Category Archives: courts

Court orders reporter to testify in leak case re: Sterling

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 188-page decision that there is no journalist protection of sources.  The decision can be viewed here.

In this case, ex-CIA officer Sterling worked for the CIA from 1993 to Jan. 2002.  During his tenure, he provided classified information to a NT Times reporter Risen.  In 2001, Risen published two articles based on classified information provided to him by Sterling.  After Sterling’s employment was terminated, Sterling attempted to publish a book but was denied ultimately because it contained classified information.

Afterwards, and while Sterling was pursuing legal action against the CIA, Sterling again gave Risen classified information.  NY Times Reporter met with senior administration officials to discuss the impact of the story.  The recommendation was to not publish, which the NY Times agreed to.  Nevertheless, NY Times reporter Risen published his book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,” which disclosed classified information.

As a result, the Attorney General sought to compel Risen’s testimony about the identity of his source.  Risen motioned to quash the subpoena on the basis that he was protected under the First Amendment or/and the federal common-law reporter’s privilege.

 

The Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.  The court held that Risen did not have a reporter’s privilege.  The Circuit Court of Appeals relied heavily on Supreme Court cases.

In Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972), the Supreme Court in no uncertain terms rejected the existence of a reporters’ privilege.   In Univ. of Pa. v. EEOC, 493 U.S. 182, 201 (1990), the Supreme Court explained that the “First Amendment does not invalidate every burdening of the press that may result from the enforcement of civil or criminal statutes of general applicability.”  In Cohen v. Cowles Media Co., 501 U.S. 663, 669 (1991), the Supreme Court again stated that the First Amendment does not “relieve a newspaper reporter of the obligation shared by all citizens to a grand jury subpoena and answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation, even though the reporter might be required to reveal a confidential source.”

Pointedly, the Circuit Court of Appeals refused to apply a “balance test” approach when deciding whether a reporter can be compelled to testify in criminal proceedings.  The court noted that in civil matters, the court recognized a reporter’s privilege which could be overcome if the 3-part test was met.

The Circuit Court of Appeals noted why this line is so important.  In criminal cases, there is a fundamental and comprehensive need for every man’s evidence.  For this reason, any shield to information has to be narrowly construed.  In a civil matter, however, the need for information does not share the same urgency or significance.

For these reasons, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered NY Times reporter Risen to testify in the criminal trial of former CIA official Sterling charged with providing the reporter with classified information.  In so doing, the Court of Appeals held that the First Amendment does not protect reporters who receive unauthorized leaks from being forced to testify against the people suspected of leaking to them.

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July 22, 2013 · 13:45

Detroit Bankruptcy is Unconstitutional

As a follow up to the prior post reporting on the bankruptcy filing of Detroit, now a Michigan court has ruled that the bankruptcy filing is unconstitutional.  The decision can be accessed here.

The background of this legal battle raises a lot of legal questions.  The events are as follows.  First, Detroit announces it will be declaring bankruptcy.  Then, lawsuits are filed to block bankruptcy filings/proceedings.  An emergency hearing is scheduled on Thursday (last week) in front of a judge about blocking the bankruptcy proceedings.  Five (5) minutes before the Thursday hearing, Detroit files a petition for bankruptcy.  Afterwards, another hearing is set for Friday.

On Friday, the Ingham County Court ruled against the city.  The court relied on Michigan’s state constitution, which prohibits actions that diminish or impair pension benefits of public employees.  Because Detroit was aware that declaring bankruptcy would affect negatively the pension benefits of public employees, the court ruled that it acted unconstitutionally.

Michigan’s Attorney General Schuette stated that Detroit will be appealing the ruling.  The Attorney General also stated that they will be requesting a stay on the bankruptcy proceedings until the appeal is heard.

This background is so interesting because it raises a lot of legal questions.  Filing a Chapter 9 petition gives the bankruptcy court exclusive jurisdiction over the debtor’s (Detroit) assets.  The interesting predicament is that Detroit filed a petition for bankruptcy five (5) minutes before the Thursday hearing — before any order from the Ingham County Court.

Yet, the state court is ordering the Governor to “(1) direct the Emergency Manager to immediately withdraw the Chapter 9 petition filed on July 18, and (2) not authorize any further Chapter 9 filing which threatens to diminish or impair accrued pension benefits.”

Some of the questions include how to reconcile the state’s and the bankruptcy’s court jurisdictions.  For example, can the state court order state officials (like the Governor) to withdraw the petition? How can a bankruptcy proceeding reconcile itself with Michigan’s state constitution? Are the plaintiffs subject to sanctions for violating a stay in bankruptcy court?

The Huffington Post has an interesting tidbit:

Michigan is one of nine states that explicitly protects public employee pensions in its state constitution.  But the state of Michigan doesn’t guarantee the money to public employees if a city defaults or can’t pay those bills…

The law of bankruptcy is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.  And the limited case law of Chapter 9 bankruptcy, which applies to cities and municipalities, doesn’t say whether a judge can legally subvert Michigan’s constitution to lessen Detroit’s obligations to its pensioners.

