CourtSide: October 2009 Archives
CourtSide - The FindLaw Breaking Legal News Blog

October 2009 Archives

Appeals Court: Landowners Can Sue Over Global Warming Damages

A federal appeals court ruled that private Mississippi Gulf Coast residents and private landowners can sue an oil company and other defendants for global warming-related damages to their property.

Alleging a chain of causation between the defendants' substantial emissions and injury to their property, they maintain that the companies used their property so as to produce massive amounts of greenhouse gasses, which then injured both plaintiffs and the general public by contributing to global warming, caused the sea level rise and added to the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina.

Luqman Ameen Abdullah, the reputed head of the Masjid al-Haqq mosque in Detroit, Michigan, was killed in a firefight with FBI agents yesterday after federal law enforcement officials converged upon a warehouse to arrest Abdullah and his followers on criminal conspiracy charges following a two-year long investigation

According to the criminal complaint in the case (see below), Abdullah and his "group of mostly African-American converts to Islam [sought] to establish a separate Sharia-law governed state within the United States."

The criminal charges against Abdullah, a previously convicted felon, charged that he discussed an attack on SuperBowl XL, blowing himself up if confronted by law enforcement, and dealt in stolen merchandise. "Abdullah and his followers have trained regularly in the use of firearms and continue to train in martial arts and sword fighting," an FBI agent alleged after receiving information from at least three (3) FBI informants during the investigation.

Wine, Women and Song at the Supreme Court

It's not all hard work at the Supreme Court these days, apparently. 

While the Court is currently wrapping up the first month of the 2009 October Term, some of the justices have snuck out of the dreary confines of One First Street and gone out on the town(s) for a taste of the nightlife.

Patrick Nayyar, Conrad Mulholland Indicted on U.S. Terror Charges

Patrick Nayyar, a man living in Queens, New York allegedly as an illegal immigrant, and Conrad Stanisclaus Mulholland, were charged in a federal indictment with conspiring to supply guns, ammunition, bulletproof vests, night vision goggles, and vehicles to the Hezbollah a/k/a Hizbollah , the Shi'ite Iranian-backed U.S.-designated terrorist group based in Lebanon.

According to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, a confidential informant for the FBI told Nayyar and Mulholland that he was working for Hizbollah. In a series of meetings the two defendants allegedly agreed to sell him guns, ammunition, vehicles, bulletproof vests, and night vision goggles for the terrorist group, all in violation of federal law that outlaws providing material support to designated terrorist groups.

Nokia's Patent Lawsuit Over Apple's iPhone

Nokia filed a patent lawsuit against Apple yesterday over its wildly successful iPhone, alleging that Apple is somehow "attempting to get a 'free-ride' on the billions of dollars" in Nokia's telecommunication work.

But a quick read of the opening arguments alleged by Nokia may be a sign of nothing more than jealousy over Apple's continued worldwide iPhone marketing success, just as the device is expected to be released in China.

It reads more like a playground fight started by Nokia.  Here's why.

FOIA Request: What's on the Pentagon's Playlist?

What's on the Pentagon's playlist?

The National Security Archive, and a coalition of high-profile music artists and band members want to know, particularly when it comes to detainee interrogations.

The artists and bands are going on record to close Camp X-Ray, the Pentagon's Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility for terror detainees captured oversees.  They are extremely angered that their music either already has been, or may have been, used to help the Pentagon conduct detainee interrogations and, they maintain, may have played at excessively loud levels and for long periods of time to torture detainees.

They include:

In another win for interactive service providers under the Communications Decency Act, a federal judge in Illinois has granted Craigslist's motion for a judgment on the pleadings in a suit over the website's former "erotic services" listings.

In the lawsuit, Thomas Dart, the sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, alleged that Craigslist's erotic service category facilitated prostitution and constituted a public nuisance.  Dart asked for an injunction prohibiting Craigslist from publishing erotic services listings, and sought to recover the money that his office has spent investigating prostitution occurring on the site.

