Judge won't dismiss charges against Haditha commander

Court News 2008/03/04 14:19   Bookmark and Share
A military judge has refused to dismiss charges against the highest ranking officer accused of wrongdoing following the killing of two dozen Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha two years ago.

The judge, Col. Stephen Folsom, rejected attempts by attorneys for Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani to throw out the case or order that a new pretrial investigative hearing take place to determine if the charges against him should stand.

Chessani was the battalion commander at Haditha when a squad of Camp Pendleton Marines killed the civilians following a roadside bombing and small arms attack on Nov. 19, 2005.

The civilian deaths occurred as troops searched for their attackers. Those killings and the actions of commanders in the aftermath have led to the largest criminal case against Marines since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One of Chessani's attorneys, Brian Rooney, said Wednesday that Folsom has refused to allow a deposition be taken from U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., as part of the defense's motion to have the case dismissed on the basis the charges resulted from "undue command influence."

The judge refused the defense access to computer hard drives of commanders above Chessani containing e-mail messages about the incident. Chessani's attorneys contend those messages show that their client had fully reported what he knew and that commanders far above him, including at least two generals, had concluded no formal investigation into the civilian deaths was required.

"That was the most stunning part of the ruling," Rooney said. "We intend to file a motion asking the judge to reconsider that because the essence of the case is all about the reporting."

Chessani, who commanded Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment at Haditha in November 2005, is charged with dereliction of duty and failing to accurately report and thoroughly investigate a possible war crime. His scheduled to go on trial by military court-martial on April 28.

Two Marines under his command, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich and Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, face court-martials this spring on manslaughter charges in the civilian deaths.

Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Christian-based Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., that is representing Chessani, said the pretrial rulings against Chessani and the prosecution itself "stink to high heaven."

"Denying us the right to take Murtha's deposition so that we could show undue command influence, as well as denial of our request for production of documents in the possession of Lt. Col. Chessani's superiors, makes it impossible for us to render this loyal Marine officer the effective assistance of counsel he deserves," Thompson said in a written statement. "They are attempting to throw him under the bus."

A second officer also accused of wrongdoing at Haditha, 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, has been in a Camp Pendleton courtroom this week for a motion hearing in advance of his trial.
top

N.Y. man guilty of killing family, burning home

Court News 2008/03/03 19:26   Bookmark and Share
A Dutchess County jury Saturday convicted Charles Gilleo Jr. on 30 of 31 murder charges in the Jan. 19, 2007, shootings of Manuel and Tina Morey and the stabbing and bludgeoning of their three boys in their Fishkill home.

The jury's verdicts capped more than 37 hours of deliberations over a four-and-a-half days in the Dutchess County Courthouse, in Poughkeepsie.

Gilleo, 33, of Hopewell Junction, N.Y., also was convicted on five counts of armed robbery, two counts of conspiracy, one count of perjury and two counts of arson.

A co-defendant, 30-year-old Mark Serrano, was convicted last year on 31 first- and second-degree murder charges, in addition to arson, robbery, conspiracy and perjury charges.

Gilleo and Serrano were accused of going to the Morey home on Route 82 in Fishkill and robbing Manuel and Tina of cash and cocaine, killing all five members of the family and setting fire to their house and car in an attempt to cover up the crimes.

top

Venezuelan pleads guilty in suitcase scandal

Court News 2008/03/03 19:25   Bookmark and Share
A Venezuelan pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in the alleged cover-up of a plot to smuggle $800,000 into Argentina to fund a presidential election campaign, officials said on Monday.

Carlos Kauffmann, 35, was one of five men accused of acting on behalf of Venezuela's anti-U.S. government in a case that touched off corruption allegations in Argentina and diplomatic tensions between the Washington, Caracas and Buenos Aires.

