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Legal news from Wednesday, November 15, 2006




US Marine sentenced to 18 months in Hamdania murder of Iraqi civilian
Brett Murphy on November 15, 2006 9:44 PM ET

[JURIST] US Marine Corps Pfc. John J. Jodka III [advocacy website] was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in military custody for his role in the murder of an Iraqi civilian in Hamdania [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive] last spring. Jodka, one of eight servicemen originally charged in connection with the killing of Hashim Ibrahim Awad [Wikipedia profile], pleaded guilty last month to assault and obstruction of justice charges [JURIST reports]. Awad was shot and his body left by the side of the road with a shovel and an AK-47, making him look like an insurgent. AP has more.

Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson and US Navy Petty Officer Melson Bacos [JURIST reports] have also pleaded guilty to lesser charges in the Hamdania incident. On Tuesday, Cpl. Trent D. Thomas pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to charges of murder, kidnapping, and other offenses related to the death. A fourth serviceman, Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., is expected to plead guilty [JURIST report] to assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice at an arraignment hearing scheduled for Monday.






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Merck avoids liability in latest Vioxx trial
Robert DeVries on November 15, 2006 7:46 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal jury sitting in New Orleans ruled Wednesday that Merck & Co. [corporate website], makers of the painkiller Vioxx [JURIST news archive] that was withdrawn from the market [Merck announcement] after it was found to expose users to increased risk of heart attack and stroke, was not liable for damages [Merck press release] allegedly caused by the heart attack of a Utah man. Charles Laron "Ron" Mason, 64, had taken the painkiller for a 10 1/2 month period. Mason surprisingly revealed under cross-examination that he had actually stopped taking the drug four days before he suffered his heart attack.

This was the eleventh Vioxx-related case tried in US courts, and the fourth tried in federal courts. Three of the four federal cases have now gone Merck's way, although it has lost half of the state suits decided so far. More than 24,000 cases have been filed regarding Vioxx with another 15,000 possible plaintiffs who have temporarily agreed to postpone their suits. Merck intends to try each case separately. US District Judge Eldon Fallon [official profile] has presided over all of the federal Vioxx cases, and will continue to handle all pretrial matters for future cases. Mason has not yet decided whether to appeal. AP has more.






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Ex-Enron accounting chief gets 5 1/2 year prison sentence
Robert DeVries on November 15, 2006 7:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Enron [JURIST news archive] accounting chief Richard Causey [CBS profile] received a 66-month prison sentence Wednesday for authorizing bookkeeping practices that allowed Enron to defraud investors of billions of dollars. Under the original slate of 35 charges against him, Causey had faced up to 20 years in prison. In December he accepted [JURIST report] a plea deal [PDF text] offering a maximum seven-year prison term for pleading guilty to one count of fraud and forfeiting $1.25 million. His plea deal and agreement to co-operate with prosecutors came just days before the scheduled trial [JURIST report] of fellow ex-Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling [JURIST news archives], who were later both found guilty of fraud.

Causey was the key figure responsible for getting Arthur Andersen LLP to sign off on off the book partnership deals that allowed Enron to disguise billions of dollars in debt. In his plea he admitted to conspiring to deceive investors and artificially inflate Enron stock value. Reuters has more.






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Guantanamo detainee asks court to block medical procedure
James M Yoch Jr on November 15, 2006 3:15 PM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for Saifullah Paracha [advocacy website; Wikipedia profile], a multimillionaire from Pakistan in US custody at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], petitioned a federal court Wednesday to enjoin the US military from performing a cardiac catheterization [AHA backgrounder] because the facility there lacks sufficient medical equipment and the backup to ensure his health if something goes wrong. Paracha, who suffered a heart attack while in US custody in Afghanistan, claims the complex procedure will endanger his life, and his lawyer argued that he should be transferred to a medical facility in the US or Pakistan. US Navy officials, however, have asserted that Guantanamo facilities and doctors are adequately prepared to handle the procedure and noted that special equipment and practitioners can be brought in if needed.

US authorities captured Paracha in 2003 on his way to Thailand, where he was detained until October 2004 when he was moved to Guantanamo. AP has more.






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Ireland High Court rules frozen embryos not 'unborn' with right to life
Brett Murphy on November 15, 2006 3:09 PM ET

[JURIST] The High Court of Ireland [official website] held Wednesday that the protection of an unborn's right to life under Article 40 of the Irish Constitution [PDF text] does not include the preservation of embryos frozen as a part of infertility treatment. Article 40, Section 3.3 says:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
According to Justice Brian McGovern, "frozen embryos are not 'unborn'" and therefore the petitioner had no right to have the embryos implanted in the face of objections from her estranged husband.

