Showing posts with label Courts-Federal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Courts-Federal. Show all posts

November 13, 2018

CNN Brings Suit Against Trump and Top WH House Aides For Barring Jim Acosta






CNN has filed a lawsuit against President Trump and several of his aides, seeking the immediate restoration of chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta's access to the White House.
The lawsuit is a response to the White House's suspension of Acosta's press pass, known as a Secret Service "hard pass," last week. The suit alleges that Acosta and CNN's First and Fifth Amendment rights are being violated by the ban.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning.
Both CNN and Acosta are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. There are six defendants: Trump, chief of staff John Kelly, press secretary Sarah Sanders, deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine, Secret Service director Randolph Alles, and the Secret Service officer who took Acosta's hard pass away last Wednesday.
    The six defendants are all named because of their roles in enforcing and announcing Acosta's suspension. 
    Sanders responded to the suit by saying that CNN is "grandstanding" by suing. She said the administration will "vigorously defend" itself.
    Last Wednesday, shortly after Acosta was denied entry to the White House grounds, Sanders defended the unprecedented step by claiming that he had behaved inappropriately at a presidential news conference. CNN and numerous journalism advocacy groups rejected that assertion and said his past should be reinstated.
    On Friday, CNN sent a letter to the White House formally requesting the immediate reinstatement of Acosta's pass and warning of a possible lawsuit, the network confirmed.
    In a statement on Tuesday morning, CNN said it is seeking a preliminary injunction as soon as possible so that Acosta can return to the White House right away, and a ruling from the court preventing the White House from revoking Acosta's pass in the future.
    "CNN filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration this morning in DC District Court," the statement read. "It demands the return of the White House credentials of CNN's Chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta's First Amendment rights of freedom of the press and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process. We have asked this court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process."
    The White House Correspondents' Association said it "strongly supports CNN's goal of seeing their correspondent regain a US Secret Service security credential that the White House should not have taken away in the first place."
    CNN also asserted that other news organizations could have been targeted by the Trump administration this way, and could be in the future.
    "While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone," the network said. "If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials."
    CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker reiterated that in an internal memo to staff. "This is not a step we have taken lightly. But the White House action is unprecedented," Zucker said.
    During his presidential campaign, Trump told CNN that, if elected, he would not kick reporters out of the White House. But since moving into the White House, he has mused privately about taking away credentials, CNN reported earlier this year. He brought it up publicly on Twitter in May, tweeting "take away credentials?" as a question.
    And he said it again on Friday, two days after blacklisting Acosta. "It could be others also," he said, suggesting he may strip press passes from other reporters. Unprompted, he then named and insulted April Ryan, a CNN analyst, and veteran radio correspondent.
    Trump's threats fly in the face of decades of tradition and precedent. Republican and Democratic administrations alike have had a permissive approach toward press passes, erring on the side of greater access, even for obscure, partisan or fringe outlets.
    That is one of the reasons why First Amendment attorneys say CNN and Acosta have a strong case.
    As the prospect of a lawsuit loomed on Sunday, attorney Floyd Abrams, one of the country's most respected First Amendment lawyers, said the relevant precedent is a 1977 ruling in favor of Robert Sherrill, a muckraking journalist who was denied access to the White House in 1966.