You can read more about Michigan’s constitution protecting public employees’ pensions here.  Some other notable Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings nuclide Jefferson County, Alabama (2011) and Orange County, California (1994).

via Detroit bankruptcy unconstitutional, judge rules in pension case – ABA Journal.

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Hair evidence analysis is not so great

I came across this very interesting press release which stated that in many FBI cases hair analysis’ reliability was exaggerated when making a positive identification in FBI cases.  These include 27 capital cases.

According to the press release, the FBI labs reports have consistently asserted that hair analysis can’t be used to make a positive identification.  However, some FBI agents asserted that hair analysis led to near-certain matches.

In other words, the practice of using hair analysis was deemed “highly unreliable” by the National Academy of Science.  Even though it is possible to conduct hair microscopy and find similarities among various samples, “in many cases the FBI analysts were overstating the significance of these similarities, often leaving juries with the false impression that a hair recovered from the crime scene must have come from the defendant and could not have come from anyone else.” (italics and underline added).

The FBI and the Justice Department uncovered the cases in a review of more than 20,000 lab files that was undertaken in consultation with the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the story says.  So far, about 15,000 files have been reviewed, turning up about 2,100 cases in which hair evidence was used and 120 convictions that could be problematic, including the 27 capital cases.

The Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld made the following statement:

The government’s willingness to admit error and accept its duty to correct those errors in an extraordinarily large number of cases is truly unprecedented.

The Justice Department will notify prosecutors, convicted defendants and their lawyers if a review panel finds FBI examiners made excessive claims. In such cases, the Justice Department will waive rules that restrict post-conviction appeals and will test DNA evidence upon the request of judges or prosecutors.

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Detroit files for bankruptcy

When I heard about this story on NPR I wasn’t surprised.  Detroit has struggled since the closing of car factories.  Several years ago when I visited Detroit, in my opinion Detroit seemed like an empty city.  The factories were big lots of land deserted.

Yesterday (July 18th) Detroit filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 9.  Detroit is seeking to negotiate is $18.5 million debt.  Governor Snyder stated,

The fiscal realities confronting Detroit have been ignored for too long. I’m making this tough decision so the people of Detroit will have the basic services they deserve and so we can start to put Detroit on a solid financial footing that will allow it to grow and prosper in the future.

This is a difficult step, but the only viable option to address a problem that has been six decades in the making.

Consequently, two pension funds have filed a complaint against emergency manager Kevyn Orr (Gen. Ret. Sys. of the City of Detroit v. Orr., No. 13-768-CZ, Circuit Court Ingham County, Michigan) and Governor Snyder seeking to block the bankruptcy from proceeding.

The funds allege that a bankruptcy proceeding would interfere with the constitutional protection of public retiree rights.

via Detroit files for bankruptcy, the biggest US city ever to do so – ABA Journal.

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Prop. 8: official proponents of Prop 8 could not appeal

The Supreme Court decided Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144 (2013), holding that petitioners did not have standing to appeal Proposition 8.

As background, California granted same-sex marriages.  However, this was later reversed through Proposition 8.  Under Proposition 8, California Constitution was changed to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  The California Supreme Court held that Proposition 8 left the rights of same-sex couples largely undisturbed, reserving only the official designation of the term marriage for the union of opposite-sex couples.

The parties in this lawsuit help explain the Supreme Court’s decision.  Respondents (Plaintiffs), two same-sex couples who wished to marry, filed a lawsuit in federal court. Defendants (including the Governor, Attorney General, and other officials) did not decent the law.  Nevertheless, Defendants continued to enforce the law.

Petitioners, who appealed, were official proponents of Proposition 8.  Petitioners, instead of Defendants, defended Proposition 8.  The District Court then held that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.    Petitioners (not Defendants) appealed.

Now the question is: do these Petitioners have standing in order to be involved in this case?  The California Supreme Court held that Petitioners were authorized to appear and assert the state’s interest in the validity of Proposition 8.  The Ninth Circuit then affirmed the District Court’s decision, ruling that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruled that Petitioners did not have standing.  First of all, when Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional two things happened: Respondents (Plaintiffs) no longer had an injury to redress because they won; and Defendants chose not to appeal.

Petitioners did not have a personal and individual injury.  There was no “direct stake” in the outcome of the appeal.  In other words, they were pushing a generalized grievance.  Consequently, Petitioners could not appeal.

The Supreme Court explained,

No matter how deeply committed petitioners may be to upholding Proposition 8 or how “zealous [their] advocacy,” that is not a “particularized” interest sufficient to create a case or controversy under Article III.

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DOMA is unconstitutional

The Supreme Court opinion on United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307 (2013) held that DOMA was unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment when it failed to recognize same-sex marriage federally.

It is important to note that the reasoning behind this ruling was based on the fact that there are States which granted same-sex marriage but were not recognized federally.  By failing to recognize those same-sex marriages, the government was discriminating against same-sex married couples.  In doing so, same-sex married couples were deprived of the benefits and responsibilities of over 1,000 federal laws.  Including protections under criminal law and provide financial harm to children of same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court noted that the State’s authority to regulate marriages was being squashed by the federal government.  Based on precedent, “[e]ach state as a sovereign has a rightful and legitimate concern in the marital status of persons domiciled within its borders.”  “The definition of marriage is the foundation of the State’s broader authority to regulate the subject of domestic relations with respect to the ‘[p]rotection of offspring, property interests, and the enforcement of marital responsibilities.'” (italics added).