Tenants in Manhattan's Stuyvesant Town (inset, left) and Peter Cooper Village rent regulated apartments (inset, right) won a legal victory today from New York's Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

Upholding a 2007 appellate court ruling that landlords who receive a special J-51 tax abatement forfeit the right to further remove apartments from rent regulation by luxury decontrol proceedings, the Court of Appeals declined to give apartment owners a legal 'twofer.' 

Tishman Speyer Properties, PCV ST Owner LP, and Metropolitan Life Insurance could not get both 1) tax exemptions and/or phased tax abatements, and 2) try to remove rental apartments from rent regulation entirely for either high-income renters whose rent was at least $2,000 a month, or vacant apartments that rented for at least $2,000 a month.

Tarek Mehanna's Shoppping Mall Terror Conspiracy Charges

Tarek Mehanna, a Sudbury, Massachusetts man, was charged with conspiring with others in a terror plot to attack U.S. shopping malls in furtherance of violent jihad.

The charges allege that in 2003 Mehanna (inset) sought with others "to obtain automatic weapons, go to a shopping mall, and randomly shoot people," having allegedly been inspired by the Washington, D.C. area sniper attacks in the fall of 2002.

Federal authorities maintain that Mehanna conspired with two others, including a confidential witness and a man named Ahmed Abousamra, to plan and discuss carrying out an attack on a U.S. shopping mall, including the types of weapons needed.

According to an FBI affidavit, the 27-year-old Mehanna allegedly flew with Abousamra and the confidential witness to the United Arab Emirates, and then went on to Yemen with the intent of receiving military and terrorist training in furtherance of jihad, a holy war.

Adam Jasinski, Big Brother Winner, Charged With Selling Oxy

Adam Jasinski, the winner of CBS's Big Brother reality TV show on Season 9, was arrested by federal DEA agents in Boston and charged with having and trying to sell oxycodone a/k/a 'Oxy' a/k/a 'Hillbilly Heroin.'

Instead of refusing to answer questions until he had an attorney, a DEA agent maintains that Big Brother Adam "waiv[ed] his Miranda Rights," and then admitted to using his $500,000 in Big Brother winnings to "purchase large quantities of pills" that he would re-sell up and down the East Coast (see charges below).

They probably would not be too impressed by the fact that Jasinski is also the publisher of a glossy addiction recovery magazine.

California A.G.'s Lawsuit Charges State Street Bank with Fraud

State Street Bank and Trust was sued by California Attorney General Jerry Brown's office today, accusing the Boston, Massachusetts bank of massive, "unconscionable" investment fraud by overcharging the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) pension funds tens of millions of dollars

The lawsuit alleges that for eight years, starting in 2001, State Street "consistently 'marked-up'" Interbank Rate trade prices for buying and selling currency, rather than honoring its contract with CalPERS and CalSTRS to give the pension funds "the most competitive rates available for all FX transactions." According to California Attorney General Jerry Brown, State Street entered false trading records for CalPERS and CalSTRS accounts, and recorded fictional rates for trading foreign currency

How much were the California retirement funds overcharged during these eight years?

Straight Dope: Feds Won't Prosecute Medical Marijuana Use, Sale

Medical marijuana use and sales won't be prosecuted by the federal government, according to a new Justice Department memo from Deputy U.S. Attorney General David Ogden (inset, right).

But there's a catch: the federal directive only applies in states that have laws authorizing medical marijuana usage.

The DOJ also made clear that this new policy cannot be used as a 'get out of jail free card' by drug traffickers or those who grow pot on federal land.

Prop 8 Lawsuit Lives On

Those people hoping for a showdown before the US Supreme Court over the issue of gay marriage got one step closer to their wish today.

Judge Vaughn Walker, the chief judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California, refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Proposition 8, California's ballot initiative that amended the state's constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.

In a ruling delivered from the bench in San Francisco, Judge Walker stated that the case raised factual issues that required a trial, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.  Supporters of Prop. 8 had asked the judge to dismiss the suit, claiming that US Supreme Court precedent did not extend the right to marriage to homosexuals. 