    Eleven years later, a D.C. Court of Appeals judge ruled that the Secret Service had to establish "narrow and specific" standards for judging applicants. In practice, the key question is whether the applicant would pose a threat to the president.
    The code of federal regulations states that "in granting or denying a request for a security clearance made in response to an application for a White House press pass, officials of the Secret Service will be guided solely by the principle of whether the applicant presents a potential source of physical danger to the President and/or the family of the President so serious as to justify his or her exclusion from White House press privileges."
    There are other guidelines as well. Abrams said the case law specifies that before a press pass is denied, "you have to have notice, you have to have a chance to respond, and you have to have a written opinion by the White House as to what it's doing and why, so the courts can examine it."
    "We've had none of those things here," Abrams said.
    That's why the lawsuit is alleging a violation of the Fifth Amendment right to due process.
    Acosta found out about his suspension when he walked up to the northwest gate of the White House, as usual, for a Wednesday night live shot. He was abruptly told to turn in his "hard pass," which speeds up entry and exit from the grounds.
    "I was just told to do it," the Secret Service officer said.
    Other CNN reporters and producers continue to work from the White House grounds, but not Acosta.
    "Relevant precedent says that a journalist has a First Amendment right of access to places closed to the public but open generally to the press. That includes press rooms and news conferences," Jonathan Peters, a media law professor at the University of Georgia, told CNN last week. "In those places, if access is generally inclusive of the press, then access can't be denied arbitrarily or absent compelling reasons. And the reasons that the White House gave were wholly unconvincing and uncompelling."
    The White House accused Acosta of placing his hands on an intern who was trying to take a microphone away from him during a press conference. Sanders shared a distorted video clip of the press conference as evidence. The White House's rationale has been widely mocked and dismissed by journalists across the political spectrum as an excuse to blacklist an aggressive reporter. And Trump himself has cast doubt on the rationale: He said on Friday that Acosta was "not nice to that young woman," but then he said, "I don't hold him for that because it wasn't over, you know, horrible."
    Acosta has continued to do part of his job, contacting sources and filing stories, but he has been unable to attend White House events or ask questions in person -- a basic part of any White House correspondent's role.
    Acosta is on a previously scheduled vacation this week. He declined to comment on the lawsuit.
    On CNN's side, CNN Worldwide chief counsel David Vigilante is joined by two prominent attorneys, Ted Boutrous and Theodore Olson. Both men are partners at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
    Last week, before he was retained by CNN, Boutrous tweeted that the action against Acosta "clearly violates the First Amendment." He cited the Sherrill case.
    "This sort of angry, irrational, false, arbitrary, capricious content-based discrimination regarding a White House press credential against a journalist quite clearly violates the First Amendment," he wrote.
    David McCraw, the top newsroom lawyer at The New York Times, said instances of news organizations suing a president are extremely rare.
    Past examples are The New York Times v. the U.S., the famous Supreme Court case involving the Pentagon Papers in 1971; and CNN's 1981 case against the White House and the broadcast networks, when CNN sued to be included in the White House press pool.
    The backdrop to this new suit, of course, is Trump's antipathy for CNN and other news outlets. He regularly derides reporters from CNN and the network as a whole.
    Abrams posited on "Reliable Sources" on Sunday that CNN might be reluctant to sue because the president already likes to portray the network as his enemy. Now there will be a legal case titled CNN Inc. versus President Trump.
    But, Abrams said, "this is going to happen again," meaning other reporters may be banned too.
      "Whether it's CNN suing or the next company suing, someone's going to have to bring a lawsuit," he said, "and whoever does is going to win unless there's some sort of reason."

