Ohio high court shields full autopsy reports in slaying of 8

Legal Insight 2017/12/14 10:16   Bookmark and Share
A divided Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday rejected requests for unredacted autopsy reports from the unsolved slayings of eight family members.

The court ruled 4-3 that the Pike County coroner in southern Ohio does not have to release the reports with complete information.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, writing for the majority, said Ohio law regarding coroner records clearly exempts the redacted material as "confidential law enforcement investigatory records."

The case before the court involved seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon, in rural southern Ohio, on April 22, 2016.

Heavily redacted versions of the autopsy reports released last year showed all but one of the victims were shot multiple times in the head, but details about any other injuries and toxicology test results weren't released.

Once a criminal investigation ends, confidential information in autopsy reports can become public records, but the process leading to a suspect can sometimes take time, O'Connor wrote.

"In order that justice might be delivered to all, patience may be required of some," the chief justice said.

The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer separately sued for access to the full final autopsies. The Ohio Attorney General's Office, which is leading the investigation, sought to shield the information, arguing that its release could compromise the investigation.

Jack Greiner, an attorney representing the newspapers, called the majority's decision "a classic case of the court making up its mind on how it wanted the case to come out and then finding a path there." He said the ruling sets a negative precedent that will allow police to put whatever they want under the "investigatory records" umbrella.
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S Carolina Rep. Quinn pleads guilty to corruption charge

Legal Insight 2017/12/13 10:16   Bookmark and Share
South Carolina Rep. Rick Quinn Jr. pleaded guilty to corruption charges Wednesday, becoming the third Republican lawmaker convicted in a wide-ranging Statehouse corruption probe.

Prosecutors said they will ask for prison time for the 52-year-old former House Majority leader. Quinn faces up to a year behind bars on a charge of misconduct in office. The other two lawmakers who have pleaded guilty in the investigation have received probation.

Quinn planned to plead guilty to one count of misdemeanor misconduct in office, prosecutor David Pascoe said as Wednesday's hearing started. Pascoe agreed to drop a second charge.

Quinn broke the law by taking $4 million in unreported money from lobbyists, Pascoe said. "It wasn't about service to the people, it was about service to his pocketbook," Pascoe said.

As part of the deal, Pascoe also agreed to drop corruption charges against Quinn's Republican consultant father Richard Quinn Sr., but he must testify before a grand jury that continues to investigate legislators and others and fully cooperate with the State Law Enforcement Division. Quinn has dozens of high-powered clients in the state, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Attorney General Alan Wilson.

The consulting business, First Impressions, is also pleading guilty to not registering as a lobbyist and will pay a fine. Quinn resigned an hour before the hearing. He called his 21 years in the South Carolina House "one of the greatest honors of my life" in a letter to House Speaker Jay Lucas.

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Greek court backs extraditing Russian bitcoin suspect to US

Legal Insight 2017/12/12 10:17   Bookmark and Share
Greece's Supreme Court has ruled in favor of extraditing a Russian cybercrime suspect to the United States to stand trial for allegedly laundering billions of dollars using the virtual currency bitcoin.

Alexander Vinnik made his final appearance at an Athens court Wednesday amid an ongoing legal battle between the U.S. and Russia, who are both seeking his extradition.

Greece's justice minister will ultimately decide on whether Vinnik will be sent to Russia or the U.S.

The case was heard amid growing global interest in virtual currencies and their underlying blockchain technology, fuelled by the ongoing boom in the price of bitcoin.

The 38-year-old former bitcoin platform operator denies any wrongdoing but is not contesting the Russian request on less serious charges.

U.S. authorities accuse Vinnik of laundering $4 billion worth of bitcoins through BTC-e, one of the world's largest digital currency exchanges, which he allegedly operated.

Garrick Hileman, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, said bitcoin's growing acceptance by mainstream markets makes criminal cases surrounding the currency more significant.

"For bitcoin to continue to attract regulated and institutional investors it will need to operate within the law," he told the AP.

"The United States, with the support of evidence from various cyber sleuths, is arguing that Vinnik and BTC-e were two of the biggest bad actors in the crypto-currency industry. Bringing bad actors to justice will help bitcoin move beyond its tainted history."

