​​The Latest Legal News & Industry Information

U.S. Court Allows Patents

For Marijuana Formulations

     A federal court ruling last week set a precedent likely to create a storm of new patent business for Washington, D.C. law firms willing to venture into the quickly growing marijuana industry.
     The Tenth Circuit ruled that cannabinoid formulations can be considered the unique handiwork of their developers and not naturally occurring substances.
     The ruling appears to be a first for the marijuana industry at a time it is being legalized nationwide.
     A recent report from Arcview Market Research and its research partner BDS Analytics showed spending on legal cannabis worldwide is expected to reach $57 billion by 2027. Cannabis is the active ingredient that makes the marijuana plant a drug.
     Adult-use for the recreational market will make up 67 percent of the spending while medical uses take up the rest, according to Arcview Market Research.
     The biggest growth is expected in North America, rising from $9.2 billion in 2017 to $47.3 billion a decade later, the report says.
     The District of Columbia and Maryland were among the first jurisdictions nationwide to legalize both medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. The Virginia General Assembly is considering similar legislation.
     The Tenth Circuit ruling allows the medical marijuana firm United Cannabis to retain its patent on a liquid cannabinoid formulation that was challenged by a competing company. The competitor, Pure Hemp Collective, argued that it could sell the same formulation without United Cannabis’ permission because it is a naturally occurring substance.
     Only products that represent the unique work of the inventors can win enforceable patents under U.S. law.
     U.S. District Judge William Martinez agreed with United Cannabis that its formulation was not "an unpatentable law of nature, a natural phenomenon or an abstract idea.”
     He wrote that even if it were “theoretically possible” that cannabinoids could occur in nature in liquid form, the patent specifies threshold concentrations of those cannabinoids.
     “Pure Hemp nowhere claims that these precise concentrations, or anything close to them, occur in liquid form in nature,” Martinez wrote.
     The case is United Cannabis Corp. v. Pure Hemp Collective Inc., case number 18-cv-01922, in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

Media Argues Against Judge’s Use

Of Husher During Criminal Trial

     A group of media and public interest organizations is siding with a criminal defendant in a motion for rehearing after a D.C. Superior Court judge masked jury selection in a 2015 trial by using a “husher” or white noise machine.
     The 18 media organizations argue the judge violated the media’s First Amendment right to a free press and the defendant’s right to a fair and open trial.
     They filed an amicus brief with the court this month that says, “The very purposes of the First Amendment right of access — to allow the public to oversee and understand what is transpiring in the courtroom, and to monitor judges and participants — cannot be achieved if the public cannot hear what is being said. The First Amendment creates a strong presumption of public access to all aspects of criminal trials, including voir dire.”
     In Blades v. United States, Jonathan Blades is charged with multiple felonies after a February 2014 fight and shooting in Northwest Washington, D.C.
     During voir dire, Associate Judge Michael Ryan summoned prospective jurors to the bench to ask them potentially disqualifying questions. He used a husher to allow only Blades, the attorneys and the court reporter to hear the questions and answers.
     A husher is a noise generator that produces a static sound around the judge’s bench, making it nearly impossible for anyone in the audience to hear what is being said. It is designed to ensure privacy for discussions with a judge that are not subject to open trial.
     Blades’ attorneys objected to use of the husher but Ryan justified it by saying he was trying to protect “the candor of prospective jurors.” He said it was his “experience and belief that [potential jurors] are less forthcoming in response especially to sensitive questions when they don’t have, at least, the cover of the husher and being up at the bench.”
     Blades appealed his subsequent conviction by arguing the trial violated his constitutional rights when the jury selection questions and answers were shielded from the public.
     His attorneys cited a D.C. Court of Appeals precedent that said “it is only under the most exceptional circumstances that limited portions of a criminal trial may be closed even partially to the public.”
     The media organizations’ amicus brief argues that, “The right to observe a judicial proceeding necessarily includes the right to listen to what is being said. The public’s right of access to judicial proceedings would be hollow if all it guaranteed was a right to be physically present in the courtroom.”
     They also said obtaining a court-provided transcript of the jury selection at a later date -- which was offered in the Blades case -- meant “it is the public that loses valuable, timely information.”
     Organizations joining the amicus brief included the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The Washington Post, the D.C. Open Government Coalition and ACLU of D.C.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.
     Here is the link to the amicus brief: https://www.rcfp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/2019-04-08-Blades-v-US.pdf

