NYC criminal court won't be fair til all evidence is shared, advocates say – Metro US

Angel De La Cruz, 53, spent 25 years incarcerated for a 1991 murder in the Bronx that he said he did not commit.

He claims prosecutors were able to get a jury to convict him because they didn’t release all the evidence in court – specifically, that the main eyewitness who identified De La Cruz changed their testimony from “I don’t remember” to “It was him.” (The Bronx DA’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the De La Cruz appeal.)

“What they do is they give you all this information at the last minute. … You can bring it up later as ‘newly discovered evidence,’ but it’s not ‘newly’ because you had this all along,” De La Cruz said. “They hold the good stuff for themselves and they give you bits and pieces. … It deprives the defense lawyers the chance of preparing.”

De La Cruz joined a group of community leaders and criminal justice reform advocates demanding change to New York City’s “discovery” procedure outside Manhattan Criminal Court, which dictates how evidence is shared in court. They want police and prosecutors to be required to turn over all evidence in every case, rather than having the discretion to pick what evidence is submitted.

Some say the “discovery” process is a crucial way the criminal justice system is stacked against defendants. But it is one that has received startlingly little scrutiny in an era of calls for reform. Currently, in New York, most evidence is only released the day before trial begins.

“We’re trying to get CPL 240 [the New York criminal procedure law pertaining to discovery] repealed, and put in more just and sane rules, which basically require the prosecutor to turn over evidence within a reasonable amount of time,” said Syed Ahmed, a lawyer and board member with Discovery for Justice, which organized Tuesday’s rally to call for support of legislation that could change the state laws.

The Supreme Court’s 1963 Brady decision established that prosecutors must turn over all exculpatory evidence to defendants. But in New York, non-exculpatory evidence doesn’t have to be turned over under 240, Ahmed said, and prosecutors “get to decide what evidence is exculpatory or not.”

Changing that could help the system operate more fairly, he said. Guilty defendants knowing the evidence against them might plead out more quickly, while defendants with some or no responsibility could present a more educated defense.

State Sen. Jamal Bailey and City Council Member Andy King both spoke in support of changing the laws at the rally. Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and state Sen. Tony Avella have introduced bills, which have also gotten the support of the New York State Bar Association, to change the laws at the state level.

Ahmed argued that the system won’t be fair until defendants are guaranteed a look at all evidence against them before trial.

“What if this person is not guilty and is being pigeonholed and forced to take a plea without knowing what’s out there, and the only reason is they don’t want to risk going to trial and facing the maximum?” Ahmed asked. “That leads to unfair outcomes. This is a question of fundamental fairness.”

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Trump's lawyer has morphed into his political advocate – The Hill (blog)

Every criminal lawyer has been confronted, at one time or another, and asked, “How can you represent that detestable individual?” The most transparent of us would likely say, in the vein of famed bank robber Willie Sutton when asked why he robbed banks: “Because that’s where the money is!”

The more high-minded, sanctimonious or nuanced will roll out the lawyer’s “duty to defend” — the Constitution’s guaranty of the right to counsel for anyone entangled in the criminal process, however despicable they, or their ideas, might be, even to the lawyer.

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Still, however wedded the attorney as a professional might be to the client’s cause – meaning, however zealous he might be in carrying out his defense function, even if with gross, inward misgivings, according to the Rules of Professional Conduct in most jurisdictions his representation of the client “does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social or moral views or activities.”

If the lawyer will be required by the client to pursue “tactical” measures that he finds offensive, he should probably refuse the engagement, for once engaged, he will be morally bound to keep his promises to his client. In any event, the attorney must pursue the “objectives” – that is, the litigation goals – the client wishes.

All of which brings us to President Trump and John Dowd, Trump’s lead, personal lawyer in the Russia investigation. By all accounts, Dowd is a skilled, experienced criminal lawyer who has zealously represented clients over a long career.