In October, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] announced that on November 22 it will hear the appeal [JURIST report] of a British woman trying to use frozen embryos despite objections from her former partner who fertilized the eggs. The ECHR ruled in March [JURIST report] that the woman could not use the embryos resulting from a 2001 IVF program, upholding the judgment of the UK Court of Appeal [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.





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Pakistan assembly approves Sharia rape laws change
James M Yoch Jr on November 15, 2006 2:35 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistan's National Assembly [official website], the lower house of parliament, passed the 2006 Protection of Women Bill [BBC report] Wednesday, transferring rape case jurisdiction from religious Sharia [Wikipedia backgrounder] courts to civil courts. The bill also classifies rape under the penal code and makes it easier for women in Pakistan [JURIST news archive] to prove rape allegations. Religious leaders decried the legislation, saying it will lead to an increase in adultery, while other conservatives expressed fear that it will "westernize the country." Women's and human rights groups praised the bill, noting the inherent discrimination and the inadequacy of the Sharia system in a country where, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan [official website], rapes are perpetrated every two hours and gang rapes every eight hours. If the upper house of parliament and President Pervez Musharraf [official website; BBC profile] approve the bill, Sharia law will no longer apply to rape cases, but civil and Sharia courts will share jurisdiction over adultery claims.

Currently, rape and adultery are both prosecuted under the Hudood Ordinances [Pakistan government backgrounder], requiring rape victims to present at least four male witnesses to evade prosecution for adultery, which can be punished with lashing, stoning, and death. Parliament had postponed consideration [JURIST report] of a revised version of the bill in September due to opposition. BBC News has more.






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Telemarketer pleads guilty in 2002 GOP phone jamming plot
Brett Murphy on November 15, 2006 2:23 PM ET

[JURIST] Shaun Hansen, former owner of the telemarketing firm Mylo Enterprises Inc., pleaded guilty to two federal counts of conspiracy to commit interstate telephone harassment on Wednesday for his involvement in the New Hampshire GOP's 2002 phone jamming plot [Wikipedia backgrounder] against the state's Democratic Senate candidates. Prosecutors alleged that Hansen was paid $2,500 to make phone calls to jam Democratic phone lines meant to encourage voters to turn out and help voters get rides to polls on Election Day 2002. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Earlier this year, James Tobin [SourceWatch profile], President Bush's 2004 campaign chairman for New England, was sentenced to 10 months in prison [US DOJ press release] after being convicted [US DOJ press release] in December for his involvement in jamming phone lines [JURIST report] to block Democratic voting drives. In June, a New Hampshire judge dismissed five of the eight counts [JURIST report] in a lawsuit brought by Democrats against Republicans in a civil lawsuit concerning the phone jamming plot. AP has more. The Manchester Union Leader has local coverage.






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US soldier pleads guilty in Mahmudiya rape-murder case
James M Yoch Jr on November 15, 2006 2:14 PM ET

[JURIST] US Army Spc. James P. Barker pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges stemming from the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl [JURIST news archive] and the murder of her family in the Mahmudiya (also "Mahmoudiya") area in March. Barker, who will be spared from capital punishment as a result of the plea, agreed to testify against the other soldiers implicated in the incident. According to Barker, Sgt. Paul E. Cortez and Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, who still face the death penalty in their courts-martial [JURIST report], participated in the planning of the incident and the rape of the girl. Also, Barker's account of the incident identifies former US soldier Steven Green [JURIST report] as the murderer of the girl and her family. Green, who was discharged for a personality disorder and consequently faces non-military criminal prosecution, pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] earlier this month to charges of murder and sexual assault. If convicted, Green could be sentenced to a minimum of life imprisonment or even a death sentence for his involvement.

The Mahmudiya case has outraged Iraqi leaders [JURIST report], prompting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website] to launch an independent investigation [JURIST report] by Iraqis into the crimes allegedly committed by US troops. AP has more.






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Lebanon president rejects Hariri tribunal approval
Holly Manges Jones on November 15, 2006 12:20 PM ET

[JURIST] Lebanese President Emile Lahoud [official profile] Wednesday rejected his cabinet's approval [JURIST report] of a UN draft proposal [JURIST report] for an international judicial tribunal to try suspects in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive]. Lahoud said the measure was invalid because in the midst of other domestic political turmoil all five Shiite ministers had resigned prior to the vote and the Lebanese constitution [text] requires that the cabinet include representatives from all religious groups in the country. Lahoud also called the approval unconstitutional because he had not endorsed the vote [JURIST report], and sent a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan [official profile] refusing to accept the outcome as binding on the government of Lebanon.

The UN's most recent plans for the tribunal have not been released to the public, but the tribunal is expected to be based outside Lebanon and will use a combination of Lebanese and international judges and law to make its decision. Previous reports by the UN's Hariri investigatory commission [UN materials] implicated Syrian officials [JURIST report] in the assassination, accomplished in a massive explosion on the Beirut waterfront that killed Hariri and 22 others. The UN's authority to help Lebanon establish the tribunal comes from UN Security Council Resolution 1644 [text]. BBC News has more.






