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Legal news from Sunday, September 18, 2011




Seven states join DOJ lawsuit opposing AT&T, T-Mobile merger
Maureen Cosgrove on September 18, 2011 3:22 PM ET

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[JURIST] Seven states, including California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, on Friday joined an antitrust lawsuit [amended complaint, PDF] initiated by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] attempting to block a proposed $39 billion acquisition of cellular carrier T-Mobile USA by Telecom giant AT&T [corporate websites]. The lawsuit, filed by the DOJ in August [JURIST report], cites the important role T-Mobile has played in keeping prices down by creating pressure on the other large carriers, including not only AT&T, but also Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel [corporate websites]. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman [official website] announced his decision [press release] to join the DOJ lawsuit on behalf of New York, saying the merger would have a negative impact and should be barred:
This proposed merger would stifle competition in markets that are crucial to New York's consumers and businesses, while reducing access to low-cost options and the newest broadband-based technologies. We must do everything we can to encourage innovation and job creation. In vulnerable upstate communities, where concentration in some markets is already very high, and in New York City's information-intensive economy, the impact this merger would have on wireless competition, economic growth, and technological innovation would be enormous.
In its response to the suit, filed last week [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], AT&T argued that acquiring T-Mobile will allow it to provide better services to its customers [AP report] as a result of the expansion of its mobile network. In addition, AT&T contends that smaller, regional carriers will act as alternatives to consumers and thus not allow the market to be completely dominated by itself, Verizon and Sprint. The case is set to be heard on September 21.

The worldwide consolidation of media is an ongoing global concern. In August, a class action lawsuit was filed [JURIST report] against Apple [corporate website] and five major publishers for allegedly colluding to illegally fix electronic book (e-book) prices. Communication Director for Free Press, Dave Saldana argued last July [JURIST op-ed] that the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile deal is an example of the enormous influence large media corporations can bring to bear through massive public relations blitzes and the acquisition of political influence through the pouring of money into lobbying efforts and campaign contributions. Saldana said that, for these reasons, AT&T remains confident that its T-Mobile purchase will go through, "because it knows it has several hundred million reasons to push for the merger, and millions of means to get it." Saldana warned that media consolidation is dangerous because it gives the companies leverage to sway public opinion and dominate the narrative when their own practices are questioned.




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Venezuela president criticizes human rights court ruling
Maureen Cosgrove on September 18, 2011 2:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Saturday criticized the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] for ruling in favor of presidential hopeful Leopoldo Lopez, thereby allowing him to run for office. A Venezuelan anti-corruption official had barred Lopez [Huffington Post report] from running for office after conducting a corruption investigation in 2005. Chavez called the IACHR ruling politically motivated [CSM report]. He further claimed that the Costa Rica-based international court is part of a system that protects corrupt behavior and is influenced by the US and the wealthy. The Venezuelan presidential primary election, where voters will select an opposition leader to challenge Chavez, will be held in February, and the presidential election will be held in October 2012.

The Venezuelan government and the IACHR are often in disagreement. In June 2010, the IACHR sent a letter to the Venezuelan government expressing concern [JURIST report] over the increasing threat to freedom of expression [press release] in the country, citing three recent cases that caused particular concern. In February 2010, the IACHR released a report [text; JURIST report] providing a detailed analysis on the state of human rights in Venezuela, which ultimately concluded that not all citizens are ensured full enjoyment of their basic human rights. The top Venezuelan human rights official criticized the report [JURIST report] and said that the report makes unfair characterizations and undermines Venezuelan democracy.




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Egypt court convicts former Mubarak regime minister in corruption case
Ashley Hileman on September 18, 2011 12:09 PM ET

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[JURIST] An Egyptian court on Sunday convicted Zohair Garanah, the former tourism minister under the Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] regime, on corruption charges. As a result of the guilty verdict, the court sentenced him to three years in prison [AP report]. The conviction of Garanah, a businessman before joining Mubarak's cabinet, closely followed that of Ahmed Ezz, who was also highly involved in the ruling party and convicted [JURIST report] on Friday on charges of corruption. Garanah is currently serving five years [JURIST report] in jail after an Egyptian criminal court in May found that he had sold public land in the Red Sea province below market value to two businessmen. The two businessmen were also found guilty in absentia and also received five-year sentences. The court said that Garranah had illegally allocated the public land to the private developers. He will now serve the longer of the two sentences. His May sentence made him the second high-ranking state official to be found guilty of corruption since Mubarak was forced from office last February; however, a number of other ministers and businessmen involved with the regime continue to be detained and tried, including Mubarak, the resumption of whose trial earlier this month, was marked by violence in the courtroom [JURIST report].

While many of these trials end in convictions, in July, an Egyptian court acquitted three former ministers under Mubarak on charges of misappropriating state funds. The Cairo Criminal Court found three ministers not guilty [JURIST report]: Ahmed Maghrabi, former minister of housing, Yousef Boutros-Ghali, former minister of finance, and former minister of information Anas el-Fiqqi. This verdict was the first time former ministers of Mubarak have been found not guilty on corruption charges. The court did sentence former trade minister Rachid Mohammed Rachid in absentia for squandering public funds and profiteering. Maghrabu and Boutros-Ghali will remain in custody as they are facing other charges. The decision was not well received by many Egyptians [AP report] who feel that the Cairo criminal court is rushing corruption trials while failing to bring more cases for human rights abuses against protesters.




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DOJ reports drop in violent crime for 2010
Ashley Hileman on September 18, 2011 11:28 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced Thursday that the national rate of violent crime decreased by 13 percent [press release] during 2010. The announcement stemmed from statistics in the annual National Crime Victimization Survey [text, PDF], which consists of self-reported information and is complied by the Bureau of Justice Statistics [official website] to estimate the rates and level of criminal victimization including violent victimization, property victimization and personal theft. According to the report, this decrease is in line with the trend of declining victimization, with both violent and property victimizations at their lowest levels since the early 1990s. The rather dramatic drop in violent victimization is attributed to a decrease in the number of simple assaults, which saw a 15 percent decline from 2009. The report for 2010 also differed from previous years in its indication that for the first time males and females experienced similar rates of victimization with males historically experiencing higher numbers.

Rates of violent crime along the US-Mexico border [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] have also been declining for several years [JURIST report], according to a USA Today analysis released in July. The study indicated that, on average, US border cities were safer than other cities in the same states, with border cities maintaining lower crimes rates than the national average. Federal crime statistics, interviews and crime data from over 1,600 local law enforcement agencies in four border states, as well as demographic figures from the US Census Bureau's American Community Survey [official website], form the basis of the study. The analysis suggests that the US-Mexico border may not be as dangerous as the general US population perceives. For example, according to the study, murder and robbery rates for cities within 50 miles of the border were lower than the respective state average in nearly every year from 1998 to 2009. Critics of the study are concerned that the analysis does not accurately reflect the true landscape of violent crime in border cities and fails to take into consideration those crimes that go unreported, particularly kidnapping and extortion. Several analysts quoted in the report, however, argue that the analysis confirms that politicians have exaggerated the extent to which violence occurs along the US-Mexico border and make unsubstantiated claims linking illegal immigration to crime rates.




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