Vinnik was arrested at a northern Greek holiday resort in July and a lower court has already approved his extradition to the U.S.

Ilias Spyrliadis, a lawyer for Vinnik's defense, said they would formally respond after Wednesday's decision is published, in about one week.

"The Supreme Court has in essence accepted that our client should be sent to the United States," the lawyer said. "Our client has not made any response. He listened to the ruling as it was read out ... It is now up to the justice minister to decide when and where our client will be sent."
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Court reverses itself and restores woman's murder conviction

Legal Insight 2017/12/09 10:18   Bookmark and Share
Georgia's highest court has reversed it own recent decision and restored the murder conviction of a woman whose husband shot and killed a police officer.

The Georgia Supreme Court issued a new opinion Monday that upholds Lisa Ann Lebis' felony murder conviction in the 2012 slaying of Clayton County police officer Sean Callahan.

Barely a month ago the same court had axed Lebis' conviction, saying prosecutors failed to prove she "jointly possessed" the gun that her husband, Tremaine Lebis, used to kill the officer as the couple tried to flee a Stockbridge motel.

The new decision concludes that Lisa Ann Lebis could still be held accountable for the slaying as a co-conspirator.

The opinion Monday does not say why the high court chose to revisit the case.
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Court asked to stop suit against prosecutor in man's death

Legal Insight 2017/11/21 10:19   Bookmark and Share
A lawyer for Baltimore's top prosecutor asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit by five police officers who claim she maliciously prosecuted them in the death of a black man gravely injured in custody.

Assistant Attorney General Karl Pothier told the three-judge panel that as a prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby has immunity from the lawsuit filed by officers who were charged but later cleared in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. Pothier urged the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a judge's decision to allow parts of the lawsuit to go to trial.

"A prosecutor's protective cloak of absolute immunity is not so easily removed," Pothier said.

Lawyers for the officers, however, said Mosby acted as an investigator — not simply as a prosecutor — and is therefore not immune from the lawsuit.

Gray, 25, died on April 19, 2015, from a fatal spinal injury suffered in a police van, prompting days of widespread protests and rioting. While tensions were still smoldering in Baltimore, Mosby charged six officers in Gray's arrest and death, an announcement that brought celebrations in the streets.

Three were ultimately acquitted and Mosby dropped the remaining cases.

On Wednesday, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III grilled the officers' lawyers about why they should be allowed to sue Mosby for bringing criminal charges against them and holding a news conference to announce the charges.

"What we're talking about here is muzzling prosecutors who have publicly expressed grounds for prosecuting police officers," said Wilkinson, who repeatedly raised his voice while questioning the officers' lawyers.
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The Latest: Senate panel approves tax overhaul bill

Legal Insight 2017/11/17 16:10   Bookmark and Share
Vice President Mike Pence says "now the ball is in the Senate's court," after the House voted Thursday to approve a $1.5 trillion overhaul of the nation's tax code.

At the Tax Foundation's 80th annual dinner in Washington, Pence said, "The next few weeks are going to be vitally important and they're going to be a challenge." But he said, "we're going to get it done" before the end of the year. Pence was being awarded the foundation's distinguished service award.

Pence is endorsing the Senate effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act individual mandate as part of its own tax reform plan.

He said: "While we're at it, we're going to cut taxes on working Americans when we repeal the Obamacare individual mandate tax in this tax reform bill."

Vice President Mike Pence says "now the ball is in the Senate's court," after the House voted Thursday to approve a $1.5 trillion overhaul of the nation's tax code.

At the Tax Foundation's 80th annual dinner in Washington, Pence said, "The next few weeks are going to be vitally important and they're going to be a challenge." But he said, "we're going to get it done" before the end of the year. Pence was being awarded the foundation's distinguished service award.

Pence is endorsing the Senate effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act individual mandate as part of its own tax reform plan.

He said: "While we're at it, we're going to cut taxes on working Americans when we repeal the Obamacare individual mandate tax in this tax reform bill."

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