Kauffmann entered a guilty plea on Friday to a charge of conspiring to act as an agent of Venezuela without registering with the U.S. government and could face five years in prison. He agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, according to a plea agreement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami.

top

Kid Rock Pleads Not Guilty to Battery

Court News 2008/03/03 19:25   Bookmark and Share
Kid Rock has pleaded not guilty to a charge of battery from a fight at a Waffle House in Atlanta. Robert James Ritchie, better known as the musician Kid Rock, was not present for the plea. His attorney, Darryl Cohen, waived an arraignment hearing and entered the plea on Ritchie's behalf in DeKalb County State Court, according to Cohen's office.

Ritchie and five members of his entourage were arrested October 21st on a misdemeanor charge of simple battery. The charges stem from a fight at a a metro-Atlanta Waffle House, where they had stopped following his performance at The Tabernacle.

Officials say a fight broke out after another customer recognized a woman in Kid Rock's party and exchanged words with her, prompting Ritchie to exchange words, too.

top

Court Leaves Diabetes Drug Case Intact

Court News 2008/03/03 19:19   Bookmark and Share
A divided Supreme Court is leaving intact a ruling favoring people who sued a pharmaceutical company, saying they had been harmed by a drug to combat diabetes.

The dispute stems from several suits against Warner-Lambert over its diabetes drug Rezulin. Warner-Lambert is now owned by Pfizer. The Supreme Court split 4-4 in the case, with Chief Justice John Roberts not participating.

The users of the drug are relying on a Michigan law to allege that the pharmaceutical company engaged in fraud by misleading federal regulators to get the drug approved. The Michigan law shields pharmaceutical companies from product liability lawsuits, unless they committed fraud.

At issue in the case is whether that fraud exception, which allows lawsuits to proceed, is pre-empted by federal regulation of the pharmaceutical industry.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the exception to the Michigan law was not pre-empted by federal regulations, enabling the plaintiffs to pursue the case.

Twenty-seven Michigan residents say they suffered personal injuries caused by Rezulin, a drug that federal regulators approved despite risks to the liver and cardiovascular system.

top

Court Looks At Internet Limits

Court News 2008/03/01 12:24   Bookmark and Share

The dispute over a Burlington, Conn., teenager's Internet journal gave rise on Tuesday to a wide-ranging and contentious federal court hearing about free speech, whether schools can regulate students' language off campus and how the Internet blurs the boundaries of a school campus.

Avery Doninger, the 17-year-old high school senior at the center of the case, sat in the front row as a three-judge panel of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals lobbed questions at the attorneys. Lawyers for both sides described the hearing as uncharacteristically lengthy and suggested that the duration underscored the case's position in new legal territory.

In simplest terms, the hearing Tuesday addressed whether Doninger should be allowed to serve as senior class secretary at Lewis S. Mills High School and, as a class officer, speak at her graduation.

The principal had barred Doninger from serving on the student council because of derogatory comments she made about school officials in an Internet blog. A lower court judge denied an injunction that would have allowed her back on the council.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz ruled in August that Doninger had not shown a "substantial likelihood" that she would succeed in challenging the constitutional validity of her principal's decision.

The appeals court did not rule Tuesday, but the judges raised questions ranging from the specifics of the high school's student council election procedures to how the Internet changes students' rights to free speech.

The attorneys staked out opposite positions on the free-speech question.

Asked whether schools should be allowed to regulate anything students write on the Internet, Doninger's attorney, Jon L. Schoenhorn, argued that the Internet should not give schools more cause to regulate off-campus speech. "It's just a bigger soapbox," he said.

The school officials' attorney, Thomas R. Gerarde, argued that the Internet has fundamentally changed students' ability to communicate, allowing them to reach hundreds of people at a time. If a student leader makes offensive comments about the school on the Internet, the school should have the right to act, said Gerarde, who represents Mills Principal Karissa Niehoff and former Region 10 Superintendent Paula Schwartz. "We shouldn't be required to just swallow it," he said.

Doninger's case began with a dispute about the school's annual Jamfest, a battle-of-the-bands-type program that Doninger had helped coordinate. Frustrated that Jamfest was not going ahead as scheduled, Doninger wrote on her livejournal.com weblog that "Jamfest is canceled due to the douchbags [sic] in central office." She also encouraged others to write or call Schwartz "to piss her off more," and included an e-mail her mother wrote as an example.