      July 13, 2018

      Trump Administration Missed Court Ordered Deadline, What's Next?



      The Trump administration on Tuesday missed its first court-ordered deadline to reunify families separated at the border as it rushes to confirm the identities of parents and match records of the disparate agencies involved. 
      A San Diego federal judge had ordered the government to reunite all children under five years old by July 10, but as of Wednesday, only four reunifications had been confirmed.
      Government attorneys and administration officials said of the 102 children under five who had been separated, 38 were expected to be reunified by Tuesday. Late Wednesday evening, an administration official told ABC News that they anticipate that as of early morning on July 12, they will have reunified all children under age 5 who are eligible under the court order for reunification with parents in the United States.
      In a hearing on Tuesday, the judge acknowledged that not all 102 of these very young children could be immediately sent back to their parents - because some parents were deported without their children or had possible criminal backgrounds, for example -- but told the government that they must reunify 59 children.
      A federal lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in February to reunite an asylum-seeking Congolese mother with her daughter expanded to a class-action lawsuit after the Department of Justice (DOJ) implemented its “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting all illegal border crossers.
      In June, the judge ruled that children forcibly separated by U.S. authorities at the border would have to be reunited, laying out a timeline for total reunification by July 26, 2018.
      “These are firm deadlines and not aspirational goals,” said the judge, Dana Sabraw, at a hearing on Tuesday.
      PHOTO: Families separated under President Donald Trump administrations zero tolerance policy return home to Guatemala City, Guatemala, July 10, 2018, after being deported from the United States.  Collen Long/AP
      Children waiting for reunification
      The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) determined that only 75 of the 102 children under five years old are eligible for reunification. Seventeen reunifications were pending DNA test results and there was one 3-year-old child for whom the government said it had no information about the parents.
      The government now thinks that the child may have U.S. citizen parents and was placed in the wrong system.
      Twenty-seven children are not eligible for immediate reunification, because of parental criminal history, pending criminal custody or other disqualifying factors.
      “The court could not have been clearer that business as usual is not acceptable," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. "The Trump administration must get these children and parents reunited.”
      The administration has argued that they are working to meet the court deadline and the delays are necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of the children in their care.
      “Our process may not be as quick as some would like, but there is no question that it is protecting children," said HHS Chief of Staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Chris Meekins. "The last thing we want to happen is that a child is placed in a dangerous situation due to a lack of a thorough review on our part.”
      HHS is responsible for the care of about 11,800 unaccompanied minors who came into the U.S. illegally, including the roughly 2,000 to 3,000 children that were “made unaccompanied” when they were separated from their parents by U.S. officials.
      Parents in custody
      Most parents who were separated under the policy were placed into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. For the past two weeks, ICE moved parents to geographic locations near where their children were staying in shelters -- in order to facilitate the process, according to Executive Associate Director of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Matthew Albence.
      “Mature parents with children under the age of 5 are being reunited with their children and then released and enrolled into an alternative detention program, meaning that they will be placed on an ankle bracelet and released into the community,” Albence said.
      These family reunifications were planned to take place in the lobbies of undisclosed ICE detention facilities and released into the community, according to an administration official.
      Meanwhile, the administration's zero-tolerance policy remains in limbo and has been at least temporarily dismantled in practice.
      On June 20, after weeks of public outrage over family separation, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at both keeping families together and continuing to prosecute those who cross the border illegally.
      Less than a week later, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) said it had halted referrals for prosecution until they figure out how to keep families together during the prosecution process.
      “We need to end the catch and release challenge. A much better system would be to keep families together through their immigration proceedings. That’s what the Obama administration did in 2014, that’s what the president has asked Congress to help us do now,” CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told ABC News.
      The administration’s actions have created what could become dueling court requirements if the zero-tolerance policy continues. On the one hand, the San Diego federal judge ordered families reunified. On the other hand, another California federal judge on Monday upheld a decades-old court agreement, known as the Flores settlement, which requires that children be released from immigration detention after 20 days.
      PHOTO: Immigrant families leave a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility after they were reunited, July 11, 2018, in San Antonio.Eric Gay/AP
      In early May, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began implementing the zero-tolerance policy, and family separations began to skyrocket.
      “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May when announcing the policy.
      Around 2,300 children were separated from their parents in one month between May 5 and June 9 as a result of zero tolerance, according to DHS officials.
      For comparison, in more than a year between October 2016 and February 2018, there were only 1,768 cases of family separation by border agents.
      However, at the peak of the zero-tolerance policy, only 53 percent of illegal border crossings were being referred by CBP to DOJ for prosecution, according to an administration official.
      In order to comply with the court order, HHS had to hand-check all of its case files to determine which children were separated from a parent, concluding that there were ”under 3,000” potentially separated children in its custody.
      However, last month, HHS Secretary Alex Azar testified to Congress that he “could at the stroke of keystrokes, within seconds, could find any child within our care for any parent."
      Congressional Democrats on Wednesday again called on Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley to hold an oversight committee hearing raising questions about inconsistent statements Azar made about the number of children the agency has in its custody, including the lack of a plan to reunite them with their parents.
      This is their third request to Grassley for a committee hearing, contending that the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy resulted “in the traumatic separation of children from their parents.”
      Grassley has previously shot down those requests.
      "The simplest and easiest way to address this crisis is to repeal the Flores decision so that family units can remain in family residential centers and receive adequate care pending the outcome of their criminal or civil cases," Grassley wrote. "This is an easy, common-sense solution that doesn’t require a hearing."
      ABC's Mariam Khan contributed to this story.

