Texas AG taps investigator tied to donor’s defense attorney

Court Watch 2020/10/12 09:30   Bookmark and Share
When Texas’ attorney general needed someone to probe a claim by one of his wealthy political donors alleging crimes by the FBI, he turned to a junior Houston lawyer with no prosecutorial experience, a modest criminal defense practice and ties to the donor’s defense attorney.

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton said his own staff had been working to “impede the investigation” into real estate developer Nate Paul’s allegations against federal law enforcement. He explained that’s why he brought in an “outside independent prosecutor” to look into the case.

The move led Paxton’s top deputies last week to accuse him of bribery and abuse of office.  It’s unclear what underlies these allegations, and what would have recommended Brandon Cammack to handle the fraught investigation.

But Cammack’s contract shows he’s not independent of Paxton. And social media posts show Cammack and Paul’s defense attorney, Michael Wynne, are connected on Facebook and are both part of a Houston civics organization. The lawyers didn’t respond to questions about their connections.

Paxton’s choice of outside counsel raises further questions about a decision that has deepened political, and possibly legal, trouble for the attorney general. Paxton rose to national prominence during his time in office but also has spent most of it maintaining his innocence in the face of a felony indictment.

Cammack told Paxton’s staff in an early September email that “my firm does not have any conflicts of interest with regards to this investigation.” Paxton office did not respond to questions about the lawyer’s selection. The attorney general has resisted calls for his resignation and cast blame on “rogue employees and their false allegations.”

Cammack’s father said he thinks his son is being set up as a “scapegoat.”

“I think Paxton was looking for someone that could get beat up on. I think he might have been looking for an easy mark,” Samuel Cammack III said. “Brandon doesn’t even have the ability to do what Paxton was asking him to do.”

A 2015 University of Houston Law Center graduate, Cammack is being paid $300 an hour to look into the complaint from Paul, who gave Paxton a $25,000 campaign contribution in 2018. It’s unclear what the developer has alleged, but his claims came to light a year after the FBI searched his home and office.
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Chinese scientist charged with visa fraud appears in court

Court Watch 2020/07/24 08:50   Bookmark and Share
A Chinese scientist charged with visa fraud after authorities said she concealed her military ties to China in order to work in the U.S. made her first appearance Monday in federal court by video.

Juan Tang, 37, was appointed a federal public defender and U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes ordered Tang to remain in custody, saying she is a flight risk, while her attorney prepares an argument to allow her release on bail.

The Justice Department last week announced charges against Tang and three other scientists living in the U.S., saying they lied about their status as members of China’s People’s Liberation Army. All were charged with visa fraud.

Prosecutors said Tang lied about her military ties in a visa application last October as she prepared to work at the University of California, Davis and again during an FBI interview in June. Agents found photos of Tang dressed in military uniform and reviewed articles in China identifying her military affiliation, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Tang sought refuge at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco after speaking with agents in June. U.S. marshals arrested her Friday and booked her into Sacramento County Jail, where she remains.

Heather Williams, a federal defender, said its common practice for people to seek help from their consulate when dealing with law enforcement abroad, and doing so did not make Tang guilty of anything, she said. Williams added that U.S. agents took Tang's passport, forcing her young daughter to travel to China alone.
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Lawyer: Over 150 Minneapolis officers seeking disability

Court Watch 2020/07/12 11:54   Bookmark and Share
More than 150 Minneapolis police officers are filing work-related disability claims after the death of George Floyd and ensuing unrest, with about three-quarters citing post-traumatic stress disorder as the reason for their planned departures, according to an attorney representing the officers.

Their duty disability claims, which will take months to process, come as the city is seeing an increase in violent crime and while city leaders push a proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new agency that they say would have a more holistic approach.

While Floyd’s death in May and the unrest that followed are not the direct cause of many of the disability requests, attorney Ron Meuser said, those events and what Meuser called a lack of support from city leadership were a breaking point for many who had been struggling with PTSD from years on the job. Duty disability means the officer was disabled while engaged in inherently dangerous acts specific to the job.

“Following the George Floyd incident, unfortunately it became too much and as a result they were unable to, and are unable to, continue on and move forward,” Meuser said. “They feel totally and utterly abandoned.”