He now represents a client who believes (or simply complains) that he is the repeated victim of “fake news.” Trump is a client who has publicly insisted there is basically moral equivalence between the Neo-Nazi groups marching in Charlottesville and, what Trump has termed, the “alt-left”, i.e., the protesters who challenged those marching.

With that background, Dowd transmitted to conservative journalists, government officials and friends an email with the subject line “The Information that Validates President Trump on Charlottesville” – sent to him, by the way, by a conspiracy theorist who believes the FBI has been infiltrated by Islamic terrorists – which repeated secessionist Civil War propaganda and alleged that Black Lives Matter is permeated by terrorists.

These may be the views of Trump’s base, but the real question – is this what the president’s lawyer should be doing?

More than 25 years ago in Nevada, Dominic Gentile, an attorney, held a press conference the day after his client was indicted, and made statements that may potentially have prejudiced an eventual jury (in fact, the client was ultimately acquitted). The U.S. Supreme Court unambiguously stated, during the course of its decision, that “[a]n attorney’s duties do not begin inside the courtroom door . . . . A defense attorney may pursue lawful strategies to obtain dismissal of an indictment or reduction of charges, including an attempt to demonstrate in the court of public opinion that the client does not deserve to be tried.”

Indeed, an attorney should employ these strategies to fend off an indictment – presumably Dowd’s intention of ginning up public opinion in a particular direction on behalf of his client-in-chief.

Still, has Dowd basically become what, in the ‘60’s, one would have called a “movement lawyer” – that is, a lawyer entirely engaged not only with the client, but to the philosophy or agenda the client espouses, in this case unrelated to the case on which he is representing the client?

In other words, Dowd, the attorney, seems not simply to be an attorney articulating his client’s innocence (or at least non-guilt), but he appears to be actually “joining with” the president to publicize why the client’s political beliefs are valid. If that were indeed his strategy, it would seem he hopes to establish that Trump is a “victim” of a totally biased media trying to push Trump into the waiting arms of special counsel Mueller, or a potentially impeachment-happy Congress — one that might begin to see Trump’s Charlottesville remarks as the last straw.

Now, this can be a very effective, and important, strategy – the lawyer is putting his own reputation on the line as a “true believer” in his client’s position. But Dowd is no movement lawyer and, if you are going to fake it, you better pick your topics carefully and hit a bases-loaded-out-of-the-park home run. Otherwise you – as lawyer – will likely do nothing other than hurt your own credibility, and most importantly, also your client’s.

This is particularly so given that Dowd, in forwarding the email, did not address in any way the Russia investigation, Mueller or any act for which Trump may, theoretically, eventually be indicted. Instead, he circulated an email on a completely unrelated topic, and declared, in effect, “My client is right and must be vindicated for his beliefs.”

Trump’s base is Trump’s base, and the base will likely largely remain. So can a seasoned lawyer, like Dowd, believe that what he is doing will move those who do not agree with Trump to his side?

If Dowd wants to help his client, emailing that “there is literally no difference between” Robert E. Lee and George Washington seems not the way to go. That seems more likely to make Dowd himself sound like a hired hack, or himself a racist – both characterizations for which there appears to be no support whatsoever.

But at bottom, it will undermine counsel’s credibility, and thus his ability to defend his client, if the allegations against the president come into full view, and if actual charges are considered or brought against him either by the Congress or the grand jury.

Joel Cohen, a former state and federal prosecutor, practices criminal defense law at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP in New York. Cohen is an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School. He regularly lectures and writes on law, ethics and social policy for the New York Law Journal and other publications, and is the author of “Broken Scales: Reflections on Injustice.” Dale J. Degenshein of Stroock assisted in preparing this article and Broken Scales. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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Uzbekistan: “More Than 10000 Criminals Roaming the Streets” – EurasiaNet

Uzbekistan’s president had some harsh words for the police during a government meeting last week.

