MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte announced Wednesday that the Philippines is withdrawing its ratification of a treaty that created the International Criminal Court, where he is facing a possible complaint over thousands of suspects killed in his anti-drug crackdown.
Critics expressed shock at Duterte’s decision, saying he was trying to escape accountability and fearing it could foster an even worse human rights situation in the country. Others called the move a foreign policy blunder that could embolden China to scoff at Manila’s victory in an international arbitration case against Beijing over contested territories.
An ICC prosecutor announced last month that she was opening a preliminary examination into possible crimes against humanity over alleged extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s drug crackdown, angering the president.
Duterte said Wednesday that the court cannot have jurisdiction over him because the Philippine Senate’s ratification in 2011 of the Rome Statute that established the court was never publicized as required by law. He called the failure to make the ratification public a “glaring and fatal error.”
Thousands of mostly poor drug suspects have been killed under Duterte’s drug crackdown. He argued Wednesday that the killings do not amount to crimes against humanity, genocide or similar atrocities.
“The so-called war against drugs is lawfully directed against drug lords and pushers who have for many years destroyed the present generation, specially the youth,” Duterte said in a 15-page statement explaining his legal position.
“The deaths occurring in the process of legitimate police operation lacked the intent to kill,” Duterte said. “The self-defense employed by the police officers when their lives became endangered by the violent resistance of the suspects is a justifying circumstance under our criminal law, hence, they do not incur criminal liability.”
Duterte also invoked presidential immunity from lawsuits, which he said prevents the ICC from investigating him while he is in office. The president renewed his verbal attacks against U.N. human rights officials who have expressed alarm over the massive killings.
He said the U.N. expert on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, had without any proof “pictured me as a ruthless violator of human rights” who was directly responsible for extrajudicial killings. He also criticized ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who announced last month that she is opening a preliminary examination into the killings.
Last Friday, the United Nations’ human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, suggested that Duterte “needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric evaluation” over his “unacceptable” remarks about some top human rights defenders.
Zeid demanded that the Human Rights Council, which counts the Philippines among its 47 member countries, “must take a strong position” on the issue, and insisted “these attacks cannot go unanswered.”
Duterte has acknowledged his rough ways and tough approach to crime, but suggested many Filipinos have come to accept him.
He has lashed out at European governments, saying they should “go to hell” for imposing conditions on financial aid.
Opposition Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate called Duterte’s move to withdraw the country from the Rome Statute a “grave setback to human rights and accountability.”
It is “intended to escape accountability by present and even future officials for crimes committed against the people and humanity,” Zarate said.
Another opposition lawmaker, Tom Villarin, said Duterte’s action “would have unprecedented repercussions on our international standing as a sovereign state.”
Villarin said it could also embolden China, which has refused to comply with an international arbitration ruling that invalidated its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea under a 1982 U.N. treaty. The Philippines filed and largely won the arbitration case.
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The prosecutors these days are younger than Ben Brafman’s children and the criminal defense lawyers who have operated in his orbit for the last four decades are all retired or dead. But don’t expect Brafman, 69, to fade from the limelight.
Why? “It’s kind of too late in my life to start a second career,” he said during an interview in his Midtown Manhattan office, proving once and for all that he doesn’t understand the concept of retirement.
Surrounded by framed newspaper clippings of his proudest achievements, Brafman recounted the victories that prompted The New Yorkerto call him “The Last of the Big-Time Defense Attorneys.” But, he said, he still agonizes over the defeats and still struggles with the public humiliation that accompanies losses in high-profile cases.
“It was a very draining day, both emotionally and physically, and for several days coming into today, I had virtually no sleep as my mind and heart kept racing with anxiety,” he said in an email that night. “When the guidelines are 27 years and the government is insisting on 15 years, a seven-year sentence might look good to some. To me, it was terribly disappointing.
“To be candid, I hated everything about today. In truth, I think Martin took his sentence better than I did.”
To explain what the public humiliation is like, Brafman tells the story of an encounter with a well-known oncologist at a charity event. The oncologist said he had always wanted to meet Brafman because they have a lot in common. “What do we have in common?” Brafman asked quizzically.
“Oncologists don’t generally deal with humiliation,” he told the doctor. “When you get sick, everyone who loves you becomes closer and supports you. When I deal with someone who is prominent and if their criminal case becomes a matter of public discussion, there’s an added dimension of humiliation, which is sometimes the most difficult part of my job.”
In the Shkreli case, Brafman saw his client vilified because the pharmaceutical executive had raised the price of a lifesaving drug for treating HIV to $750 a pill. While the sentence was a disappointment, the verdict wasn’t a complete loss.
“In our view, he was acquitted of the most important count, which accused him of intentionally trying to steal other people’s money. Given what we had to overcome, I think we did a very good job in that case and I’m very proud of the result,” he said.
Beyond Skhreli, Brafman’s client list is familiar to New York’s legal community. But for the uninitiated, they include Harvey Weinstein, Jay Z, 50 Cent, Michael Jackson, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Genovese crime family boss Vincent Gigante, Bonanno crime family boss Vincent Basciano, Cameron Douglas, nightclub owner Peter Gatien, Conservative Party pundit Dinesh D’Souza, former New York State Assemblyman Carl Kruger, former Suffolk County political boss John Powell, Plaxico Burress and Puff Daddy.
Despite the celebrity cache, Brafman insists the work isn’t glamorous.
“People ask how I spend my days,” Brafman said. “They think I’m clubbing with Puff Daddy or throwing passes to Plaxico Burress in my backyard. I’m not. Sometimes I’m on my hands and knees before some very young prosecutors begging to get an ounce of future for some soul whose whole life is on my shoulders.”
Interacting With Prosecutors
Preet Bharara, who was considered by some to be the most powerful prosecutor in America when he was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was so impressed with Brafman that he invited him to speak to the staff. Previous guests included four Supreme Court justices, two FBI directors and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and so Brafman was in good company.