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Criminal justice reform tops new UK legislative agenda
Holly Manges Jones on November 15, 2006 11:16 AM ET

[JURIST] The Labour Party government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged Wednesday to "put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system [and] support the police and all those responsible for the public's safety" in its new legislative agenda [PM materials; BBC backgrounder] for the 2006-2007 session of Parliament. In the Queen's Speech [text; PM materials; BBC backgrounder], read by Queen Elizabeth II [recorded video] at the annual ceremonial opening of Parliament [British Monarchy backgrounder], the government announced proposals to eliminate jury trials in difficult fraud cases [BBC bill backgrounder], give the immigration service more power to tackle immigration crime and deport offenders, improve the administration of justice, and crack down on organized crime [BBC bill backgrounder] by, among other things, giving police expanded authority to seize criminal assets. Mention was also made of revising the qualifications for judicial appointees and developing a better method to enforce judgments.

Altogether, the government laid out eight individual bills for this session of Parliament, which will end in November 2007. Blair is expected to leave office by September 2007 to make way for a successor, most likely Chancellor Gordon Brown. BBC News has more.






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Vatican calls US plans for Mexican border fence 'inhumane'
Holly Manges Jones on November 15, 2006 10:46 AM ET

[JURIST] The US decision to build a 700-mile fence along the US-Mexican border [JURIST news archive] is "inhumane," a senior Vatican [official website] official said Tuesday while delivering Pope Benedict XVI's yearly message on migrants [text]. Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Council on Migrant and Itinerant People [official website], compared the proposal in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 [PDF text; HR 6061 summary] to the creation of the Berlin Wall, and encouraged the US to instead allow more immigrants to enter the country legally. Martino also expressed his approval for the voiced opposition to the fence by US and Mexican bishops.

President Bush signed [JURIST report] the controversial fence bill in late October. The Mexican government has voiced strong opposition [JURIST report] to the law, saying it will complicate US-Mexican relations [Mexican MFA press release]. Last week, US Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) [official website] said the incoming 110th Congress will review the act [JURIST report] and may scrap the plan after the new Democrat-controlled Congress convenes on January 3, 2007. AP has more.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Topic: Immigration | Op-ed: Fences and Mushrooms Along the Border






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CIA admits existence of Bush secret prisons authorization memo
Joshua Pantesco on November 15, 2006 10:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Central Intelligence Agency has acknowledged the existence of a memorandum, signed by President Bush, that authorizes the detention and interrogation of terror suspects overseas [ACLU press release] in a letter [PDF text] sent to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU requested the memo in a FOIA request [ACLU list], sent to the CIA in 2004 [JURIST report], that specifically requested, among 69 other documents, a "[d]irective signed by President Bush that grants the CIA the authority to set up detention facilities outside the United States and/or outlining interrogation methods that may be used against Detainees." The CIA also acknowledged the existence of Justice Department legal analysis of specific interrogation techniques considered for use against top al Qaeda officials. The CIA letter, sent by CIA General Counsel John McPherson, acknowledges the existence of the documents but argues that they need not be released under an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act [text; DOJ materials].

President Bush finally acknowledged the existence of US secret prisons [JURIST report] for terror detainees in September. Incoming US Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) on Tuesday indicated willingness to investigate CIA extraordinary rendition practices [JURIST report] and the use of secret prisons. Wednesday's New York Times has more.






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Nepal rights commission blames King for police violence in democracy protests: report
Joshua Pantesco on November 15, 2006 9:26 AM ET

[JURIST] A Nepal newspaper reported Tuesday that a blue-ribbon panel investigating possible human rights violations in the police response to anti-democracy protests [JURIST news archive] last spring that left 22 dead and more than 5,000 wounded will blame King Gyanendra for the crackdown. The report may undergo revisions before it is presented to the government Friday, but the current version reasons that because King Gyanendra chaired Nepal's council of ministers, he was legally responsible for the actions of the cabinet. Nepal's High Level Probe Commission [JURIST report], which was formed [JURIST report] by the interim government in Nepal [JURIST news archive], is led by a former supreme court justice and has the authority to interrogate officials, issue warrants, and make recommendations regarding actions which should be taken against rights abusers. King Gyanendra was stripped of control over the military [JURIST report] in September, after he was stripped of veto power [JURIST report] in June.

After the protests forced Gyanendra to cede control to a civilian government, Nepal's Interim Constitution Drafting Committee (ICDC) in August presented a draft constitution [JURIST report; PDF text, in Nepali] to government officials and Maoist rebel representatives participating in the negotiations. The interim draft encompassing 172 articles is designed to replace the current constitution [text] until a new representative body is elected and drafts a permanent constitution. Reuters has more. The Himalayan Times has local coverage.