      September 21, 2017

      Trump Bench Nominee Calls Transgender Children Part of Satan's Plan



      To Scratch your head in disbelief at this nominne for a Federal Court does not require the person to be LGBT or associated in any way. It's common sense, separation of church and state and plain stupiddiy for someone who is suppose to be smart and have a clear head and non bias heart. adamfoxie


       

      In a pair of 2015 speeches, President Donald Trump's nominee for a federal judgeship in Texas described transgender children as evidence of "Satan's plan," lamented that states were banning conversion therapy and argued that sanctioning same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and bestiality.

      Jeff Mateer, the current first assistant attorney general of Texas, was serving at the time as general counsel of the First Liberty Institute, a religious liberty advocacy group known before 2016 as the Liberty Institute. He faced criticism from LGBT rights groups for his work with the organization, such as opposing the expansion of nondiscrimination protections to LGBT people in the city of Plano. If confirmed by the US Senate, he will serve on the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

      In a May 2015 speech, titled "The Church and Homosexuality," Mateer discussed a Colorado lawsuit in which the parents of a transgender girl sued her school for preventing her from using the bathroom of her choice.

      "In Colorado, a public school has been sued because a first grader and I forget the sex, she's a girl who thinks she's a boy or a boy who thinks she's a girl, it's probably that, a boy who thinks she's a girl," Mateer said in a video posted on Vimeo in 2015 and reviewed by CNN's KFile. "And the school said, 'Well, she's not using the girl's restroom.' And so she has now sued to have a right to go in. Now, I submit to you, a parent of three children who are now young adults, a first grader really knows what their sexual identity? I mean it just really shows you how Satan's plan is working and the destruction that's going on."

      Mateer's nomination comes as the Trump administration has unveiled a series of actions aimed at rolling back advancements for gay and transgender rights. Trump vowed to fight for the LGBT community during his presidential campaign and said last April that people should "use the bathroom they feel is appropriate." Since taking office, however, Trump has withdrawn an Obama administration directive that allowed transgender students in public schools to use the bathroom of their choice and issued a directive banning transgender military recruits. 

      In that same May 2015 speech, Mateer said that the Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage could lead to what he called "disgusting" new forms of matrimony.

      "I submit to you that there'll be no line there," he said. "And actually in the arguments Chief Justice Roberts, who's in the center there said, I mean, what is the limiting? Why couldn't four 4 people wanna get married? Why not one man and three women? Or three women and one man? And we're gonna spare you some of those slides. We actually have a presentation that we get into it. And I'll tell you, we say it's PG-13, it may be R, or what do they call the next one? NC-17 or whatever?"

      He continued, "I mean, it's disgusting. I've learned words I didn't know. I mean, other than...my assistants here, have you ever heard the word 'throuple'?'Throuple' so that's three people coming together of different sexes, maybe mixed sexes. Them coming together. There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets. It's just like -- you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, 'Oh, that's not going on in our community.' Oh yes it is. We're back to that time where debauchery rules."

      Later that year in November 2015, Mateer lamented that states were banning gay conversion therapy at a conference hosted by controversial pastor Kevin Swanson, who preaches that the Biblical punishment for homosexuality is death.

      "Biblical counselors and therapists, we've seen cases in New Jersey and in California where folks have gotten in trouble because they gave biblical counseling and, you know, the issue is always, it's same sex," Mateer says in audio obtained by CNN's KFile. "And if you're giving conversion therapy, that's been outlawed in at least two states and then in some local areas. So they're invading that area."
      Groups like the American Psychiatric Association and the American Pediatric Association have condemned the practice as having no scientific basis and the potential to do mental harm.
      Mateer did not respond to a request for comment. A Department of Justice spokesperson declined to comment on Mateer's remarks.