Speaking on August 17, Shavkat Mirziyoyev noted that more than 3,000 crimes remain unsolved and that out of 16,000 wanted persons, only around 5,200 have so far been detained.

Mirziyoyev called on the the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, the National Security Services and the Supreme Court to undertake a deep analysis of the work of the police and to draw up a detailed report.

As has lately become customary for similarly critical outbursts on the work of government bodies, the remarks were broadcast on state television.

“If we cannot bring some order to the work of our interior ministry agencies, our people will never come to trust us. People need peace, which should be ensured to them by the Interior Ministry. At the root of all these shortcomings is the unsatisfactory quality of work being done during the recruitment, placement and training of personnel,” Mirziyoyev said.

Mirziyoyev also pointed out that over the course of this year to date, 223 criminal cases have been opened against police officers and that 462 police officers have been hauled up on disciplinary charges. The scale of the problem may not be fully evident, however, as there have been cases of police actively covering up their crimes, he said.

This is one of many taboos being broken by Mirziyoyev of late. Back in the days of the late President Islam Karimov, revealing figures about the amount of crimes committed by policemen themselves would simply have been inconceivable.

Criminal lawyer Munozhat Parpiev told EurasiaNet.org that the transformations are even extending into the justice system.

“Before, if we appealed a court decision, it was quite useless. Now the situation has changed and our appeals are considered within 10 days, and it can have a meaningful impact on the judicial process. Lawyer’s enquiries are responded to and you can get information,” Parpiev said.

This new regime of transparency arguably began on December 13, when the Interior Ministry created a form on its official website through members of the public could register complaints and suggestions. That led to a tidal wave of responses. A telephone “trust line” — with the brief and memorable number 1102 — was set up on May 1.

All this does not disguise the fact that reports of distressing police abuses continue to go unaddressed. One such instance is the case of Murodillo Omonov, a 32-year old businessman in the Surkhandarya region, around 700 kilometers from the capital, Tashkent, who was allegedly tortured and later died as a result of mistreatment he suffered after being detained by police on January 20 as he returned home from a wedding.

Omonov’s mother has taken up the cause of trying to get to the bottom of the case, but, according to rights activists, has been actively hindered, not to say harassed, by the authorities every step of the way.

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Self-expression through socks: Alamance lawyers play 'crazy sock game' – Burlington Times News

GRAHAM — There are many ways people who visit the Alamance County courts express themselves. You see images and messages on T-shirts, jewelry, and skin — and even on jewelry poking through ears, noses, lips, cheeks and eyebrows. But generally you don’t see these things on the people working there.

Most courthouse workers are expected, or even required, to be a little more buttoned down. The lawyers especially are pretty much stuck wearing suits, but some folks just need to let it out somehow.

“If we could all wear tie-dyed suits we would,” said Robert Giles, a criminal-defense attorney in Graham.

Giles has yet to be seen wearing tie-dye in court, but he is one of a handful of lawyers around the courthouse sporting brightly colored or wildly patterned socks. On a recent Tuesday he was proudly wearing a pair with a pastel-colored argyle.

Brad Buchanan, also a Graham lawyer who handles a lot of cases at the Alamance County Criminal Courts Building — and wearing socks depicting Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” — agreed there are few options for color.  

“(Socks) and the neckties, but neckties are so in your face, you don’t want to go too far with those,” Buchanan said.

Even with socks, lawyers have to know their limits.

Attorney John Cox also plays what he calls the “crazy sock game,” but not in front of a jury. It’s too distracting.

“Unless your evidence is really bad,” Buchanan joked.

The crazy sock fashion appears to be a local phenomenon.

“It’s an Alamance County thing,” Giles said. “If you go to other counties, they wear boring socks.”

Todd Smith spends a lot of time in federal court. In Greensboro, he said, “they know me,” and aren’t surprised by his wardrobe habits, but recently in Fayetteville a security guard asked him to remove his shoes at the metal detectors for a thorough security check.