“He was in a position to impart a lot of wisdom that you can’t get from a book,” Bharara said in an interview. “Ben Brafman is an old-school guy and I mean that as the highest compliment. We don’t have enough of that. When he comes in the room, people don’t immediately have their back up. Being disarming and friendly is not weakness. It shows tremendous strength and confidence actually.”
“I think he’s one of the most able, if not the most able, criminal defense lawyer in New York and one of the reasons I think Ben is a breed apart is because he fights for his clients fair and square,” Bharara said.
In 1980, when Brafman launched Brafman & Associates, prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers spent more time together because more cases went to trial. Brafman was on trial nonstop for 15 years, sleeping only two hours straight most nights.
“If not for the fact I observe the Sabbath, I think I’d be dead,” said Brafman, an Orthodox Jew who prays, rests and recharges from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. “I think God knew exactly what he was doing.”
One of the most notorious trials involved the acquittal of Gatien. Gatien was dubbed the “King of Clubs” because he owned prominent nightclubs at which the government was alleging a series of drug deals took place.
U.S. District Judge Frederic Block of the Eastern District of New York, who presided over the trial, wrote about Brafman in his book. “He was brilliant. I never saw a more skilled criminal defense attorney,” he said.
Michael Bachner, Brafman’s first associate, called Brafman a brilliant cross-examiner with an innate ability to know when a witness was telling the truth.
“He also has this self-deprecating manner to him despite all the big egos that criminal lawyers have. Even hostile witnesses open up,” said Bachner who now has his own firm.
Asked to identify Brafman’s weaknesses, Hafetz & Necheles name attorney Frederick Hafetz said, “None of us are Superman. We all take a step occasionally we wish we didn’t take,” but he added, ”I’m a big fan of Ben’s.”
Paul Shechtman, a partner at Bracewell, handled an appeal on a case that Brafman tried.
“I thought that Ben’s summation was magical,” he said. “I thought the defendant was guilty. The jury thought the defendant was guilty. But there was a brief moment at the end of Ben’s summation where I thought the client was innocent.”
When he was a prosecutor, Shechtman had a meeting with Brafman who had come to his office to fight for a client. Shechtman said he knew he was going to deny Brafman’s request “but when he was done, I almost did it.”
Brafman said he savors the times when he does get to tell a client he has convinced a prosecutor not to level charges.
“I guess It’s like telling someone that they no longer have cancer and they’ve been cured,” he said. “But I think it’s even better because I don’t have science on my side and I don’t have blood tests and surgery. I don’t have cutting-edge drugs that are being developed every day that help me in my work.”
‘I Don’t Represent Terrorists’
While acknowledging that he has clients who have been charged with murder, Brafman draws the line at terrorists.
He believes that reviled terrorists deserve the best representation but said he is not the right person. It’s not that he sits in judgment but that he’s been in the business long enough to be selective about the cases he takes.
“You can’t pass moral judgment as a criminal defense lawyer,” he said. “Once you start doing that, you can’t do this kind of work because most of the people who come to you are not picked out of the yellow pages for the distinction of having to hire a criminal defense lawyer.”
The prevalence of terrorism and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe account in part for Brafman’s reluctance to retire and travel. He no longer feels welcome beyond the United States and Israel.
Brafman, who has been an emcee or keynote speaker at more than 100 charitable events in the last five years, many for Israel and the Jewish community, bemoans “this world of indiscriminate violence and mass murder that is essentially just out there. It terrifies me that this is the world I’m going to be leaving my children and grandchildren.”
But he finds it easy to follow his faith, nevertheless, because observing the Sabbath as a modern Orthodox Jew in the United States is no sacrifice compared to the horrors his ancestors endured. Brafman’s maternal grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin were murdered at Auschwitz and his father was arrested by the Gestapo on Kristallnacht. “I remember saying at my mother’s funeral that today, the day she died, is the only day she is not afraid,” Brafman said.
With no prospect of retirement in sight, Brafman sees his job as a criminal defense lawyer and the ability it gives him to support the causes he believes in as ways to practice his religion. The job and Judaism are ironically closely aligned.
“One of the fundamental teachings of Judaism is giving people the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
“Meek will come home,” the attorney representing jailed rapper Meek Mill proclaimed Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking before a criminal justice forum held Tuesday at the University of Pennsylvania, Joe Tacopinasaid the rapper’s case is representative of an unjust system that leaves people in prison for technical violations.
Tacopina also updated his efforts to free Mill, who is sitting in a state prison in Chester, Delaware County, for violating probation.
“Fifty percent of the jail population is made up of people who commit violations of probations – not violent felony assaults or things of that nature,” Tacopina said. “That creates the situation we have now. We know about it because Meek is Meek. But if Meek was Robert Williams and didn’t have a rap career, that would be the end of that.”
Tacopina addressed more than a dozen reporters as hundreds of supporters gathered inside Irvine Auditorium to discuss criminal justice reform, including Eagles star Malcolm Jenkins and championship boxer Bernard Hopkins.
“No matter what, at the end of the day, this case is going to do good,” Tacopina said, standing behind a podium adorned with a #FreeMeekMill placard. “And Meek understands that. He’s going through something right now but he understands it’s for the greater good. Because he’s going to be the voice for the voiceless.
“He’s going to make change. That’s what tonight’s about. It’s about reform. It’s about putting a spotlight on a system that needs fixing.”
Mill, 30, a Philadelphia native, has been incarcerated since November for violating his parole agreement. Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Genece E. Brinkley sentenced him to 2 to 4 years in state prison, citing a failed drug test and his noncompliance with a court order restricting his travel to Pennsylvania.
But the punishment proved controversial, with social justice advocates decrying it as unusually harsh. As Mill sat in prison, his supporters staged a rally outside the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center, drawing hundreds of protesters to Center City.