He said many officers he represents were at a precinct that police abandoned  as people were breaking in during the unrest. Some officers feared they wouldn’t make it home, he said, and wrote final notes to loved ones. People in the crowd ultimately set fire to the building.

Mayor Jacob Frey issued a statement saying that COVID-19 and unrest following Floyd’s death tested the community and officers in profound ways. He said cities need resources to reflect the realities on the ground.

“In the meantime, I am committed to supporting those officers committed to carrying out their oath to serve and protect the people of Minneapolis during a challenging time for our city,” he said.

Meuser said in recent weeks, 150 officers have retained his office for help in filing for duty disability benefits through the state’s Public Employment Retirement Association, or PERA. So far, 75 of them have already left the job, he said.

Police spokesman John Elder questioned Meuser’s figure of 150, though he does expect an increase in departures. The department currently has about 850 officers and will adjust staffing to ensure it can do its job, he said.

The city said it has received 17 PTSD workers compensation claims in the last month, but when it comes to PERA duty disability, officers are not obligated to notify the Police Department that an application was submitted. Meuser said the city isn’t being transparent about departures, and the numbers it sees will lag as PERA benefits take months to process.

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Court rejects Trump bid to end young immigrants’ protections

Court Watch 2020/06/17 10:20   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s effort to end legal protections for 650,000 young immigrants, the second stunning election-season rebuke from the court in a week after its ruling that it’s illegal to fire people because they’re gay or transgender.

Immigrants who are part of the 8-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program will retain their protection from deportation and their authorization to work in the United States ? safe almost certainly at least through the November election, immigration experts said.

The 5-4 outcome, in which Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberal justices were in the majority, seems certain to elevate the issue in Trump’s campaign, given the anti-immigrant rhetoric of his first presidential run in 2016 and immigration restrictions his administration has imposed since then.

The justices said the administration did not take the proper steps to end DACA, rejecting arguments that the program is illegal and that courts have no role to play in reviewing the decision to end it. The program covers people who have been in the United States since they were children and are in the country illegally. In some cases, they have no memory of any home other than the U.S.
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German far-right party wins court case against minister

Court Watch 2020/06/09 09:06   Bookmark and Share
Germany's top security official violated the rights of a far-right party by posting remarks criticizing it on his ministry's website, the country's highest court ruled Tuesday.

The Alternative for Germany party, known as AfD, whose anti-migration and anti-establishment stance helped it get into the German parliament in 2017, is currently the largest of several opposition parties.

Its case against Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stems from an interview that his ministry posted on its website in 2018, in which he decried a broadside by AfD against President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. AfD had accused Steinmeier of drumming up support for a “radical left-wing event” after he backed a left-wing punk group's anti-racism concert, and the party sought to debate his budget in parliament.

Seehofer described AfD's behavior as “undermining the state” and asserted that “they stand against this state. They can say 1,000 times that they are democrats ... this is highly dangerous for our state.”

The Federal Constitutional Court found that parties must be allowed to compete on an equal footing. Presiding Judge Andreas Vosskuhle said the legitimacy of the government's public relations work “ends where advertis ing for or exerting influence against individual parties or people in political competition begins.”

The court found that the government is entitled to defend itself publicly against criticism of its policies using official channels, but should avoid comments that have no substantial link to the criticism and are “distorting or disparaging.”

The verdict has no direct consequences for Seehofer. The interview was taken down from his ministry's website a little over two weeks after it was posted there.

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Court to hear arguments on Dayton gunman's school records

Court Watch 2020/06/03 09:05   Bookmark and Share
The Ohio Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Wednesday in a case filed by news media groups seeking school records about the man who gunned down nine people in Dayton last August.

The media groups, including The Associated Press, argue the student records could provide information on whether authorities properly handled early warning signs from slain gunman Connor Betts.

The Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools district argues Betts’ records are protected by state and federal privacy laws. Ohio GOP Attorney General Dave Yost will argue they should be released.

Betts was killed by police 32 seconds after he opened fire Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton’s crowded Oregon District entertainment area. Armed with an AR-15-style gun with an extended ammunition magazine, Betts killed nine, including his sister, and injured dozens more.

The Supreme Court took the case after an appeals court ruled in favor of the district and its denial of access to Betts’ high school files.
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