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

Trump Officials Accused of Intimidating
D.C. Advocacy Group for Internet Freedom

     The Trump administration is accused in a new lawsuit in Washington, D.C. of trying to squelch media rights of a nonprofit organization that receives grants from the U.S. government.
     The Washington-based Open Technology Fund says the Trump administration is trying to intimidate it, perhaps to gain greater influence over its work with Internet organizations. The intimidation allegedly includes a threat to cut off its grant money.
     The Open Technology Fund is an advocacy organization for an open forum on the Internet with no encryption, particularly in developing countries. Many of the Internet-based organizations that Open Technology Fund assists are part of the news media.
     It also is a grantee of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees Voice of America and other government media enterprises.
     The Agency for Global Media has been trying to get its own appointees onto the Open Technology Fund’s board of directors but the nonprofit organization has refused to recognize their authority, thereby rendering the nonprofit nearly unable to operate.
     The lawsuit is part of a larger dispute with the Trump administration and Agency for Global Media over how much the government can control the media.
     The Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Trump appointee Michael Pack late last month to head the Agency for Global Media after a long and divisive struggle among lawmakers. Pack is known as a conservative filmmaker.
     Within a week after taking his new job, Pack fired the heads of four federally funded agencies that produce news and information for international audiences. They included Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.
     Voice of America delivers television and radio programs to 236.6 million people worldwide.
     Washington’s attorney general accused Pack and the Agency for Global Media of similar heavy-handed tactics with the Open Technology Fund when he filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court July 20.
     It asks for a declaratory judgment saying the original board is valid but the board appointed by Pack has no authority. It also asks the court to declare any actions by the new board to be void.
     The D.C. attorney general is authorized under local law to take action to protect nonprofit organizations. His lawsuit says the court’s decision should be guided by D.C. law on nonprofit organizations rather than Trump administration policy.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Quarantine Order Creates Challenge
For Privileges and Immunities Clause

     District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser’s quarantine order that took effect last week is stepping into an unsettled area of Constitutional law that touches on travelers’ rights.
     Bowser ordered that visitors traveling to Washington from "high-risk areas" for non-essential purposes must self-quarantine for 14 days before going out publicly.
     The order defines “high-risk” as locations with a seven-day moving average of 10 or more new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents. California, Florida and Texas are examples.
     Anyone violating the order could face 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. City officials plan to publish their list of high-risk areas every two weeks on coronavirus.dc.gov.
     Although a court challenge to a quarantine order held up to a challenge by a South Carolina man visiting Hawaii, others are pending.
     One of them was filed in federal court last month by an Arizona woman who says New York’s quarantine order violates her 14th Amendment right of Equal Protection. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the travel restrictions.
     So far, potential plaintiffs appear to be downplaying a strategy that relies on the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV in the U.S. Constitution.
     Section 2, Clause 1, also known as the Comity Clause, bars any state from treating citizens of other states in a discriminatory manner. It also gives residents of other states a right of interstate travel. 
     However, federal and local laws also give broad powers to local officials in emergencies resulting from health and safety disasters. Hurricane evacuations are a typical example.
     Implications for how the dispute is resolved could spread far beyond Washington, where thousands of visitors enter daily to participate in the business of the federal government.
     The D.C. quarantine order says visitors must stay in their homes or hotel rooms and leave only for medical appointments or to get food and other essential goods. In addition, everyone out in public must wear a mask.
     Bowser said at a press conference, “We’re four months in, people are tired and, in some cases, are letting down their guards. But we all want to get on the other side of this virus. So it is important that we remain vigilant.”
     The mayor said she is considering rolling back D.C.’s reopening from Phase 2 to Phase 1.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Judge Defines Bitcoin as Money
Under D.C. Money Laundering Law

