anita Josey-Herring, chief judge for D.C. Superior Court, told Bowser in a letter that the guarantee of jury trials in more cases would overburden the courts. Superior Court is operating with 14 judicial vacancies.
     “Filling these judicial vacancies is vital to the fair and timely administration of justice for the public we serve,” Josey-Herring said in her letter. “Given the dire need to have these judicial vacancies filled, it is important to emphasize the critical impact that increasing the workload will have on court operations, and the fair and timely administration of justice.”
     Work on the 450-page bill started a decade ago. It is the first update since 1901.
     Some of the old laws regulated management of stables and mules. The older laws were widely criticized by criminal attorneys for ambiguous language that made them hard to apply in court cases.
     One of the witnesses who testified in favor of the bill was Kelvin Blowe, who spent five years in prison for robbery. Afterward, he became a policy advocate for the D.C. Justice Lab, which worked to reform the criminal code.
     Hours before the D.C. Council voted to approve the bill, Blowe was shot and killed by a gunman after the two of them were involved in an automobile crash.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Grand Juror Faces Criminal Charges
After Posting Proceedings on Instagram

     The Justice Department last week charged Washington, D.C., resident Alexander Hamilton with contempt and obstruction of justice for allegedly recording secret grand jury proceedings and posting them on Instagram.
     He was arrested after Metropolitan Police Department officers found Instagram video on an account with about 10,400 followers that showed proceedings and testimony in the grand jury room of D.C. Superior Court.
     Hamilton admitted posting the video when he was confronted by U.S. Attorney’s Office personnel. By then, the video had been shared in dozens of text messages and on Instagram.
     Forensic extraction from his phone showed messages indicating he knew he was not supposed to have his phone in the room during grand jury proceedings, according to the Justice Department. He also took an oath to maintain the secrecy of grand jury information.
     On Sept. 9, the same day he took the oath, Hamilton recorded a video of himself standing with his right hand raised as he was sworn in, according to the Justice Department. The video shows him looking down at his phone and saying, "I'm about to lie."
     Grand jurors are supposed to leave their phones and other recording devices in lockers in the lobby of the U.S. Attorney's Office before entering grand jury rooms.
     Hamilton, 28, was released on a personal recognizance bond but with restrictions on his social media use. He is set to appear at a preliminary hearing on Jan. 11.
     The contempt charge is a federal offense while the obstruction charge is a District of Columbia offense.
     “Grand jurors are admonished to preserve the secrecy of the proceedings by abstaining from communicating with family, friends, representatives of the news media or any other person concerning that which transpires in the grand jury room,” a Justice Department statement says.
     The case is U.S. v. Alexander Hamilton in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
     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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