Judge Walker rejected this argument, however, and stated that the Supreme Court had not limited the right to marry to certain groups.

This sets the stage for a showdown at trial, and then throughout the appellate process.  Neither side seems likely to back down, so you can expect them to take this one all the way to the top - assuming that the Supreme Court agrees to take the case.

See Also:
More Posts on Prop. 8 Lawsuits (CourtSide)

Gucci Purses OK, Confederate Flagged Purses Not So OK

According to a new federal appeals court decision today, one Ft. Worth, Texas suburb has quite a recent history of racially charged student confrontations.

So when two students at Burleson High School sued after being asked to leave their Confederate flag decorated purses in the school's office, they did what many folks might: they sued.

But in an 18-page decision, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals concluded that the school official's decision to ban Confederate flagged purses to prevent yet another racial conflict at BHS (the school has quite an unsavory track record in this area), they were well within their rights.

Here's why.

Delta Air Lines hacked e-mails of airline passenger rights advocate Kathleen 'Kate' Hanni, USA Today reporter Gary Stoller, and freelance travel writer and reporter Susan Stellin, according to an affidavit in a new lawsuit filed today by Hanni, the founder of Coalition for An Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights a/k/a Flyersrights.org.

Why was Delta accused of hacking into e-mails, and who is the source of the information about the alleged hacks -- a potential criminal offense?

California's Chief Justice Hates Ballot Initiatives

If you live in California, like I do, then you're used to the state's annual budget battles, which inevitably result in political name-calling, overdue budgets and a general sense that one of the world's largest economies and the nation's most populous state is doomed. 

Thanks to the Great Recession, this year's budget mess was particularly nasty, with state employees receiving IOUs instead of paychecks and the Governator waving giant knives around to get the people excited for massive cuts in social services and the closing of many of California's state parks.

Fortunately, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George revealed in a recent speech his ideas on what's dragging California's government down: the people of California.

Florida Seeks Death Penalty in Billings Family Murders

Florida is seeking death penalties against four suspects in the Billings family murders:

 

According to Florida State's attorney William 'Bill' Eddins, the death penalty will be sought against the following four (out of the original seven) suspects: Leonard Gonzalez, Jr., Wayne Thomas Caldiron, Donald Ray Stallworth, and Patrick Lee Thornton.

They were arrested and charged this summer with murdering Byrd and Melanie Billings, the Florida couple who adopted a number of special needs children, some of whom were reportedly inside the house when the couple was slain.

Dallas Terrorism Bomb Plot Suspect Smadi Indicted on WMD Charges

Hosam Maher Husein Smadi (inset), a 19-year-old Jordanian man previously charged with plotting to blow up a Dallas office building, was indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction (WMD), and bomb a public parking garage.

According to the criminal complaint initially filed in the case, FBI agents had a virtual introduction to Smadi on the Web via "an online group of extremists."  FBI Agent Daniel Petrowski contended that "Smadi stood out based on his vehement intention to actually conduct terror attacks in the United States."

Rhode Island Indicts 'Craigslist Killer' Suspect for Assault

Philip Markoff, the accused 'Craigslist killer' murder suspect, was indicted by a Rhode Island grand jury yesterday on two felony charges: assault with a dangerous weapon and assault with intent to rob.

The Rhode Island indictment (see below) charges Markoff with assaulting Cynthia Melton, a previously reported Las Vegas stripper who advertised her lap dance services on Craigslist, and with pistol-whipping her husband, Keith Melton.

Although Markoff reportedly told Cynthia Melton, "Don't worry, I'm not going to kill you," while he bound and tried to gag her, Keith Melton may have actually saved his wife's life by knocking on his wife's hotel room door, catching Markoff off-guard.

The Case of the Desert Cross Goes Before the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence is, quite simply, a confusing mess when it comes to religious monuments on public land.  So much so that two different cases involving displays of the Ten Commandments heard on the same day can end up with different results. 