In fact, Jamfest wasn't canceled and was rescheduled. After administrators found the blog entry, about two weeks after Doninger wrote it, Niehoff told Doninger to apologize to Schwartz, show her mother the blog entry and remove herself from seeking re-election as class secretary.

Doninger agreed to the first two, but refused to withdraw her candidacy. Administrators did not allow her to run, though enough students wrote her name on the ballot that she won. She was not allowed to serve.

In his August ruling, Kravitz suggested that while Doninger wrote her blog entry off school grounds, she could be punished for it because the blog addressed school issues and was likely to be read by other students.

The issue of on-campus and off-campus speech was a key theme Tuesday as attorneys and judges grappled with how the existing legal framework for school-speech issues applies to the Internet.

Student-speech issues have long been governed by a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case. It established that disruptive conduct by students is not constitutionally protected, but that schools can prohibit expression only if they can show that not doing so would interfere with schoolwork or discipline.

A 1986 Supreme Court ruling added another cause for schools to regulate speech, allowing them to prohibit "vulgar and lewd" speech if it would undermine the school's basic educational mission.

But those cases involved speech that took place on school grounds or during a school activity.

Much of the discussion Tuesday involved another 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals case, Wisniewski v. Board of Education of the Weedsport Central School District in New York. A student was suspended after he created an instant-messaging icon, visible to his friends, that suggested his English teacher should be shot. The court upheld the suspension last year, saying it was reasonable to expect that the icon would come to the attention of school authorities and could create a risk of substantial disruption to the school environment.

Gerarde, the school officials' attorney, argued that the Wisniewski case extended the boundaries of school discretion to the Internet and allowed Lewis Mills to sanction Doninger's blog, which he said was as potentially disruptive as the Wisniewski case.

Doninger's post caused administrators to receive numerous telephone calls and e-mails — including offensive ones, according to court records — and prompted students to consider staging a sit-in. That forced Schwartz to disrupt a presentation she had been scheduled to make to a visiting Chinese delegation.

Gerarde said speech off campus can affect the school. But Judge Sonia Sotomayor challenged his argument, noting that "Pedagogical rights can't supersede the rights of students off campus to have First Amendment rights."

Schoenhorn, Doninger's attorney, offered a different interpretation of the Wisniewski case. The suspension was allowed in that case not because the Internet could be considered on-campus, but because the student's behavior clearly created a risk of disruption, something the school would be able to regulate under the 1969 Supreme Court ruling. In Doninger's case, he said, there was no similar risk of disruption, particularly by the time administrators found the blog post.

The judges asked several questions about the implications of each attorney's views on schools' regulating Internet speech.

"If students are free to say offensive things about administrators on their home computers, chaos will rule," Judge Loretta Preska told Schoenhorn.

They already say offensive things about their teachers, Schoenhorn replied, noting that whole websites are devoted to rating teachers.

Sotomayor asked Gerarde how far school regulation of Internet speech could go. What if a student made false and offensive posts about the mayor and then wanted to run for student council, he asked. Would a principal be able to bar the student from running because she had not shown good citizenship?

Gerarde said it would depend on how likely it was that the school administration would see the blog. But Sotomayor said that would suggest the consequences would be related to how active a student was.

Gerarde posed another situation: What if a class president drove a mile off campus and e-mailed vulgar comments about the principal to hundreds of students? Should the student be able to say he's off campus and the school can't do anything about it? "That's wrong," Gerarde said.

If vulgar speech relates to the school or a public event, the school should be able to regulate it, Gerarde said.

top









Disclaimer: Nothing posted on this blog is intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice. Blog postings and hosted comments are available for general educational purposes only and should not be used to assess a specific legal situation. Nothing submitted as a comment is confidential. Nor does any comment on a blog post create an attorney-client relationship. The presence of hyperlinks to other third-party websites does not imply that the firm endorses those websites.

Best Law Firm Website Design Attorney Website Design That Works