“And the guy says, ‘What’s with the socks?’” Smith recalled. “I said, ‘”I’m from Alamance County. We’re all doing that.’”

“He said, ‘Yeah, sure.'”

This has been going on for a while. Giles said it started with a long-time real-estate lawyer in Burlington and a recently retired Alamance County senior Superior Court judge.

“It was Doug Hoy and Wayne Abernathy — before he became a boring judge,” Giles said.

Smith said it might also have been Early Kenan, known around the courthouse as a sharp dresser. Kenan, however, who had a client on trial this past week, was wearing black socks to match his suit.

“I refuse to play that game,” Giles said about wearing matching socks.

Novelty socks aren’t hard to find. Buchanan said they are in most big department stores. One brand he likes is called Happy Socks.

Giles said shopping for them has become kind of a hobby.

“I just look for them everywhere.”

The search can be a painful reminder of the impacts of globalization.

“We made socks here in Alamance County for hundreds of years,” Giles said. “When you start looking for cool socks, it’s very hard to find any made in the USA.”

Reporter Isaac Groves can be reached at igroves@thetimesnews.com or 336-506-3045. Follow him on Twitter at @tnigroves.

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Look Out, University GCs, White Supremacists May Want to Speak on Your Campus – Daily Report (registration)

Public university general counsel beware—white supremacist Richard Spencer, who led the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally that ended in violence last weekend, may soon try to speak in a campus building near you. But GCs seem reluctant to talk about this problem in public.

Calls to 11 offices of general counsel across the country Thursday elicited not one response about the free speech issue. Yet, the problem appears to be growing.

Michigan State University announced Wednesday that it is trying to decide how to handle a request from Spencer’s group, the National Policy Institute, to rent a room for a speech on its campus in East Lansing. Calls to MSU general counsel Robert Noto were referred to the communications department, which did not immediately return messages.

Meanwhile, the University of Florida on Wednesday switched its position from granting Spencer permission to speak, to announcing it would deny him a permit. A Spencer supporter has vowed to file a lawsuit. GC Amy Hass declined comment.

Spencer already won a similar lawsuit at Auburn University in April.

The white nationalist leader also has asked to speak at the University of Chicago. And who knows where else? The Spencer-related turmoil is all part of a much greater free speech debate swirling around the country’s colleges and their general counsel.

The turmoil includes recent incidents of free speech protest-related violence or disruptions of unpopular speakers at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, in May; at Middlebury College in Vermont in March, and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in February. Messages seeking comment from general counsel or other executives at these universities were not returned.

The debate became so heated that in June the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “the assault on the First Amendment on college campuses.”

Veteran First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, formerly counsel for The New York Times and now senior counsel at Cahill Gordon & Reindel in New York, testified at the hearing. “The answer to the suppression of almost any speech, the First Amendment answer, cannot be to limit expression but to discuss it, not to bar offensive speech but to answer it. Or to ignore it. Or to persuade the public to reject it,” Abrams said.

Also testifying was UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who urged universities to keep their doors open to unpopular speakers. Volokh said banning a speaker “is an abdication of the universities’ responsibility to educate—to teach their students about the importance of responding to speech with arguments, and not with suppression.”

At least one of the experts, Frederick Lawrence, a senior research fellow at Yale Law School and visiting professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, came closest to suggesting some sort of restrictions on hate speech. Lawrence noted that Canada, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand and the U.K. all have laws to punish hateful language.

Lawrence proposed applying the criminal law doctrine of “intent” to hate speech. He asked, “Is the actor intending to cause harm to a particular victim or is the actor intending to communicate views, however hateful or unpleasant those views may be?”

Geoffrey Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago and noted First Amendment advocate, tends to agree with the Volokh free speech view. Stone helped shape his school’s principles for freedom of expression in 2015.

In an interview Thursday, Stone said a university should look at the free speech issue as “an opportunity for the university to educate its community about how to respond to this kind of expression.”