Tacopina said there are felons who don’t receive prison sentences that lengthy, calling Mill’s situation “probation on steroids.”
Mill’s mother, Kathy Williams, urged Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner to intercede, noting there are many families going through similar situations.
“Now, it’s just like time to stop all the unjustice stuff that the system is doing out here to all these people,” Williams said. “Millions of people – not just my (son). … Don’t just put them in the system like they’re dogs or something. They’re not. They’re human beings, too.”
Williams, Tacopina and the Rev. Al Sharpton later addressed the forum, dubbed “Reform: Bringing Injustice to Light.”
They criticized Brinkley not only for the sentence she handed Mill, but also for her conduct, claiming she encouraged Mill to leave his label to join another run by her friend and has threatened to sue him.
“We will make sure this perversion of justice is overturned, ” Tacopina told the crowd, eliciting applause. “Meek will come home.”
Tacopina later dialed Mill and placed him on speaker phone, allowing him to address a crowd of about 2,000 people.
Mill thanked the crowd for their support, saying he’s not just fighting for his own freedom, but those of other people unfairly treated by the criminal justice system.
“I’m happy to shed light on a situation that we’ve been going through for years,” Mill said. “God picked me to be the one to bring the light to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.”
Mill was arrested twice in 2017 – once after an alleged altercation at St. Louis International Airport, and again for popping a wheelie on his bike in New York City.
Those arrests violated Mill’s probation terms, which stem from a 2008 firearms conviction.
But that conviction has come under fire in recent weeks.
The arresting officer in that case –Reginald Graham – appeared on a secretive list of police officers that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office considered untrustworthy.
The list was compiled under former D.A. Seth Williams, who has since been convicted of corruption. It urged prosecutors not to call the police officers as witnesses, alleging the officers had displayed a history of dishonest behavior or racial bias.
Graham was investigated by federal authorities for several alleged acts of corruption stemming from a November 2013 incident. That incident came five years after Graham appeared as the sole witness during Mill’s 2008 trial.
That claim is based on a sworn affidavit provided by former Philadelphia police officer Jerold Gibson, who alleges Graham’s testimony doesn’t reflect what happened during Mill’s initial arrest as an 18-year-old.
According to Gibson, Mill never pointed a gun at police, as Graham attested. He said Graham never sought cover behind a parked van, and that Mill never tried to escape.
Mill served eight months in prison following his conviction, and was sentenced to another five years of probation, which was later extended.
In 2014, Mill served five months in prison for violating his probation by performing outside of Pennsylvania. And he was sentenced to 90 days of house arrest after another violation in February 2016.
Jenkins – one of the many NFL players who have advocated for criminal justice reform – called for a move away from punitive sentences aimed simply at imprisoning people for long periods of time.
“He was sentenced two years for popping a wheelie,” Jenkins said of Mill’s sentence. “It’s an example of just how ridiculous sometimes our system can be and how we’re wasting resources, talent, money and locking people up for things that don’t make our communities safer.”
Hopkins, who served five years in prison as a teenager and young adult, said there are many people serving unfair sentences for minor mistakes.
“I understand everybody is not innocent,” Hopkins said. “I’d be a fool if I tell you that’s everybody out there. But there are those that got caught in the system unfairly because of their lack of support, and lack of communications amongst what’s best and what’s not for them.”
Video: Schneiderman announces corruption charges against Mount Vernon Mayor Thomas
Video: Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas holds press conferences after being charged with corruption
Video: Mount Vernon Councilman urges restraint after Mayor is charged with corruption
Video: Chaotic scene after Mount Vernon Mayor’s press conference who is facing corruption charges
MOUNT VERNON – Mayor Richard Thomas was arrested Monday, accused of stealing more than $12,000 from his political campaign and diverting more than $45,000 from his inaugural committee in what the state Attorney General’s Office called a wide-ranging scheme to use those funds as his “personal piggybanks.”
The 35-year-old Democrat is accused of using Friends of Richard Thomas and the Richard Thomas Inaugural Committee to pay for such personal expenses as rent on his home, car insurance, a family vacation to Mexico, even a $2,000 Chanel purse.
And he’s accused of failing to disclose on his city ethics forms gifts totaling tens of thousands of dollars from a campaign adviser, relatives, other individuals and their companies for credit-card expenses, reimbursement to the inaugural committee and tuition for his master’s degree at New York University.
At a news conference Monday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called it an “appalling” scheme in which Thomas used the money as a slush fund and his elected post to “reward those who paid his bills.”
“The pattern of looting here really is extraordinary,” Schneiderman said. “Public corruption strikes at the heart of our democracy” and conduct like Thomas’ “erodes the public trust and makes New Yorkers cynical about their public servants.”
He urged residents to read the 10-page criminal complaint “to understand exactly what your mayor has been up to.” He acknowledged that there is some latitude in how campaign funds are spent, but “there are limits to what you can do.”
The first-term mayor surrendered Monday morning to state investigators at the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, accompanied by his lawyer. He was arraigned in City Court on a felony count of third-degree grand larceny, a felony, and two counts of filing a false instrument, one a felony, the other a misdemeanor.
The felony charges could force him from office if he is convicted.
His arraignment came amid heavy security in Roosevelt Square, with police blocking streets and allowing only city employees to park in the City Hall lot.
“We intend to vigorously defend this and our position is that the mayor did nothing wrong criminally,” said Carl Bernstein, one of Thomas’ lawyers. “He never intended to in any way to violate the law. It doesn’t mean mistakes are not sometimes made.”
In a statement released later in the day by the mayor’s office, Thomas “strongly disputed” the allegations against him, and described them as “claims of a technical nature relating to Election Law, campaign finance and ethics disclosures.”