      By Chris Massie and Andrew Kaczynski, CNN


      June 23, 2017

      Federal Judge Lifts Injunction Which Stopped Individuals and Government Workers Not to Discriminate Against LGBT




      Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi said the law “prevents government interference 



      This is a New York Times Article:
      A federal appeals court on Thursday lifted an injunction on a Mississippi law that grants private individuals and government workers far-reaching abilities to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people on religious grounds, though lawyers said the law was likely to remain blocked for the time being during the appeals process.
      Thursday’s decision, issued by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, is part of a legal drama being closely watched by gay-rights advocates and religious conservatives. The state law, titled the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, on April 5, 2016. It is considered the most aggressive of several state-level conservative responses to the United States Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015.
      According to a legal analysis released last year by Columbia University, the Mississippi law would, among other things, allow government clerks to opt out of certifying same-sex marriages (though only if the marriage is not “impeded or delayed” by their decision) and allow businesses to deny wedding-related services to same-sex couples if their marriage contravened “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”
      It would allow religious organizations to engage in job and housing discrimination against L.G.B.T. people; allow public school counselors to refuse to work with L.G.B.T. students; and potentially force child-welfare agencies to place L.G.B.T. children with anti-gay foster or adoptive parents.
      Continue reading the main story
       The law also contains provisions that could potentially affect single heterosexual people. “For example,” the authors of the analysis wrote, “it would allow a religious university to fire a single mother working in its cafeteria, who supports her children on her own, because the university has a religious opposition to sex outside marriage.”
      Last June, just before the law was to take effect, a federal district judge issued the injunction, finding that the law violated the First and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.
      Thursday’s 16-page ruling states, in essence, that the plaintiffs challenging the law, many of whom are gay Mississippi residents, lacked standing because the law had not yet injured them. 
      “None of these plaintiffs has clearly shown an injury-of-fact, so none has standing,” the judges wrote.
      Governor Bryant said in a statement that he was pleased with the ruling. “As I have said all along, the legislation is not meant to discriminate against anyone, but simply prevents government interference with the constitutional right to exercise sincerely held religious beliefs,” he said.
      Beth Orlansky, the advocacy director for the Mississippi Center for Justice, a liberal group that brought the suit along with Lambda Legal, said that the law was a black eye for a place that bills itself “The Hospitality State.”
      “This law is discriminatory,” she said, “and we will do everything we can to prevent it from causing any more harm.”
      The plaintiffs now have a number of options, including requesting a rehearing of the case before the entire Fifth Circuit or appealing directly to the United States Supreme Court.


      May 12, 2017

      4 Men Indicted 18 FedCharges Posing as Gay on Grindr to Rob,Intimidate Gay Men







      Anthony Shelton, 19; Nigel Garrett, 21; Chancler Encalade, 20; and Cameron Ajiduah, 18, were named in the indictment returned by a federal grand jury Wednesday charging them with co 
      Anthony Shelton, 19; Nigel Garrett, 21; Chancler Encalade, 20; and Cameron Ajiduah, 18, were named in the indictment returned by a federal grand jury Wednesday charging them with conspiring to cause bodily injury to people because of the sexual orientation.



      According to the indictment, from Jan. 17 to Feb. 7, 2017, the defendants committed home invasions in Plano, Frisco, and Aubrey, Texas.
      For each of the four home invasions, the defendants used Grindr, a social media dating platform for gay men, to falsely identify as a gay man and arrange to meet the victim at the victim's home.
      Once inside, the defendants assaulted the victim, restrained the victim with tape, and made derogatory statements about their homosexuality.
      The defendants had a firearm during each home invasion, and they stole the victim's property, including cars.
      The North Texas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Jeanne Rubin is glad to see a grand jury recognized the seriousness of the crimes.
      "You can be scared as a homeowner if your neighbor is robbed, but it's different if you feel like you're being targeted for some reason and in this case a whole community can feel like they're targeted," said Rubin.
      For the crimes, the defendants were charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, carjacking and possession of a firearm.
      The hate crime counts carry a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison.
      An indictment merely establishes probable cause, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
       cbsnews.com

