CourtSide - The FindLaw Breaking Legal News Blog

June 2013 Archives

A federal grand jury has indicted Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on charges of using weapons of mass destruction.

Tsarnaev, 19, was inspired to act by online Al Qaeda propaganda, according to the indictment attached below. The double bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15 killed four people and injured at least 264.

Tsarnaev left a confession in the back yard boat where he was captured, saying, "I don't like killing innocent people" but it was justified because of US government actions abroad.

The Boston bombing indictment alleges that sometime before the bombings Tsarnaev downloaded several different pieces of extremist Islamic propaganda from the Internet.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar's brother and the other bombing suspect, was killed after a shootout with police on April 19. Three college friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly removed a backpack from his dorm room three days after the attack, according to the FBI.

The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 that bans gay marriage, and instead dismissed the case on procedural grounds.

The High Court paved the way for same-sex couples to resume marrying in California. The ruling effectively leaves intact a lower-court ruling that struck down the state’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the 5-4 majority, said the private sponsors of Prop. 8 did not have legal standing to appeal after the ballot measure was struck down by a federal judge in San Francisco.

Before the justices got to the merits of the case, they had to determine whether the proponents of Prop 8 had the legal right to be in court in the first place.

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” he said. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan joined to form the majority.

The Supreme Court has struck down a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, opening the door for married gay couples to be eligible for federal benefits.

The 5-to-4 ruling (attached below) on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) deemed the law unconstitutional under the equal protection clause. The power to regulate marriage falls to the states, not the federal government, wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, the critical swing vote.

“DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others,” Kennedy wrote. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.

Lawyers like to write intimidating, legalese-laden cease and desist letters. It happens everyday. But one New Jersey lawyer’s snarky response letter has gone viral for calling out a municipal attorney and injecting some classic legal humor.

Richard D. Trenk, representing West Orange, New Jersey, wrote a cease and desist letter over an “unauthorized” website that “is likely to cause confusion [sic].” Trenk demands the website’s owner change domain names and “anything else confusingly similar thereto.”

Enter Stephen B. Kaplitt instantly memorable response letter: “Obviously [your cease and desist letter] was sent in jest, and the world can certainly use more legal satire. Bravo, Mr. Trenk!”

Now sit back and enjoy Kaplitt’s full response letter — it’s one for the ages.

MLB Sued by San Jose Over Oakland A's Proposed Move

Major League Baseball has dragged its feet for four years on an owners vote on the Oakland Athletics’ proposed move to a new ballpark in San Jose. Now the city has taken matters to federal court.

The San Jose lawsuit (attached below) challenges MLB’s exemption from antitrust laws and its right to deny clubs the ability to move without seeking league approval. Specifically, it is going after the territorial rights of the 30 MLB teams.

Under the rules that govern MLB, each of the 30 teams enjoys a monopoly in its market. No other team is permitted to intrude upon the home team’s territory.

The San Jose lawsuit takes aim at the antitrust exemption from a 1922 Supreme Court decision. Some legal experts say the exemption is unlikely to survive the San Jose attack if the lawsuit is not settled and proceeds to a trial.

“There is no reason why antitrust laws should not apply to them, because obviously they’re a business in interstate commerce,” Joe M. Alioto, co-lead counsel for the Oakland Raiders when they beat the NFL in 1982 to relocate to Los Angeles, told USA Today

“Even if you can’t do it under the antitrust laws, it’s obviously an intentional interference with a prospective business advantage for the Santa Clara (County) area. I think they would have a substantial likelihood of success.”

Senate Immigration Bill Would Save US $175 Billion: CBO Report

The Senate's proposed immigration law would cut close to $1 trillion from the federal deficit over the next two decades and lead to more than 10 million new legal residents in the country.

The findings came in the long-awaited report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Tuesday. It marked a major victory for the "Gang of Eight" senators who have spent months negotiating sweeping immigration reform.

Conservatives have said the bill would cost the nation billions of dollars. The impartial CBO analysts concluded the opposite.

The agency said deficits would fall by $197 billion the first 10 years and by $700 billion in the next decade if the bill became law. That is even with higher spending on border security and government benefits.

In a statement issued quickly after the report was released, the White House said it was "more proof that bipartisan commonsense immigration reform will be good for economic growth and deficit reduction."

Fox Searchlight Pictures violated federal and New York minimum wage laws by not paying its “Black Swan” interns, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in a case that could affect American businesses that rely heavily on unpaid internships.

Fox Searchlight should have paid two unpaid interns on the movie “Black Swan,” because they were essentially regular employees, ruled U.S. District Judge William Pauley.

Tuesday’s ruling may serve as a cautionary tale to employers nationwide that misclassifying unpaid interns can be costly.

Two interns — Alex Footman and Eric Glatt — both worked on Fox Searchlight’s “Black Swan” and sued in 2011, claiming that the company’s unpaid internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws.

The internships did not foster an educational environment and the studio received the benefits of the work.

The case could have broad implications beyond Hollywood.

“Employers have already started to take a hard look at their internship programs,” Rachel Bien, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told The New York Times. “I think this decision will go far to discourage private companies from having unpaid internship programs.”

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Obama administration Tuesday charging that its collection of vast domestic phone records violates Americans' constitutional rights of free speech and privacy.

The lawsuit could set up an eventual Supreme Court test, The New York Times reports. The ACLU argues the Obama's administration's "dragnet" collection of domestic phone call logs is illegal and has asked a judge to stop the practice and order the records purged.

The lawsuit comes in the wake of revelations by The Guardian and The Washington Post that a secret court granted the Obama administration access to call logs for all Verizon calls made within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries for a three-month period.

The surveillance program is "akin to snatching every American's address book" and "gives gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious and intimate associations," the complaint says.

Apple's iPhones, iPads Infringe on Samsung Patent, ITC Rules

Several older Apple products infringe upon a Samsung patent and cannot be sold within the United States.

Apple is banned from importing or selling older AT&T-compatible models of the iPhone and iPad, the International Trade Commission's held Tuesday.

Apple violated a Samsung patent related to cellular technology with AT&T models of the iPhone 3GS and 4, plus 3G models of the iPad 1 and 2, the ITC ruled in a two-page opinion attached below. The "determination is final, and the investigation is terminated."

Apple plans to file an appeal with the Federal Circuit, company spokeswoman Kristin Huguet told CNN.

Apple could also be spared by a veto from President Obama. The ITC is required by law to send its "exclusion orders" to the president for a 60-day review. That said, if President Obama doesn't strike down the order, it becomes final.

Apple and Samsung have been locking horns in courtrooms around the world as the two tech giants have accused one another of stealing patents and designs. In August 2012, Apple won a $1.05 billion verdict against Samsung.

Google Must Give Private User Data to FBI: Fed. Judge

A federal judge ordered Google to release private customer data to the FBI, despite the fact that the FBI has no warrant for the information.

Google must comply with the FBI’s secret “National Security Letter” demands for customer data, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston held in the attached ruling.

Every year the FBI sends thousands of NSLs to banks, telecommunication companies and other businesses, the AP reports.

NSLs are controversial because they allow FBI officials to send secret requests for “name, address, length of service,” and other account information about users as long as it’s relevant to a national security investigation, CNET reports.

After receiving sworn statements from two top-ranking FBI officials, Illston said she was satisfied that 17 of the 19 letters were issued properly. She wanted more information on two other letters.

Illston’s order omits any mention of Google. But the judge said “the petitioner” was involved in a similar case filed on April 22 in New York federal court.

Public records show that on that day, the federal government filed a “petition to enforce National Security Letter” against Google after the company declined to cooperate with government demands, according to the AP.