“It should be noted that the funds in question, paid to then candidate-Thomas’ personal account, were legal and justified, and made on the advice of counsel, as compensation for his own campaign duties,” the statement said. “Thomas, while a candidate for Mount Vernon mayor, left his job to work solely for his campaign; responsible for a variety of roles, ranging from manager to mail clerk.”
After a four-year term as city councilman, Thomas in 2015 was elected the youngest mayor in the city’s history. He defeated the incumbent, Ernie Davis, who had held the post for 16 of the previous 20 years.
But Thomas’ tenure has been marked by a tempestuous relationship with the City Council, from budget squabbles to lawsuits about the reach of his authority. He has publicly feuded with the city’s powerful Democratic Party and failed in a bid to wrest control of it.
He has called his critics in city government “obstructionists” for blocking his efforts to modernize City Hall, bolster the Police Department and other offices, and restore Memorial Field to its previous glory. His arrest came three days before he was scheduled to deliver his annual State of the City address.
In the city’s midterm election last year, Thomas failed to get any close associates elected to the City Council. Four tried to run, but the only one who got onto the November ballot was his brother Butch, a Republican who finished last among seven candidates for three seats.
The mayor and his supporters did manage to unseat longtime city Comptroller Maureen Walker, who lost in the Democratic primary to eventual winner Deborah Reynolds.
Walker was a thorn in Thomas’ side throughout his tenure and in the months leading up to the primary Thomas did not endorse either of the two other candidates but spoke publicly of wanting “anyone but Walker.”
The Journal News/lohud has reported extensively on Thomas’ campaign finance woes, from duplicated contributions on reports filed with the state Board of Elections to his failure to file three primary and general election reports until after he was elected.
And although a pledge to be transparent has been a hallmark of his campaigning and mayoralty, he has refused to reveal publicly what was raised and spent for his inaugural celebration.
According to the complaint, the inaugural committee raised more than $180,000 in January 2016 and spent some money on legitimate expenses, like flowers, a videographer and $50,000 to rent the VIP Country Club in New Rochelle for the gala. But the complaint alleges that Thomas withdrew more than $35,000 from the committee over the next 11 months to pay off personal credit-card expenses. He also went to great lengths to hide an additional $14,000 he took by initially having the committee pay two companies owned by relatives only to have them give him nearly the same amount.
Thomas is the second straight Mount Vernon mayor to face criminal charges while in office. Davis pleaded guilty in October 2014 to a pair of federal misdemeanors related to his personal taxes.
That followed seven years of investigations by federal agents into the Davis administration and his personal finances, and he expressed vindication that the misdemeanor charges were unrelated to his city position and were all that resulted.
He was sentenced to probation and resisted calls to resign from office, but the conviction proved a liability when he ran for re-election the following year.
On the day of Davis’ guilty plea, Thomas, then a councilman, was among the public officials who weighed in, calling the case “very disturbing.”
“The people of Mount Vernon deserve better,” he told The Journal News/lohud. “Mayor Davis has to do a serious gut check at this point in time and put the interests of the people of Mount Vernon ahead of his own.”
In court Monday, Thomas appeared subdued during his brief appearance before City Judge Adrian Armstrong.
Assistant Attorney General Brian Weinberg gave a brief summary of the allegations and said he was not seeking bail but that Thomas had agreed to turn over his passport to prosecutors. Thomas shook hands afterwards with Weinberg and Assistant Attorney General Daniel Cort and told them he understood “you have a job to do.” Thomas is due back in court May 1.
Ten minutes later he appeared with his wife by his side and told reporters he expects to be “fully vindicated” and wanted to assure Mount Vernon residents that the allegations had “nothing to do with my service in office.”
“The allegations are not true,” Thomas said, adding that he does not want them to distract from his work at City Hall.
He would not take questions, he said, on the advice of his lawyers.
Questioned about his campaign finances by The Journal News/lohud last year, Thomas blamed his campaign filing problems on the ailing health and eventual death of his campaign treasurer.
When his campaign finally amended the reports this past summer, they showed he had spent about $40,000 more than originally reported. But they did not address what appeared to be several large donations in excess of the 2015 contribution limits.
One campaign worker, Robert Baskerville, told The Journal News/lohud last year that when he asked to be paid by the campaign, he received a $1,500 check from R&S Waste Services, the carting company run by Joseph Spiezio, Thomas’ campaign adviser and now deputy police commissioner.
Baskerville said he never did work for that company and Thomas’ campaign filings with the state did not show any payments to Baskerville or repayments to R&S. It did not appear that the Baskerville payment was part of the criminal complaint against Thomas.
While no one else was charged, the complaint refers to several individuals and companies that gave Thomas money that were not reflected in his city ethics disclosures.
Among them is ‘Individual 1,’ who gave $8,000 to Thomas’ American Express account through three of his companies. While the individual is not named, it is a clear reference to Spiezio as the complaint explains that, shortly after taking office, Thomas appointed that person to a “high-ranking position with a city agency that deals with public safety although he had no prior law enforcement experience.”
Spiezio could not immediately be reached for comment.
Thomas knew about the probe by December 2016 when state Investigator Angel LaPorte served subpoenas on the campaign and inaugural committees. Four months later, in an apparent effort to return money he had taken from the inaugural committee, Thomas deposited $11,900 in his personal account and wrote a check the same day to the committee. But he didn’t disclose on his ethics forms the following month that $9,700 of the money he deposited was from two other individuals.
Schneiderman did not rule out the possibility that additional people could be charged and said the investigation was continuing.
Thomas’ arrest marks the latest in a stepped-up effort by Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to use their joint task force on public integrity to crack down on officials who violate state election laws.
The effort recently resulted in a felony conviction and prison sentence for former New York City Councilman Ruben Wills, who had stolen $30,000 in public campaign funds and state grant money.