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Vegas lawyers confidents laws will follow pot evolution – Merced Sun-Star

Just over two years after filling out tens of thousands of sheets of paperwork for their medical marijuana licenses, Nevada weed entrepreneurs didn’t have it as bad this time around, according to lawyers in the new recreational industry.

While first-time marijuana business owners scrambled to meet state demands for obtaining their licenses back in 2015 — which included long applications, large amounts of cash, hiring and security — the process of entering the recreational business has been a matter of “fine-tuning,” as more experienced license-holders are now looking more for clarification on individual regulations in 2017.

“The questions are more specific. Before it was, ‘How do we do this, how do we operate?’?” said Las Vegas attorney Riana Durrett, who serves as executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association. “Now, the owners are very familiar with the laws, and it’s specific questions and fine-tuning.”

Durrett, who earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is one of several practicing attorneys in the valley working to help business operators understand Nevada’s new recreational marijuana laws. Those laws allow adults 21 and older to use and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana flower or 1/8 ounce of the THC equivalent of concentrates, such as shatter, wax and carbon dioxide oil.

This year, the Legislature and the Nevada Department of Taxation cleared the way for “early start” sales of the plant to begin July 1.

The turnaround of less than nine months from the time the ballot question passed to the kickoff of recreational sales made Nevada the first of four states that legalized adult-use weed in last year’s election to have its new industry up and running. That timeline resulted in a flurry of questions for lawyers — regarding both business and criminal law — as purveyors and consumers scrambled to keep pace with the evolving legal landscape.

Durrett, whose advocacy organization represents more than 80 percent of pot dispensaries across Nevada, said among questions she received the most from license holders was how to apply new packaging and labeling regulations for the recreational industry. Senate Bill 344, passed this session, mandated that edible products don’t resemble candy or other substances marketed to children, and that all packages be labeled “This is a marijuana product” in bold print. Language from the bill was later adopted in an emergency regulation on edibles by the industry’s regulating body, the Department of Taxation.

Employees of marijuana businesses in Nevada are now allowed to use their state-issued marijuana agent cards to work at any of the state’s 60 marijuana dispensaries, 88 cultivation facilities, 57 production facilities or 11 testing laboratories. Previous regulations in the medical marijuana industry forced weed workers to apply for a new agent card each time they moved to a new position — a process that took four to six weeks, even when the employee was moving between dispensaries.

“It has made life much easier for employers and their employees,” Durrett said of the recently passed Assembly Bill 422, which paved the way for the streamlined agent card process. “It’s helped us avoid having to reinvent the wheel.”

Criminal defense lawyer Nicholas Wooldridge of LV Criminal Defense has represented Las Vegas clients since moving back to the valley from New York City in 2014. Wooldridge, who also graduated from UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, said the number of criminal clients his office serves for marijuana-related offenses has decreased drastically since 2015. Once representing more than a dozen clients at a given time for weed crimes, Wooldridge can now count the marijuana offenders he represents on one hand.

“Prior to the law, it was common to see people charged with having some weed on them, but it’s not too often now unless you’re dealing pot,” he said. “I don’t think cops are looking to get into people’s houses to see if they have over an ounce of weed.”

Wooldridge said cases of most low-level marijuana offenders “haven’t been taken seriously” in court since Ballot Question 2 passed in November, and many marijuana cases that would have been prosecuted prior to this year are now being dismissed. Those most at risk are motorists driving under the influence of weed.

Wooldridge questioned legislation that classifies marijuana users whose blood contains two or more nanograms of marijuana or five or more nanograms of marijuana metabolites per milliliter of blood as impaired and subject to DUI charges. He calls that protocol “flawed,” arguing that samples from people who frequently use the plant could test above the legal limit days after last using pot, even though they’re not high at the time of their arrest. Metro Police spokesman Officer Larry Hadfield confirmed that valley police were “always on the lookout” for impaired drivers and said those who failed a field sobriety test would be arrested.