      Department of Justice
      Office of Public Affairs

      FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
      Wednesday, May 10, 2017

      Four Texas Men Indicted on Federal Hate Crime and Conspiracy Charges for Assaults Based on Victims’ Sexual Orientation


      A federal grand jury returned an eighteen-count superseding indictment against Anthony Shelton, 19; Nigel Garrett, 21; Chancler Encalade, 20; and Cameron Ajiduah, 18, charging them with conspiring to cause bodily injury to persons because of the sexual orientation of those persons, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Texas, and the U.S.  Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Dallas Division announced.
      According to the indictment, from Jan. 17 to Feb. 7, 2017, the defendants committed home invasions in Plano, Frisco, and Aubrey, Texas.  For each of the four home invasions, the defendants used Grindr, a social media dating platform for gay men, to falsely identify as a gay man and arrange to meet the victim at the victim’s home.  Upon entering the victim’s home, the defendants assaulted the victim, restrained the victim with tape, and made derogatory statements about the victim being gay.  The defendants possessed a firearm during each home invasion, and they stole the victim’s property, including his motor vehicle.
      For these crimes, the defendants have been charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, carjacking and possession of a firearm in furtherance of these crimes.  The hate crime counts carry a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
      An indictment merely establishes probable cause, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
      The investigation is being conducted by the ATF, the Plano Police Department and the Frisco Police Department.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Batson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Texas and Trial Attorney Saeed Mody of the Civil Rights Division.

      April 21, 2017

      TX Order to Pay 600k to Gay Couples Who Fought Them on Marriage Ban

      A federal appeals court ordered Texas on Wednesday to pay about $600,000 to cover the legal fees for two same-sex couples who defeated the state's ban on same-sex marriage in a protracted court battle. 
      The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit awarded $585,470 in attorneys' fees and about $20,000 in costs arising from the challenge to the plaintiffs in the case, Cleopatra DeLeon, Nicole Dimetman, Victor Holmes and Mark Phariss. 




      (L-R) Texas marriage plaintiffs Cleo DeLeon, Nicole Dimetman, Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss during a Human Rights Campaign press conference at Texas Capitol on June 29, 2015. Robert Daemmrich Photography / Corbis via Getty Images

      "We're thrilled. Our lawyers did an outstanding job," Phariss said in an interview. 
      "It's frankly a waste of taxpayer money to have fought the ability of two people who love each other to marry," he said. 
      Marc Rylander, a spokesman for the Texas attorney general's office, said in a statement: "We are disappointed in the ruling and are considering our next steps." 
      The case, which wound its way through the U.S. court system, was pending in the Fifth Circuit when the U.S. Supreme Court made its landmark decision in June 2015, in the case known as Obergefell v. Hodges, that made gay marriage legal in the United States. 
      About a week later, the U.S. appeals court ruled in favor of the two couples in the Texas case.

      April 18, 2017

      Federal Judge Resigns After Sentencing a Young Man to Life







      No longer bound by ethics rules that keep judges silent, Sharp in an exclusive interview Saturday with The Tennessean denounced mandatory minimum sentences.
       
      Kevin H. Sharp served as a federal judge in Nashville for 6 years. He was nominated by Barack Obama.
      He'll work in private practice, handling employment and civil rights cases.
      As a lawyer, he can be an advocate and said he hopes to level the playing field for minorities.
      In an exclusive interview, he revealed he hopes to advocate for one man in particular: Chris Young.
       
      Kevin H. Sharp sent Chris Young to prison for life and he thought it was wrong.

      "Each defendant is supposed to be treated as an individual," Sharp said at the sentencing hearing in 2014. "I don't think that's happening here."

      But there are duties that come with a black robe and gavel, chief among them following the laws of the United States no matter your personal opinion. And as a federal judge, Sharp had to impose mandatory minimum terms. That meant Young, a repeat drug offender, would never go home to Clarksville.