     A federal judge’s recent ruling gave prosecutors in the District of Columbia a new tool for pursuing money launderers by redefining bitcoin as a form of currency.
     The ruling was based on the prosecution of a man who tried to evade criminal charges after he allegedly transferred more than 350,000 of his customers’ bitcoins to retailers in a way they could not be traced to a source.
     In other words, he sought to conceal the bitcoin transfers to retailers to purchase guns, drugs and other illegal items on the darknet, according to an indictment.
     The darknet is a network of underground websites that require special authorizations and software to gain access. 
     The suspect, Larry Dean Harmon, was prosecuted under the District of Columbia’s Money Transmitters Act. The indictment accused him of running an unlicensed money transmitting business in Washington that operated under the name of Helix.
     Harmon advertised Helix as a law enforcement evasion service for customers of the darknet market AlphaBay. Helix charged a fee to “conceal and obfuscate the source or owner of the bitcoins," the indictment says. 
     In his defense, Harmon argued that bitcoin was not money under definitions of Washington’s Money Transmitters Act. Therefore, he could not be charged with money laundering.
     U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell agreed the Act does not mention bitcoin but disagreed that it was not money.
     Despite the oversight in the Act, the statute gives enough guidance to include bitcoin as money, the judge’s ruling said.
     "The term 'money' ... commonly means a medium of exchange, method of payment, or store of value. Bitcoin is these things," Howell wrote.
     The case is U.S. v. Larry Dean Harmon, case number 1:19-cr-00395-BAH, 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.

D.C. Court of Appeals Considers
Admitting Attorneys Without Exam

     The D.C. Court of Appeals is considering whether to grant recent law school graduates licenses to practice without a need for a bar exam.
     The proposal is a response to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 6,500 people in Washington, Maryland and Virginia. In-person tests create too much of a risk to the health and lives of the test-takers and others, according to the Court of Appeals.
     Other states are considering similar plans, which prompted delegates to the American Bar Association’s annual meeting to debate the idea this week at their virtual annual meeting.
     The Court of Appeals is soliciting public comment on the proposal for the next week.
     If the law grads receive the “diploma privilege,” it would be a short-term measure. They still would be required to pass the bar exam at a later date.
     The D.C. Bar still plans to hold its online exam Oct. 5 and Oct. 6. Public comments the Court of Appeals is receiving could alter the exam schedule.
     The court asks interested parties to address the following issues in their comments:
     -- “What specific needs of prospective lawyers, clients and employers would be addressed by granting a diploma privilege or expanding the scope of temporary practice? What specific concerns would be raised by taking either step?”
     -- “What limits or conditions should be imposed on any diploma privilege or expanded temporary practice?”
     -- “What role can or should law schools and the Bar play in addressing these issues?
     Comments must be submitted by August 12. They can be submitted electronically to rules@dcappeals.gov, or in writing, addressed to the Clerk, D.C. Court of Appeals, 430 E Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.

Congress Reviews Police Actions
Against Portland and D.C. Protesters

     Recent police action against protesters in Lafayette Square near the White House fell under criticism during two congressional hearings last week.
     Some accusations of wrongdoing were directed at U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who Democratic lawmakers accused of abusing his authority by authorizing excessive force against Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
     “Shame on you, Mr. Barr,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
     The Black Lives Matter movement was prompted by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.
     Barr described Floyd’s killing as a “horrible” event but said it was not a primary reason for the ongoing violence.
     “Largely absent from these scenes of destruction are even superficial attempts by the rioters to connect their actions to George Floyd’s death or any legitimate call for reform,” Barr said. 
     In a separate congressional hearing, the House Natural Resources Committee reviewed actions by U.S. Park Police to remove protesters from Lafayette Square on June 1. Police removed them with smoke bombs and pepper balls shortly before President Donald Trump, accompanied by Barr, walked in front of a nearby church for a photo opportunity in which he held up a Bible.
     Adam DeMarco, a major in the District of Columbia National Guard, described the actions of Park Police as “unprovoked” and “excessive.”
     “Having served in a combat zone, and understanding how to assess threat environments, at no time did I feel threatened by the protesters or assess them to be violent,” DeMarco said in his testimony.
     DeMarco’s observations were sharply contradicted by Acting U.S. Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan.
     He said protesters threw “bricks, rocks, caustic liquids, water bottles, lit flares, fireworks” at police. He said 50 officers were injured but acknowledged under questioning from lawmakers that only one was hurt during the June 1 conflict.
     “Our actions as an agency on June 1 centered around public safety and the safety of my officers,” Monahan said in his testimony.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

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