“People who smoke pot have to be really careful not to get pulled over,” Wooldridge said. “Or at least if you do get pulled over, be in a state where they don’t suspect that you could possibly be stoned.”

Attorney Amanda Connor of Connor & Connor PLC, perhaps the most well-known lawyer representing pot industry licensees in Nevada, said the recreational industry’s long-term success would revolve primarily around its ability to resolve an ongoing wholesale distribution dispute and its capacity to develop reliable permanent regulations once the current early start regulations expire Jan. 1.

Connor said permanent regulations for the industry should “work themselves out” as a combination of tweaks from the early start regulations and recommendations from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recreational marijuana task force, appointed this year. Connor added that progress — including a determination for how the Department of Taxation quantifies the amount of distribution sufficient to run the industry — still must be made on the ongoing wholesale dispute with licensed alcohol distributors before the weed industry can feel confident about its ability to legally supply dispensaries.

“A lot still has to play out, but there’s reason to believe the industry will stabilize and develop,” Connor said. “I think Nevada will have big numbers going forward.”

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If liability is limited, written notice to your client to seek independent counsel is needed. – The Legal Intelligencer

If liability is limited, written notice to your client to seek independent counsel is needed.

I have an active criminal defense practice and have a very good plea agreement for my client, but he has to waive any rights to appeal and any rights to claim my ineffectiveness. Can I allow that to happen?

The question is an interesting one. The pertinent rule, which has been discussed recently in an earlier article, is Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.8(h). That precludes a lawyer from making an agreement limiting the lawyer’s liability to the client for malpractice unless the client is independently represented in making the agreement. The rule also precludes settling a claim for liability with a client in a legal malpractice case without giving the client written notice that they should seek independent counsel.

The question becomes is a waiver of the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel the same as signing a release in reference to a professional liability case? The question is really an interesting one. As criminal lawyers know, bringing a legal malpractice suit against a criminal lawyer for his criminal representation of a client, there first has to be a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel or else normally the legal malpractice suit will be dismissed. As a result, there is a close connection between a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel and the ability of a client to sue their criminal defense lawyer for legal malpractice.

If that’s the case, it would appear that Rule 1.8(h) would be applicable and if a lawyer is going to have a client enter into a plea agreement in which there is a waiver of any right to claim ineffective assistance of counsel, the lawyer could not do so without first complying with the mandated Rule 1.8(h) and have the client seek independent counsel before the client is willing to waive their right under those circumstances.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association did issue an opinion cited as 2014-100, which adopted that concept.

Criminal defense lawyers have to be careful. Sometimes trying to aid a client and convince a client to do the right thing can create conflict, such as waiving claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Sometimes conflicts of interest sneak up on a lawyer and they’re not always recognized. Sometimes in the heat of litigation or resolving issues a lawyer can miss a potential conflict that can later come back to haunt the lawyer.

Rule 1.8(h) is an important rule to learn to remember. Any time a lawyer is trying to limit their liability in any fashion with a client, that rule appears to be triggered. The bottom line is if one is limiting liability, then the lawyer has to give written notice to the client to seek independent counsel.

Sexual relationships with a client are prohibited.

My law firm represents a major client. I discovered one of the partners is having a sexual relationship with the in-house counsel to that firm. Would that create a problem for the firm in continuing to represent the business?

The rule at issue is found at Rule 1.8(j) of the Rule of Professional Conduct. That rule notes a lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a client unless a consensual relationship existed between them before the client asked for legal representation. Therefore, if a lawyer has already been dating someone and then that person asks the lawyer to represent them, it would be OK. But, if the lawyer is representing a client and then started dating the client, that is prohibited by the rule. The comment to the rule is found in Comment 17, 18, and 19 to Rule 1.8. The comment notes the relationship between a lawyer and client is a fiduciary one. Because the relationship is unequal because the client can be exploited by the lawyer, a sexual relationship is prohibited. The Rule recognizes the lawyer’s independence could be compromised and a conflict of interest could be created.