Instead of respecting the State’s authority to regulate marriages, DOMA’s purpose was to “impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a sigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”

Given that DOMA’s purpose was to impose restrictions and disabilities, the Supreme Court stated that “[b]y doing so [DOMA] violates basic due process and equal protection principles.”

The Supreme Court found that

DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.  The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency….

DOMA contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities.  By creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State, DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect.

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Silence can be used against defendant

In Salinas v. Texas, No. 12-246, 2013 BL 158572 (2013), the Supreme Court that a defendant who didn’t expressly invoke his 5th Amendment privilege against self-incrimination before an arrest can have his silence used against him in court.

In this case, defendant Salinas voluntarily went to the police station.  Here, Salinas answered questions until he was asked whether the shell casings found at the murder scene matched his shotgun.  This silence was used against him in court.  Salinas was then convicted of the crime.

The Supreme Court held that there was no violation of the right against self-incrimination.  The Supreme Court stated,

 Petitioner’s Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the officer’s question.

The Supreme Court explained that a defendant does not invoke the privilege by remaining silent.

The Supreme Court raised an interesting question: what happens if the defendant had invoke the 5th amendment?  Justice Alito explained that the court did not have to decide on what the result would be if the defendant had indeed asserted his privilege.

Justice Thomas, however, in a concurring opinion, stated that even if Sallinas had invoked the privilege, the silence could still be used in court.

Justice Thomas explained:

A defendant is not ‘compelled . . . to be a witness against himself’ simply because a jury has been told that it may draw an adverse inference from his silence.

 

via SCOTUS: Silence can be used against defendant who didn’t claim privilege in voluntary meeting – ABA Journal.

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Sup. Ct. allows Class Action Arbitration under FAA

In Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, No. 12-125 (2013), the Supreme Court ruled that an arbitrator can require a class action arbitration.

The gist of the case is that Sutter, a pediatrician, had a fee-for-services contract, which required arbitration for all contractual disputes.  When Oxford failed to promptly pay him and other physicians, Sutter filed a class action in New Jersey.  After filing, the court compelled arbitration.  The arbitrator concluded that the contract called for class action arbitration.  Sutter appealed to higher courts, but these appeals were denied.

The Supreme Court explained its decision as follows.  First, the parties agreed to go to arbitration in their contract.  Second, an arbitrator looks at the contract, makes a decision based on the contractual language, and this decision is binding.  Thirdly, and most importantly, the Supreme Court explained that judicial review is limited to whether the arbitrator interpreted the contract, not whether the court agreed with the decision.  Consequently, because the arbitrator considered the contract, the arbitrator’s decision stands.  They only way to vacate an arbitral decision is when an arbitrator strayed from his task of interpreting the contract.  In other words, not when he performed his task poorly.

As a note: In prior decisions (Steelworkers Trilogy/Misco) in the labor context under the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), the Supreme Court had ruled that a contractual language had to explicitly allow class actions in the arbitration clause.  Here, the arbitration clause did not do so.

This raises the question of how the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) reconciles with LMRA arbitrations when they are both present.  In this case, only the FAA was involved.

via Workplace Prof Blog: SCOTUS OKs Class Arbitration.

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Filed under Appellate, courts, employment, labor, legal decision, Supreme Court, union, waiver

Is a Fourth Branch in the horizon?

The Washington Post has a very interesting article, which highlights the increased deferment of cases to government agencies.  Instead of going through the court system, many cases are increasingly going through administrative agencies instead.

The question posed here is whether the right for court accessibility being challenged?  The Washington Post raises its concerns:

The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself: It is just not bigger, it is dangerously off kilter.  Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.

The Washington Post reports that the vast majority of laws governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations.  A study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.

The Washington Post also reports that a citizen is 10 times more likely to be tried by an agency instead of an actual court.  While federal judges conduct roughly 95,000 adjudicatory proceedings (including trials), federal agencies complete more than 939,000.

However, there are several items the Washington Post fails to mention.  The increasingly use of administrative agencies does not only fall upon the agency.

Take for example the individual’s decision to file a charge/claim.  Going through administrative agencies is more cost-effective.  Lawsuits in court have become more expensive.  Technology, electronic evidence, growth in documents and companies, among others, lead to a higher volume of issues and motions that increase the cost of litigation.  Given both alternatives, it makes sense that an individual might choose to go through an administrative agency.

For example, an individual going through the EEOC for a discrimination charge does not have to pay anything.  While an individual going through the court system may have to pay attorney fees and might be responsible for attorney fees.

 

 

Saying that, however, the issue of transparency and timing is highly concerning.  Administrative decisions are not public.  In addition, the length of an administrative decision might take several years.

via The rise of the fourth branch of government – The Washington Post.

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