Last year, Schneiderman’s office filed felony charges against state Sen. Robert Ortt and his predecessor, George Maziarz, for allegedly trying to hide campaign payments.
But the charges against Ortt were dismissed and Maziarz this month was allowed to plead guilty only to a misdemeanor.
He had been accused of making $95,000 in campaign payments to a former staffer who resigned after he was accused of sexual harassment.
St. Louis attorney Albert Watkins on Friday accused Gov. Eric Greitens and his “shills or surrogates” of “slut-shaming” the governor’s former mistress, and of the “malicious maligning, with racial undertones” of the St. Louis circuit attorney, who is prosecuting the criminal case against Greitens.
In a 27-minute news conference outside Jefferson City’s police station — where the House Special Investigative Committee on Oversight was holding a closed hearing for the second time this week — Watkins said Greitens’ lawyers and supporters “have been tone-deaf to the reality that victimizing the victim, after the victim has already been victimized, is nothing short of another crime. It may not be violating a statute or it won’t constitute a felony.”
Greitens’ lawyers did not respond Friday evening to a request for comment.
Watkins represents the woman’s former husband, and was not speaking for the wife. He confirmed the husband was scheduled to testify to the committee at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
Although the committee’s meeting had been scheduled to end at 4 p.m., the panel members didn’t leave the police station until 4:45 p.m.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, formed the committee to investigate Greitens following his recent indictment by a St. Louis grand jury on a felony invasion-of-privacy charge.
Chairman Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, has said the panel’s job is only to determine facts — but others, including some lawmakers, have said the committee’s findings could lead to the House approving impeachment articles against the governor.
“For whatever reason, there has been an alarmingly increased number of statements and references by shills of the governor who are trying to intimidate — and who are effectuating another act of victimization,” Watkins said.
He said one former lawmaker, a Greitens supporter, speculated in a St. Louis radio interview that “this woman is going to have to talk about her other liaisons, her other sexual exploitations.”
And that, Watkins said, was “slut-shaming her. We’re talking about intimidating a victim and, worse yet, intimidating many other victims who may be subjected to the same public ridicule and shame. And it’s that type of action that keeps other victims from coming forward.”
A St. Louis grand jury last month indicted Greitens on a charge of invasion of privacy — a Class D felony that, if he’s convicted, could result in a prison sentence of up to four years.
The indictment charges Greitens with taking a photograph of the woman in the basement of his west-end St. Louis home in March 2015 — before he had launched his race for governor — while she was at least partly nude, without her knowledge or consent, and when she had an expectation of privacy.
The woman has been identified as Greitens’ hairdresser, but hasn’t been named.
The indictment also says the picture was taken in such a way it could be uploaded to a computer, which is part of what makes the action a possible crime.
Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied committing any crime.
The Associated Press reported Friday that the governor, who was in New Madrid announcing the start-up of a new aluminum smelter, took no questions from reporters.
In a motion filed with the St. Louis court Thursday, Greitens’ attorneys argued there’s reason to believe prosecutors enticed reluctant witnesses to testify by offering leniency or warning of possible charges or adverse actions if they didn’t testify.
A spokeswoman for Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the motion contained “baseless and false allegations.”
Watkins told reporters outside the Jefferson City police station: “When you’re maligning the circuit attorney and saying or asserting, ‘There’s intimidation going on,’ my client stated publicly beforehand that he was going to be continuing his full cooperation with state, local and federal law enforcement authorities and prosecutors.
“He has not been promised anything. He has not been maligned (or) intimidated (or) threatened — nor, would I venture to guess — has anyone (else).”
He also said Greitens’ lawyers were maligning Gardner by comparing “the Ivy League pedigree of the recent acquisitions of the defense team for the governor (with) the night school law school background and pedigree of the first African-American circuit attorney (Gardner) in the City of St. Louis.”
Watkins said that Greitens, facing the criminal charge, “is entitled to all the rights of any criminally accused defendant (and) the process has to be respected. But our tone-deaf governor and his tone-deaf shills need to understand that there’s backlash, if they’re going to hurt innocent minors, family members and victims.
“There needs to be a reprisal — and people need to wake up. This is not to be tolerated.”
SPRINGFIELD — The state’s top lawyer has weighed in on whether records sealed in a Bloomington murder case should remain closed, saying the public does not have a right to access certain court documents.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office filed a brief Wednesday in the Kirk Zimmerman case as the defense seeks a state Supreme Court ruling on whether pretrial motions are public records.
State’s Attorney Jason Chambers said Thursday his office was contacted by Madigan’s office before the recent filing with the Supreme Court and his office again took no position on the issue.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by Zimmerman of a ruling by the 4th District Appellate Court siding with The Pantagraph, WGLT and the Illinois Press Association, who argue pretrial motions are open records. The appellate court sent the news outlets’ petition back to the local court for further hearing, and Zimmerman appealed to the Supreme Court.
Madigan’s legal team became involved in the legal dispute because the attorney general “has a substantial and unique interest in ensuring that the important legal questions presented in this case are resolved in a manner that best balances the competing public interests at stake,” according to the court filing.
Much of the argument by Assistant Attorney General Gopi Kashyap supporting the defense position rests on a claim that the appellate court has no jurisdiction to consider court orders sealing criminal court records, including challenges filed by the media as intervenors.
Rather than the Supreme Court issuing a ruling in the McLean County case, the attorney general is asking the court to refer the issue to the Supreme Court’s Rules Committee for consideration.
Of the four Illinois cases involving sealed records — three of them filed by The Pantagraph — the appellate court acted improperly by reviewing the cases, said Madigan’s office.
The material sealed in the Zimmerman case involves information developed by police during the investigation and provided to the defense as part of the discovery process. The defense planned to ask that the jury be barred from hearing the information that the judge ruled may be disclosed after jury selection.