Of particular interest to the question is Comment 19. The comment notes when a client is an organization, the rule prohibits a lawyer for the organization from having a sexual relationship with a constituent of the organization who supervises, directs, or regularly consults with the lawyer concerning the organization’s legal matters.

Therefore, Comment 19 would appear to prohibit a lawyer who is representing the organization from having a relationship with the general counsel to the organization. But, it should be noted that the prohibition is a personal one and does not apply to one’s entire firm. Comment 20 to Rule 1.8 is entitled imputation of prohibitions. That comment notes as follows: “The prohibition set forth in Paragraph J (Rule 1.8j) is personal and is not applied to associated lawyers.” (See Comment 20 to Rule 1.8 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.)

Therefore, if someone was having a relationship with a constituent of the organization the firm represents, then that lawyer would be barred from representing the organization, but other lawyers in the firm would not be prohibited.

Obviously, the better practice is not to have sexual relationships with one’s clients or constituents of an organizational client. That is, of course, the goal. But, on the other hand, lawyers are human and Cupid does appear in odd circumstances. But, as a professional, a lawyer has to follow the Rules of Professional Conduct and those rules prohibit sexual relationships with a client or a constituent of an organizational client. •

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'Spotting good deal' no crime, lawyer says of NJ woman charged in online store ripoff – New Jersey 101.5 FM Radio

Boom In Home Improvement Spending, As Prices Of Single Family Homes Rise
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BRICK — The only thing she might be guilty of is extreme couponing, says the attorney defending the woman authorities say stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods from online retailers thanks to a web glitch she exploited.

Romela Velazquez, 24, and her husband, Kimy, were arrested Aug. 3 after authorities said she took advantage of a glitch in the Lowe’s company website to get more than $200,000 worth of stuff delivered to her home. The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office said Velazquez then turned around and sold many of the items, posting them on local buy/sell group on Facebook.

Attorney Jef Henninger says his client disputes the charges, saying she is an immigrant mother trying to provide for her family — not a web hacker.

“She’s not an MIT graduate, she’s not a computer engineer. It just defies logic that she would be the one person out of seven billion to figure this out,” he told New Jersey 101.5 on Wednesday, a day after news of the arrests.

“Like many young mothers, she needs to stretch every dollar that she can. As a result, she learned how to spot good deals.”

Henninger said it is not uncommon for people to buy items at a discount from a store and then re-sell them to make money for themselves.

“Things like that are perfectly legal,” he said. “it’s just that the average person doesn’t pick up on those things.”

He said thanks to websites and online forums people are able to learn about ways to get discounts more easily than they could have in the past.

“I don’t know how with these computer cases, unless there’s a camera on you at your house, or unless there’s a confession, I don’t really understand how you can pin something on somebody to say that they sat behind a computer and did something,” he said. “I’m not aware of either of those two things happening in this case.”

Authorities have not said what the woman did to get the unlawful freebies from the online shopping site. Her attorney says investigators have not had the chance to explain that to him, either.

“The only thing I know is that the police raided her house, charged her with these offenses and took almost everything that wasn’t nailed down,” he said, adding that cops even took the birth certificate of her 2-year-old child.

Henninger said Velazquez is an immigrant from the Philippines, which means that the ramifications from this case could affect her status in this country and the future of her child.

“Her main concern at this point is her child. If she gets deported the child is either going to be without the mother, or the child would have to go to the Philippines,” Henninger added. “Or worse she could even go to prison, at which point the child’s without a mother.”

Henninger said he is only representing Romela Velazquez in this case and believes Kimy is applying for the use of a public defender.

While he said Velazquez does not have receipts for all the items in question, Henninger said she does have receipts “for things she purchased with cash from other stores that have nothing to do with Lowe’s.”

Prosecutors said police recovered enough possibly stolen goods to fit an 18-foot trailer.