D.C. Council Resolution Alleges

Damage from Maryland Traffic Plan

     A Washington, D.C. Council proposal this week to oppose a plan by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to build toll lanes on three major highways leading into the District is setting the stage for a major environmental lawsuit.
     A pending D.C. Council resolution urges Hogan to expand public transit rather than roadways.
     The D.C. resolution says wider roadways will only make traffic congestion worse and run up the local government’s bill for maintenance.
     “It also is a setback for our region’s ambitious climate goals,” Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) said in a statement. She introduced the resolution.
     “Widening these highways would have direct negative consequences on the District of Columbia,” Nadeau said.
     Hogan said his plan would relieve traffic on the Capital Beltway, Interstate 270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. He also said the tolls would mean the highway project would not cost taxpayers any additional money.
     Environmental groups, residents and public officials from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are among the most vocal opponents. They say the toll lanes would cause the destruction of 34 homes and four businesses along the Capital Beltway.
     Although the D.C. resolution did not directly threaten a lawsuit against Maryland, it suggested evidence that Hogan’s opponents could claim as damages.
     “When roads are widened, more drivers are encouraged to use them, and the end result is the same traffic problem as before,” the resolution says. “This phenomenon of ‘induced demand’ is thoroughly documented and commonly accepted among transportation experts. Even Virginia’s efforts to add tolls to I-66 and I-495 while widening them have had few impacts on overall congestion.”
     The result is likely to be more damage to road infrastructure, more greenhouse gas emissions and traffic fatalities, Nadeau said.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Tunnel Between D.C. and Baltimore

Faces Environmental Challenges

    Elon Musk’s tunneling company for high-speed trains between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore overcame one regulatory obstacle last week but is facing another one.
    The U.S. Transportation Department announced last week that the Boring Company completed its environmental assessment for the project. A draft of the assessment is available now for public comment until the first week of June.
    The first phase of the project would use autonomous electric vehicles to transport travelers as fast as 150 mph between stations near Union Station in Washington and Camden Yards in Baltimore.
    Eventually, the tunnel could be morphed into a “hyperloop” system for magnetically-levitated trains that travel along the Northeast Corridor at 600 mph. The twin tunnels would be excavated 30 feet under the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
    Transportation Department officials still are reviewing the hyperloop proposal.
    First, Musk and the Boring Company must address the concerns of landowners and residents along the route about disruptions from construction, noise and increased traffic near the stations.
    If recent history in Los Angeles is an example, courts are likely to intervene.
    Musk withdrew his plans for an underground transit system based in Los Angeles and running under Interstate 405 after community groups sued the city. They said the environmental review process was inadequate.

D.C. Contractor Convicted

But Faces More Trials

     A contractor to the District of Columbia government is facing trial in federal court this summer after being convicted this month in D.C. Superior Court on financial charges that could land him in prison for 23 years.
     Keith Forney, a real estate developer and strip club owner, was found guilty of perjury, corrupt election practices and defrauding the District’s contracting program that gives preference to local businesses, known as Certified Business Enterprises (CBE).
     Most of the charges result from millions of dollars of public construction contracts he won over the years from D.C., Maryland and the federal government. The projects included schools, community centers and the renovation of Eastern Market.
     Other charges are based on his generous campaign donations to several local politicians who were positioned to help win the contracts. Forney allegedly exceeded the campaign donation limits allowed by law.
     In one famous case in 2012, then D.C. Council member Marion Barry was accused of accepting a $2,800 cash gift from Forney at his strip club, called the Stadium Club. The D.C. Council censured Barry afterward.
     D.C. law limits campaign contributions from a single person or business entity to $500 for ward candidates and $1,000 for candidates for city-wide seats.
     Other charges came from Forney’s residency status. Although he is a Maryland resident, he obtained a D.C. driver’s license that he used to register to vote. He also won multi-million dollar contracts with the D.C. government by improperly claiming he lived in the District.
     The 60-year-old faces two more trials in the coming months, one for tax fraud and the other on charges of mail fraud and related financial crimes.

800 4th Street SW, No. N517   Washington, DC 20024
Phone: 240-421-6395   E-mail: tramstack@gmail.com