A presumption under Illinois law that court records are open does not apply to all pretrial motions concerning potential evidence, the state argued. Noting that hearings regarding evidence have been around less than 100 years, the state noted ..”when the First Amendment was adopted, the public had no right to attend pretrial evidentiary hearings.”
Proceedings in the Zimmerman case are on hold until the appellate court rules on two appeals filed by McLean County prosecutors of court rulings related to witness statements and a computerized photo lineup in which a witness identified Zimmerman.
Updated at 6:40 p.m. with comment from spokeswoman for Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.
ST. LOUIS • Defense lawyers for Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens asked a judge Thursday to order prosecutors to disclose any threats or promises made to get Greitens’ former lover to cooperate with a criminal investigation of him.
In the defense motion, lawyers say that the woman and other witnesses did not file a criminal complaint on their own, and were “initially uncooperative with media inquiries.” (The woman has never agreed to media interviews and has asked for privacy.)
From Greitens’ initial statement to the release of the indictment, read the Post-Dispatch coverage of the governor’s scandal.
They speculate that the same witnesses “were likely similarly reluctant to fully participate in the Circuit Attorney’s investigation of this matter.”
“On information and belief, there is reason to believe that in fact offers of leniency and / or warnings of possible criminal charges or adverse action against the witnesses,” they continue, adding that such threats or promises could constitute “powerful exculpatory … information,” to which Greitens is entitled. It could also be used to impeach the witnesses, they say.
Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, said in a statement Thursday night: “These are baseless and false allegations in another attempt to direct people’s attention away from the facts of the case. We believe the citizens of this community are too smart to believe these outrageous defense claims and fall for these sophomoric antics.”
Albert Watkins, the lawyer for the woman’s ex-husband, said his client has been fully cooperative with law enforcement, including prosecutors, and has not been intimidated. He has also not sought or received any special favors, he said.
Watkins said Greitens’ lawyers are obligated to mount “a vigorous defense” of their client.
A prior defense motion complained about Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s use of a private investigative firm based in Michigan, saying they feared prosecutors wouldn’t turn over evidence from the firm.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Rachel Smith denied the defense claim in court Tuesday and said prosecutors will comply with the rules for turning over evidence.
Greitens’ lawyers have also sought to dismiss the indictment that charged him with invasion of privacy, claiming Greitens’ former lover had no expectation of privacy during a consensual sexual encounter.
Prosecutors say a judge can’t consider facts not in the indictment when considering whether to dismiss it, and said defense lawyers were making “unsupported claims” of consensual sexual activity.
Greitens is accused of taking a non-consensual photo of his partly nude lover and threatening to release the photo if she mentioned his name. Greitens has denied blackmailing the woman.
A Benton County judge was arrested late Tuesday for allegedly driving drunk when he crashed his car not far from his Badger Canyon home.
Fourteen hours later, Judge Terry M. Tanner appeared in Benton County District Court.
But instead of taking his usual spot on the bench, Tanner was dressed in jail clothes and sat at the defense table with attorney Scott Johnson.
The hearing was held inside the Benton County jail and televised in a public room in the jail’s lobby.
The former Richland city councilman pleaded innocent to one gross misdemeanor charge of DUI.
Court documents show that emergency dispatchers got a call at 11:18 p.m. about a Cadillac ATS crashed at Clodfelter Road and Cantera Street.
The caller said the driver was sleeping behind the wheel.
When Benton County sheriff’s deputies arrived, Tanner was found about 300 feet away from the sedan, documents said.
“Witnesses watched him walk from the vehicle after they called to report finding the collision,” Deputy Randy Loyd wrote in a probable cause statement attached to the criminal citation.
Judge Terry M. Tanner
Tanner, 55, allegedly admitted to driving the Cadillac after drinking at Buffalo Wild Wings in Kennewick. He had “red, bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech,” the deputy wrote.
It does not say in the brief statement whether Tanner agreed to a breathalyzer test.
However, shortly after the arrest, Superior Court Judge Jackie Shea Brown granted a search warrant to draw Tanner’s blood. State lab officials will run tests to determine Tanner’s blood-alcohol level at the time.
Tanner was booked into the jail at 2:13 a.m.
Sheriff’s officials had no additional details on the crash.
Wednesday afternoon, former colleague Judge Joe Burrowes presided over Tanner’s first appearance since the other four District Court judges recused themselves from the case.
Burrowes, with Benton-Franklin Superior Court, gave Tanner and his lawyer the opportunity to disqualify Burrowes from the proceedings if they believed he couldn’t be fair and impartial.
Johnson said they had no concerns with Burrowes. A judge from outside the judicial district will be brought in for all future hearings.
Witnesses watched him walk from the vehicle after they called to report finding the collision.
Deputy Randy Loyd, Benton County
“I am not treating Mr. Tanner any different than any other first appearance and DUI,” Burrowes said during the hearing.
Johnson also said during the brief hearing that Tanner had received “no preferential treatment” during his arrest to his appearance in court.
Tanner was released on his personal recognizance, and walked out of the corrections facility just after 1:30 p.m.
The standard conditions of his release include staying in contact with his lawyer and “maintaining law-abiding behavior” while his case is pending. He also cannot consume or possess alcohol during that time.
Tanner has no criminal history. A DUI conviction can bring a sentence of up to one year in jail, followed by probation. First-time offenders often face just a few days in jail.
Judge Terry M. Tanner, right, was sworn in to Benton County District Court in 2009 by Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell. Tanner, a former Richland city councilman, was appointed to the bench after Judge Eugene F. Pratt retired.
File Tri-City Herald
The longtime city attorney, who worked over the years for Richland, Pasco, West Richland, Connell and Benton County, served on the Richland City Council from 1999 until 2002.
He resigned with 31/2 years left in his term following questions about a potential conflict of interest when he and another attorney who contracted with the city were buying a local law practice.
He continued to practice law in the Tri-Cities until he was appointed to the judicial seat in 2009 after the retirement of Judge Eugene F. Pratt.