“It’s not like she had a warehouse of things that were unopened,” Henninger said. “They took their grill that they were using. They took other items that they were using, the contents of their household that they would use on a daily basis, those things were taken a lot of them. The house was basically cleaned out.”

Though still early in the case, Henninger said some of the the blame may fall on the store rather than his client.

“I don’t understand how if there’s a problem with the website and they process your purchase, that’s the fault of Lowe’s. That’s not the fault of the consumer,” he said.

Romela Velazquez has been charged with second-degree computer criminal activity, second-degree theft by deception, and third-degree theft by deception. Her husband has been charged with third-degree receipt of stolen property and third-degree fencing. They have been released from custody.

Spokesman Al Della Fave of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office said the investigation is ongoing “in an effort to identify other victimized retailers, which may result in additional charges.”

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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Plymouth criminal defense lawyer running for state attorney general – WILX-TV

LANSING, Mich. (AP) – A criminal defense lawyer who helped win a battle to strike down Michigan’s gay marriage ban has launched her candidacy for state attorney general. Dana Nessel, a Democrat from Plymouth, pledged Tuesday to protect consumers, to prosecute hate crimes and to sue to close twin oil pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac. Republicans and Democrats will choose their attorney general candidates at nominating conventions next summer.

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Eye-catching China activist Super Vulgar Butcher 'admits wrongdoing' – Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) – A human rights activist best known as “Super Vulgar Butcher” who rose to prominence by harnessing social media to mobilize public support admitted in a closed-door trial that his actions “violated the law”, a Chinese court said on Monday.

Wu Gan, 44, was detained in May 2015 and charged with subverting the state.

Known for his distinctive bald pate and cutting humor, Wu combined cyber-activism with eye-catching street performance to draw attention to causes ranging from wrongful imprisonment to freedom of speech.

He worked in an investigative capacity for a law firm, helping it find and vet cases involving abuses of power.

In a brief statement published on its official Weibo account on Monday afternoon, the Tianjin No.2 Intermediate People’s Court said it did not hold an open hearing because Wu’s case impinged on “state secrets”.

“The defendant Wu Gan recognized his behavior violated criminal law and constituted a crime,” the court said, adding that his lawyers were allowed to “fully express” their defense arguments.

The court said a verdict would be handed down at an unspecified later date.

Politically sensitive cases such as Wu’s almost always result in a guilty verdict from China’s Communist Party-controlled judiciary.

Wu’s lawyer, Ge Yongxi, said it was “inconvenient” to talk about the case when reached by telephone.

In a pre-trial statement that Wu managed to slip to his lawyers during a recent meeting, Wu said he knew he would “receive a heavy sentence” because of his “refusal to accept a state-designated lawyer, plead guilty, and make a televised confession for their propaganda purposes”.

“My crime of subverting the communist regime is a great honor for me,” he said in the statement, published online by his father on Aug. 9.

“A guilty verdict issued by a dictatorial regime is a golden glittering trophy awarded to warriors for liberty and democracy.”

Wu was detained at the start of what is now referred to as the “709 Crackdown”, named after the date of the biggest sweep on July 9, 2015, when hundreds of lawyers and activists were targeted for arrest, detention or questioning.

Wu is one of the last defendants to go on trial, more than two years on.

Most of the lawyers and activists have been released after serving short or suspended sentences, usually after recording televised “confessions”, pleading guilty and expressing contrition in court.

Wu’s supporters say his trial was delayed and only held behind closed doors because of his refusal to follow suit, while also scoffing at any suggestion he could have any state secrets in his possession.

“Wu Gan’s trial is a cruel farce and it is inconceivable that he will receive a fair hearing in what is a politically motivated prosecution,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher for Amnesty International.

“He is merely being punished for refusing to stop his innovative and legitimate campaigns for justice in China.”

Reporting by Philip Wen and Christian Shepherd; Editing by Nick Macfie

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