      Young, now 28, is at a federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky.

      Sharp, now 54, is starting a new job and still thinking of Young.

      The former chief U.S. District judge in Middle Tennessee resigned his post Friday, ending a lifetime appointment after six years. On Monday, he'll begin work at Sanford Heisler, expanding the respected civil rights and employment law firm into Music City while also expanding its title: Sanford Heisler Sharp.

      In an exclusive interview on Saturday, Sharp talked about his tenure on the bench and his decision to leave it. No longer bound by ethics rules that keep judges silent, he denounced mandatory minimum sentences and previewed the topics he'll attack at the civil rights firm.

      Those coalesce with Young. Talking about the case brought tears to Sharp's eyes and emotion choked his speech.

      "If there was any way I could have not given him life in prison I would have done it," he said. "What they did was wrong, they deserved some time in prison, but not life."

      Read a transcript of the sentencing at the end of this story.

      'What we do kind of defines who we are'

      Some of Sharp's motivation to move jobs was rooted in his path to becoming a lawyer more than 20 years ago. The Memphis native held odd jobs after high school: as an airport baggage handler, at a car wash — and even carrying a baseball bat around a gas station making sure self-service customers paid.

      "I’d go hey, you pay for that? I thought, this is not really a career."

      He enlisted in U.S. Navy. He was stationed in Hawaii, Alaska, the Philippines, Japan and Thailand. Despite the cultural differences, there was a common thread.

      “I realized that, what we do kind of defines who we are," he said. "People meet me and they go, 'Nice to meet you Kevin, what do you do?'

      "All this stuff gets layered on there. They make stereotypical decisions about who you are and what you’re like."

      Whether those assumptions are right or wrong, Sharp said he grew to believe that a person's opportunity to work needed to be protected, which attracted him to employment law.

      "African Americans, women, ethnic minorities, religious minorities don’t have the same opportunities," he said. “That to me is something that’s important, making sure the playing field gets leveled.” 

      Money$ Makes the World go around $

      Sharp went to Vanderbilt Law School and then into private practice. President Barack Obama nominated him for the Nashville judgeship six years  ago.

      Work on the bench was intellectually challenging, and fun, he said. But Sharp saw that cases presenting significant issues came along unpredictably, and he couldn't choose the issues. One example: The legal challenge to a private probation company in Rutherford County, in which several probationers said they were being punished because they couldn't pay. In one hearing, Rutherford County General Sessions Judge Ben McFarlin Jr. testified.

      "Money makes the world go 'round," McFarlin testified.

      "I thought, Oh my God, no," Sharp recalled his reaction in court that day. "Money is not what makes the justice system go round.

      "That’s not just morally wrong, it’s illegal. It’s unconstitutional.” 

      But in other high-profile cases his hands were tied by the law, and rulings countered what Sharp personally believed. He named specifically a case brought by a family against Nashville schools alleging discrimination in the district's rezoning plan. In 2012, Sharp ruled that although the effect of the district policy was segregation, the plaintiff did not prove the intent was discrimination.

      "The proof wasn’t there and the law wasn’t on their side," he said. "If I was director of schools, I’d go, scrap this."

      "As a lawyer I can be more proactive," he said. "I can say things I want to say. I can take cases I want to take. I can advocate for positions that I want to advocate for — as opposed to waiting as a judge, do I get that case or not?"

      A sticking point during Sharp's time on the bench were criminal cases, colloquially known as "drugs and guns" cases, that required mandatory minimum sentences.

      "The drugs-and-guns cases, you say it like that and it sounds like they’re all dangerous," he said. "Most of them are not. They’re just kids who lack any opportunities and any supervision, lack education and have ended up doing what appears to be at the time the path of least resistance to make a living."

      'Maybe somebody can fix this'

      Young's was a drugs-and-guns case. He was charged in December 2010, one of 32 people — some of them gang members — who federal prosecutors said were involved in drug trafficking in Clarksville. Court documents say federal agents believed Young was buying crack cocaine from a leader of the ring at a gas station. He was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine and other counts.