Tanner is up for re-election for his judicial position this year, with candidate filing in May.
District Court judges make $161,092 a year. His salary is paid by Benton County taxpayers.
He currently handles all Kennewick cases involving misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor criminal charges, along with traffic, non-traffic and parking infractions and small claims matters.
That list includes DUI arrests made by Kennewick officers.
It was not known Wednesday if Tanner will be back on the bench this week or if criminal dockets will be shuffled so for now he doesn’t sit in judgment of defendants with similar charges.
Prior to his arrest, he had been scheduled to review paperwork in his chambers Thursday morning, according to District Court Administrator Jacki Lahtinen
District Court judges by law are allowed to take 30 pro tem days, or vacation days. That means a pro tem judge is called in to fill their seat as needed.
The judges also reportedly have unlimited sick time.
It is way too early to really know what is going to happen with anything.
Judge Dan Kathren, District Court
“It is way too early to really know what is going to happen with anything,” Judge Dan Kathren, District Court’s presiding judge, told the Herald. “There is some precedent (across the state), but at this time I am not sure. It’s definitely new for us.”
Kathren added that like all other defendants, Tanner is innocent until proven guilty, and he is looking forward to getting more facts.
In February 2003, Washington state Supreme Court Justice Bobbe E. Bridge was arrested for DUI and hit-and-run of a parked vehicle.
Reiko Callner, executive director of the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, said that kind of was a turning point in society for DUIs and judges.
It used to be that judges convicted of driving while intoxicated would be admonished by the commission. That is the lowest form of a sanction.
But with Bridge’s arrest, the recommended sanction was upped to a reprimand.
The commission is an independent agency that works to protect the integrity of the judicial process and promote public confidence in the courts by enforcing ethics rules for judges.
People who think a judge has acted unethically can file a complaint with the commission, which then conducts a confidential investigation and brings the results before commission members for potential action.
A judge also can self-report.
The commission also is empowered to launch its own complaint and start an investigation if members are aware of an alleged criminal law violation by a sitting judicial officer, Callner told the Herald.
The Washington Code of Judicial Conduct states all judges must “comply with the law.” A criminal charge would be a violation of their canons.
Callner said the accused judge, like all defendants, have a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves. So staff usually tracks the criminal process and awaits an outcome of the judge’s case before moving forward with their own investigation.
The commission considers the judge’s record and standard of personal behavior and weighs that against their actions in the criminal offense.
Like in the case of Justice Bridge, judges can stipulate to a resolution of their judicial conduct investigation. That agreed order must be accepted by commissioners during their public meetings, which are held five times a year.
Monrovia – The February Term of Court has started and the hearings of cases are taking a snail pace in the absence of a Solicitor General (SG).
With the numerous appointments, President George Weah has not named the Solicitor General to replace Cllr. Betty Lamin Blamo, who was appointed in 2014 by ex- president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Sources close to the Ministry of Justice told FPA that President Weah was expected to name the SG Monday but that did not happen.
Former Chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Francis Johnson Allison who once served as Chief Justice told FrontPageAfrica that in the absence of the SG, the Ministry of Justice’s ability to prosecute cases.
Cllr. Allison: “The SG is a pillar of prosecution at the Ministry of Justice and if he/she is not named, cases at Supreme Court will not be heard.”
“When you cannot go to the Supreme Court, it will delay criminal cases of the ministry, and the defendant who is on trial will not get justice in-time.”
She clarified without the SG, prosecution lawyers can act but such actions wouldn’t be robust and effective as the SG.
“There are other lawyers to represent the state at the Supreme Court, the SG primarily represents the ministry at the High Court, but if the role is given to another lawyer, they will be taking away important office matters of the ministry,” she said.
She added that in the absence of the SG, county attorneys would have to report to the Minister of Justice – something she said would be burdensome on the Minister.
FrontPageAfrica has gathered that names like Cllrs. Arthur Johnson, Nyenati Tuan and Darku Mulbah are among the favorites for the post.
Cllr. Arthur Johnson
THE LOWDOWN: A number of cases started by the former SG are currently at the Supreme Court and other lower courts have not been completed. Key among them, economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, including Sable Mining, former NPA managing Director Matilda Parker, and other major cases. The incoming SG faces a daunting task to continue on the gains made by the former SG.
Many at times, the Supreme Court fined the Ministry of Justice for failure to file their legal briefs within statutory period, something the high court continuously frowned upon.
UPSIDE: Cllr. Johnson has worth of experience in the Criminal Justice and criminal law. He’s one of youngest lawyers who started his law career as public defender and later ascended to establishing his own law firm.
Cllr. Johnson is considered as one of the best criminal lawyers following the death of Cllr. Theophilus Gould. He has in recent times been hired by the Ministry of Justice to serve as prosecution lawyer.
Having Cllr. Musa Dean at the Ministry, some in the legal professionals believe Cllr. Johnson will be of great help to Weah-led government and he is a good face to represent the government.
DOWNSIDE: Cllr. Johnson was recently slammed by the Justices of Supreme Court for not advising his client (Abu Kamara) rightfully that he had violated the Code of Conduct.
Kamara, serving as Assistant Minister for Administration at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, filed a Writ of Prohibition on the NEC for allegedly violating his right and rejecting him without due process.
Cllr. Johnson representing his client at the Supreme Court was criticized, “Your presence here is a violation of the Court’s ruling and you all have to be sincere to the practice,” Justice Kabina Ja’neh burst out during the hearing.
But Cllr. Johnson told FrontPage Africa that he is not interested in becoming the SG.
Cllr. Nyenati Tuan
UPSIDE: Cllr. Tuan reportedly has been with CDC for a long time and worked hard in ensuring that Weah became President. He is described as smart man with a graduate degree from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law in 1985.