For these types of cases, the Court has typically engaged in an ad hoc, fact-based examination of the situations surrounding the monuments in order to determine whether they violated the Constitution's prohibition on advancement of a single religion by the government. 

That being so, the Court should have fun with Salazar v. Buono, oral arguments for which occurred this morning.  The facts surrounding this case are convoluted as well as novel.  The dispute concerns a cross erected without authorization on federal land by the Veteran of Foreign Wars over 70 years ago to commemorate fallen US soldiers.  The cross, which sits in the massive, 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve, has been the site of Easter sunrise services since it was first built. 

Court: Federal Juvenile Handgun Ban Is Constitutional

A federal appeals court affirmed a handgun conviction and sentence today, holding that a federal law that bars juvenile possession of handguns does not violate the accused kid's Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Lucky for the kid, he was 17-years-old when he was originally charged, and over 18-years-old when his appeal was prosecuted. That effectively rendered moot any arguments challenging his sentencing because he was a juvenile. The judges held that since he is no longer being detained as a juvenile, and he isn't under any juvenile supervision,

The Supreme Court's First Day

Ah, the leaves are turning, baseball is heading into the postseason, and the weather is becoming noticeably cooler - which means it must be time for the Supreme Court to begin its October Term for 2009.

And begin it did, although not exactly the way it was supposed to.

Halderman Indictment: Letterman Extortion Suspect's Charges

Robert 'Joe' Halderman (inset, right), the CBS news producer indicted for allegedly trying to shakedown $2 million from David Letterman in an extortion scheme over office trysts, pleaded 'not guilty' this afternoon in Manhattan's criminal court.

According to the indictment (below), Halderman tried to extort Letterman over three weeks, starting September 9, 2009 and ending September 30, 2009.

Particularly surprising is that Halderman, an Emmy-nominated news producer, worked on a variety of legal stories for CBS: Madeleine 'Maddie' McCann's disappearance, Italy's murder case against American foreign exchange student Amanda Knox, and the murder of a pediatric eye surgeon in Arizona. 

With that kind of professional experience covering the law, one would think that Halderman knew that demanding $2 million from David Letterman in a quid pro quo to avoid disclosing the CBS star's newly admitted sexual trysts was extortion.

You can read Halderman's criminal indictment on charges of attempted grand larceny in the first degree by extortion here:

Justices Give C-Span Cameras a Peek at What Goes on In Camera

C-SPAN has taped a documentary on the Supreme Court that shows some of the justices' private sides

For instance: Sonia Sotomayor, like so many Americans, doesn't want to sell her primary residence right now because the real estate market's still down a well. 

In an interview with the network, Sotomayor admits that concerns over the state of the market have prevented her from selling her Greenwich Village condo, even though she's currently shopping around for a new pad in D.C. 

Robert 'Joe' Halderman Charged in $2M Letterman Extortion Plot

CBS news producer Robert Joel 'Joe' Halderman was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury for allegedly trying to extort $2 million from David Letterman, host of the CBS Late Show.

He is being arraigned in criminal court in downtown Manhattan this afternoon.

Surprisingly, the Letterman extortion suspect -- a veteran news producer -- does not appear to have realized how blatant his apparent extortion and blackmail attempts really were.  Did he even consider that he might get caught?

Elizabeth Smart Kidnapping Trial: Suspect's Competency Hearing

A federal court hearing began today focusing on the competency of Brian David Mitchell, the suspect charged with abducting and sexually assaulting Elizabeth Smart from her Salt Lake City, Utah home in 2002.  Smart was 14-years-old at the time.

Although Utah prosecutors charged Mitchell and his wife Wanda Eileen Barzee 2003 (see below) with felonies that included kidnapping, sexual assault, and burglary, state courts ruled he was incompetent to stand trial.

In 2008, federal prosecutors indicted Mitchell and Barzee on interstate kidnapping charges and taking Smart from Utah to California to have sex (below) during her nine months in captivity.