      Young had two prior drug-dealing convictions, and his new charges triggered a provision of federal law requiring a mandatory life term if found guilty. Young and two others went to trial in August 2013 and were found guilty. About a year later, Sharp sentenced Young to life in prison.

      At the hearing, Young described his upbringing: His mother was a drug addict, he said, and at times their house had no lights nor water. When he was old enough to get a job, he worked at a funeral home, but he felt a growing divide between himself and others in his neighborhood who dealt drugs, pulling him that way.

      Hallie McFadden, a lawyer who defended Young, said each time she saw Sharp after the sentencing he asked about Young.

      "I'm heartsick to see him go," she said of Sharp, "especially with the prospect of someone far less caring taking the seat."

      Jim Thomas, a Nashville lawyer who later represented Young during his appeals and has had other cases in Sharp's courtroom, said Sharp was a "very capable and fair minded judge." That was exemplified in Sharp's words at Young's sentencing, according to Thomas.

      "Maybe somebody can fix this," Sharp told Young.

      Maybe that somebody is Sharp.

      Sharp says he will work to get Young's sentence commuted, meaning Young would be released from prison. It could take years, leaving Young behind bars for a decade.

      This story is coming from
      Federal judge forced to sentence defendant to life because of mandatory minimums is stepping down and speaking out

      April 8, 2017

      Fed.Judge Ignores Sessions-Approves Balti.Justice Agreement




       What trump is done to equal justice with this old fashioned homophobe, can not be forgiven


       
      Despite the opposition of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a federal judge in Baltimore on Friday locked in place a consent decree between the city's police force and the Department of Justice. While local officials cheered the order, which seeks to reform the troubled Baltimore Police Department after the Obama Justice Department found widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory practices, Sessions issued a blistering statement predicting that crime would rise as a result.

      "I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city," Sessions said. "Make no mistake, Baltimore is facing a violent crime crisis."

      The Justice Department opened an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department in 2014 after the Baltimore Sun revealed that the city had paid out millions in more than 100 civil suits alleging police misconduct and brutality. That investigation expanded the following year after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. 


      Under Sessions, the Department of Justice has begun to walk back its commitment to federal oversight of police departments with discriminatory patterns or practices, a priority of the Obama administration. Earlier this week, Sessions ordered a review of all consent decrees between police departments and the Justice Department. Department lawyers asked the US district court in Baltimore to put off approving the consent decree for at least 30 days so the new administration could review it.  

      But in his opinion Friday, US District Judge James Bredar said the time for reviewing the agreement had passed. "The case is no longer in a phase where any party is unilaterally entitled to reconsider the terms of the settlement; the parties are bound to each other by their prior agreement," Bredar wrote. "The time for negotiating the agreement is over. The only question now is whether the Court needs more time to consider the proposed decree. It does not." The 227-page consent decree, which places new rules and limits on how officers can interact with the public and mandates training in de-escalation tactics, among other areas of training, will take effect immediately.

      Sessions' statement suggests he is wary of the comprehensive oversight of the city's police department mandated by the decree. He even appeared to question the allocation of resources for what he described as a "highly paid monitor," who will ensure the decree's provisions are met. This puts Sessions at odds with the Baltimore Police Commissioner and the city's mayor, both of whom are highly supportive of the consent decree and spoke out against a possible delay in implementing it. The decree "will support and, in fact, accelerate many needed reforms in the areas of training, technology, and internal accountability systems," Commissioner Kevin Davis said in a statement Friday. Despite Sessions fears, as Mother Jones previously reported, a recent study by police reform expert Samuel Walker at the University of Nebraska in Omaha found that consent decrees are largely effective in achieving long-term reforms.

      Sessions claimed the agreement had been hastily put together in the final days of the Obama administration—and indeed it was finalized shortly before President Donald Trump was inaugurated. The Justice Department had issued its final report last summer, but Baltimore officials reportedly hurried the final agreement after Trump's election. This ultimately prevented Sessions from halting its progress.

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