He is known to knowledgeable of the law. Cllr. Tuan served as Deputy Commissioner of the then Bureau of Immigration now Liberia Immigration Service.
“All my life I have been practicing law, and this job will not bring any new experience,” he told FrontPageAfrica when quizzed on whether he would accept the post.
DOWNSIDE: Cllr. Tuan is one of lawyers who was reportedly tipped to replace Cllr. Charles Gibson whose nomination was withdrawn due to integrity issues, but was not named.
Critics say he may be lacking the experience to head the SG office because of little experience on criminal cases. Some legal observers say he may have a steep learning curve to make immediate impact as his strength is primarily with civil law.
Cllr. J. Daku Mulbah
THE LOWDOWN: Cllr. Mulbah has served as the attorney of Montserrado County since 2009 with a responsibility of supervising the remaining 14 counties in the republic.
He owned the Liberty law firm prior to his ascendency as Monsterrado County Attorney, he was one of the original advisors of former SG Betty Lamin Blamo. He has worked in the legal sector for a long period.
Cllr. Mulbah, leading a team of lawyers was successful in prosecuting the mercenary case involving Liberians who crossed into Ivory Coast to cause mayhem and several sexual abuse cases.
Legal observers say Cllr. Mulbah has helped to rehabilitate many defendants who were accused of robbery and theft.
He is currently leading a team to prosecute former and current lawmakers who were allegedly involved in the Sable mining bribery.
DOWNSIDE: Cllr. Mulbah’s refusal to draw an indictment against ex-president’s son Fomba Sirleaf involvement in the Sable mining trial was seen as a sheer cover-up.
He also didn’t draw an indictment against Atty. George Kailondo who was charged for negligence homicide following revelation on the death of G.T Bank Dan Orogun at his (Kailondo’s) residence outside Monrovia.
Some say though Cllr. Mulbah brings a lot of experience to the job following years of serving as County Attorney of Montserrado, some legal pundits doubt whether he has the willpower to bring about the robust changed needed at the Ministry of Justice and the Liberian justice system.
That’s the legal consensus among some of the country’s top criminal defense attorneys when asked how they would counsel the onetime Trump campaign adviser, whose Triangle Shirtwaist-scale flameout on Monday led confidants—and one anchor—to worry if he was drunk-dialing cable news hosts.
“I would tell him that he’s had his fun, now put on your big-boy pants, shut up and hire a lawyer,” said Charles Clayman, founding partner and chair of Clayman & Rosenberg LLP. Clayman is a veteran New York City criminal defense attorney who has represented defendants in federal and state investigations for more than three decades—and sees in Nunberg’s refusal to comply with a subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller a recipe for legal disaster.
“Hell hath no fury like a prosecutor scorned,” Clayman continued.
Nunberg ignited a cable news conflagration when he told the Washington Post that he would not cooperate with a request by Mueller to appear before the federal grand jury investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. By phone and in person, Nunberg told reporters that former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page was “a moron” and a “weird guy” who was “colluding with the Russians” during the campaign, that President Donald Trump “may have very well done something during the election with the Russians,” and called White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders a “fat slob.”
As the appearances wore on, friends of Nunberg told The Daily Beast that they worried he was “drinking again”—a possibility made explicit by CNN host Erin Burnett.
“We talked earlier about what people in the White House were saying about you, whether you were drinking, or on drugs, or whatever had happened today,” Burnett said, as Nunberg took a sip from a coffee cup. “Talking to you, I have smelled alcohol on your breath.”
Nunberg denied that he had been drinking, and, as he had done for much of the day, defiantly shrugged off worries that his refusal to appear before the grand jury and submit requested documents might lead to his arrest for contempt of court.
“I’m not going to jail, come on,” Nunberg told MSNBC’s Ari Melber, as Maya Wiley, a legal analyst, shook her head. “Do you think I’m going to jail?”
Nina Ginsberg, first vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) who has practiced criminal law for more than 35 years, told The Daily Beast that Nunberg needs to get ready for exactly that.
“Pack your toothbrush,” said Ginsberg. “Prepare for jail.”
Nunberg’s dismissive, and at times petulant, attitude towards Mueller’s subpoena—he told the Washington Post that he intended to tear up the subpoena on live television—has little bearing in a courtroom setting, according to celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos.
“A Grand Jury Subpoena is a lawful document,” Geragos, who has represented Michael Jackson, Winona Ryder and Scott Peterson, told The Daily Beast. “Tearing it up has no legal meaning. What does have legal import is if you don’t show up. Failure to appear may result in his arrest and incarceration.”
Nunberg did not return requests for comment from The Daily Beast regarding his own attorney’s views on his refusal to appear before the grand jury. If the court were to hold Nunberg in civil contempt, he would likely be held in jail until he either complied with Mueller’s subpoena or until the grand jury’s term ended. The standard empanelment for a federal grand jury is a term of 18 months.
“Rip up anything else instead,” recommended Martín Sabelli, secretary of the NACDL and a former federal public defender. Nunberg needs to “explain publicly that his sense of irony has been debilitated by a very bad cold.”
But the former Trump campaign aide—who mused on Burnett’s show that his lawyer might have fired him—continued his media meltdown tour apace.
“They’re not going to send me to jail,” Nunberg told Melber. “Mr. Mueller, if he wants to send me to jail, he can send me to jail, and then I’ll laugh about it and I’ll make a bigger spectacle than I am on your show right now.”
Hours later, he told the Associated Press that he’ll likely “end up cooperating with them” after all, but hopes that Mueller narrows the scope of the subpoena.
If Nunberg ends up taking that course, Sabelli said, he has a narrow path to explain the past 12 hours of public defiance: “Explain publicly that he has two copies of the subpoena and feels very strongly that he should rip up and recycle one of the two copies for the sake of the environment but that he has framed, and will honor, the original.”