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Cheney, Libby request dismissal of Plame lawsuit in CIA leak case
Joshua Pantesco on November 15, 2006 8:48 AM ET

[JURIST] US Vice President Dick Cheney and his former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [defense profile; JURIST news archive] asked a federal court Tuesday to dismiss the civil lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] brought against them and other current and former administration officials by Valerie Plame, the undercover operative whose revealed identity precipitated the CIA leak case [JURIST news archive]. Cheney argued that his office provides him with complete immunity from civil lawsuits and that the statute of limitations bars the lawsuit. Valerie Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, filed the lawsuit in federal court in July against Cheney, Libby, and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove [official profile] for their alleged roles in revealing her CIA status. Plame and Wilson also later sued [JURIST report] the former State Department official who admitted disclosing her name to the press.

In the suit, Plame asserts that the defendants violated her rights to privacy, free speech, and equal protection under the US Constitution, claiming that the defendants conspired to expose Plame, threatening her career and endangering her family. Plame contends that the defendants revealed her identity as an undercover CIA operative in retaliation for the statements made by her husband, former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, in which he denied that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase materials for a nuclear weapon in Niger, as the Bush administration had claimed. In his motion to dismiss, Cheney also argued that Plame's lawsuit requests impermissible judicial scrutiny into executive branch operations, as the wrongful act allegedly committed by Cheney was his communication of her CIA status to other members of the administration. MSNBC has more. AP has additional coverage.






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ACLU asks federal appeals court to block domestic spying
Joshua Pantesco on November 15, 2006 8:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to uphold a lower court ruling [brief, PDF; press release] that the NSA domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] is unconstitutional, arguing that the program is an unconstitutional intrusion on privacy and free speech and oversteps the limits of executive power. In August, US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled the program unconstitutional [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] as a violation of privacy rights, and in October, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled [PDF text; JURIST report] that the US government can continue to operate the program pending appeal.

In its brief, the ACLU argued:

The Program violates the principle of separation of powers because it involves surveillance that Congress, in a valid exercise of its own constitutional power, has expressly prohibited. The President has no authority to violate the law. Because it operates entirely without judicial supervision, the Program also violates the Fourth Amendment. No exception to the First Amendment's warrant requirement is applicable here, and the government's disregard of FISA - a statute that has proved workable for almost thirty years - is manifestly unreasonable. Because the Program intercepts protected communications without judicial oversight, the Program also violates the First Amendment. ...

The government seeks not simply to dismiss this case but to prevent any court from reviewing the legality of the Program. Its view of the standing doctrine would prevent anyone from ever challenging the Program. Its view of the Fourth Amendment would give carte blanche to the President not only to wiretap telephones and comb through e-mails but also to search homes. Its view of the state secrets privilege could shield virtually any national security policy from judicial scrutiny. And, perhaps most disturbingly, the government's sweeping theory of executive power would allow the president to violate any law passed by Congress. This theory presents a profound threat to our democratic system.
Another lawsuit, a class action brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T [JURIST report], alleges that AT&T violated US citizens' rights to privacy and several federal statutes when it permitted the NSA to use its infrastructure to wiretap individuals without first obtaining warrants. The Ninth Circuit agreed last week to consider an appeal in that case. AP has more.








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Abramoff begins six-year prison sentence
Joshua Pantesco on November 15, 2006 7:30 AM ET

[JURIST] Lobbyist Jack Abramoff [JURIST news archive] on Wednesday began serving his six-year prison sentence on fraud and conspiracy charges. Abramoff will serve his sentence at a minimum-security facility in Cumberland, MD, a location close to the Washington, DC prosecutors who are using Abramoff's testimony to bring a corruption case against members of Congress and others. Abramoff was sentenced to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty [JURIST reports] to fraud and corruption charges stemming from a 2000 casino purchase. Prosecutors had moved to delay Abramoff's sentence pending his assistance with the corruption probe, but a Miami judge in March refused to delay Abramoff's sentencing [JURIST report] for longer than two weeks.

Others involved in the Abramoff scandal include former Rep. Bob Ney, who pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in October to charges of conspiracy and making false statements after accepting money and gifts from Abramoff [JURIST report], and Former White House official David Safavian [Wikipedia profile], who was sentenced to eighteen months after his conviction for lying and obstructing justice [JURIST reports]. Abramoff is also awaiting sentencing on separate corruption charges.

In response to the Abramoff and other lobbying scandals, the US House of Representatives passed a lobbying reform bill in May, and in September, adopted a new ethics rule [JURIST reports] requiring lawmakers to disclose their sponsorship of so-called "earmarks" inserted into bills to fund special spending projects. AP has more.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Op-ed: Abramoff and Congressional Reform | Video: The Abramoff scandal [Harvard IOP]






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