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Trump's lawyers ask judge to lift gag order imposed during New York trial
Class Action News | 2024/06/10 19:28
Donald Trump’s lawyers are asking a New York judge to lift the gag order that barred the former president from commenting about witnesses, jurors and others tied to the criminal case that led to his conviction for falsifying records to cover up a potential sex scandal.

In a letter Tuesday, Trump lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove asked Judge Juan M. Merchan to end the gag order, arguing there is nothing to justify “continued restrictions on the First Amendment rights of President Trump” now that the trial is over.

Among other reasons, the lawyers said Trump is entitled to “unrestrained campaign advocacy” in light of President Joe Biden’s public comments about the verdict last Friday, and continued public criticism of him by his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen and porn actor Stormy Daniels, both key prosecution witnesses.

Trump’s lawyers also contend the gag order must go away so he’s free to fully address the case and his conviction with the first presidential debate scheduled for June 27.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment.

Merchan issued Trump’s gag order on March 26, a few weeks before the start of the trial, after prosecutors raised concerns about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s propensity to attack people involved in his cases.

Merchan later expanded it to prohibit comments about his own family after Trump made social media posts attacking the judge’s daughter, a Democratic political consultant. Comments about Merchan and District Attorney Alvin Bragg are allowed, but the gag order bars statements about court staff and members of Bragg’s prosecution team.

Trump was convicted Thursday of 34 counts of falsifying business records arising from what prosecutors said was an attempt to cover up a hush money payment to Daniels just before the 2016 election. She claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier, which he denies. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 11.

Prosecutors had said they wanted the gag order to “protect the integrity of this criminal proceeding and avoid prejudice to the jury.” In the order, Merchan noted prosecutors had sought the restrictions “for the duration of the trial.” He did not specify when they would be lifted.

Blanche told the Associated Press last Friday that it was his understanding the gag order would expire when the trial ended and that he would seek clarity from Merchan, which he did on Tuesday.


TikTok content creators sue the US government over potential ban
Class Action News | 2024/05/15 23:13
Eight TikTok content creators sued the U.S. government on Tuesday, issuing another challenge to the new federal law that would ban the popular social media platform nationwide if its China-based parent company doesn’t sell its stakes within a year.

Attorneys for the creators argue in the lawsuit that the law violates users’ First Amendment rights to free speech, echoing arguments made by TikTok in a separate lawsuit filed by the company last week. The legal challenge could end up before the Supreme Court.

The complaint filed Tuesday comes from a diverse set of content creators, including a Texas-based rancher who has previously appeared in a TikTok commercial, a creator in Arizona who uses TikTok to show his daily life and spread awareness about LGBTQ issues, as well as a business owner who sells skincare products on TikTok Shop, the e-commerce arm of the platform.

The lawsuit says the creators “rely on TikTok to express themselves, learn, advocate for causes, share opinions, create communities, and even make a living.”

“They have found their voices, amassed significant audiences, made new friends, and encountered new and different ways of thinking — all because of TikTok’s novel way of hosting, curating, and disseminating speech,” it added, arguing the new law would deprive them and the rest of the country “of this distinctive means of expression and communication.”

A spokesperson for TikTok said the company was covering the legal costs for the lawsuit, which was filed in a Washington appeals court. It is being led by the same law firm that represented creators who challenged Montana’s statewide ban on the platform last year. In November, a judge blocked that law from going into effect.

The Department of Justice said that the legislation that could ban TikTok “addresses critical national security concerns in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment and other constitutional limitations. We look forward to defending the legislation in court.”

The federal law comes at a time of intense strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China on a host of issues and as the two butt heads over sensitive geopolitical topics like China’s support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. U.S. lawmakers and administration officials have aired concerns about how well TikTok can protect users’ data from Chinese authorities and have argued its algorithm could be used to spread pro-China propaganda, which TikTok disputes.

Under the law, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance would be required to sell the platform to an approved buyer within nine months. If a sale is in progress, the company will get a three-month extension to complete the deal.


Trump faces prospect of additional sanctions for violating gag order
Class Action News | 2024/05/03 21:09
Jurors in the hush money trial of Donald Trump heard a recording Thursday of him discussing with his then-lawyer and personal fixer a plan to purchase the silence of a Playboy model who has said she had an affair with the former president.

A visibly irritated Trump leaned forward at the defense table, and jurors appeared riveted as prosecutors played the September 2016 recording that attorney Michael Cohen secretly made of himself briefing his celebrity client on a plan to buy Karen McDougal’s story of an extramarital relationship.

Though the recording surfaced years ago, it is perhaps the most colorful piece of evidence presented to jurors so far to connect Trump to the hush money payments at the center of his criminal trial in Manhattan. It followed hours of testimony from a lawyer who negotiated the deal for McDougal’s silence and admitted to being stunned that his hidden-hand efforts might have contributed to Trump’s White House victory.

“What have we done?” attorney Keith Davidson texted the then-editor of the National Enquirer, which had buried stories of sexual encounters to prevent them surfacing in the final days of the bitterly contested presidential race. “Oh my god,” came the response from Dylan Howard.

“There was an understanding that our efforts may have in some way...our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump,” Davidson told jurors, though he acknowledged under cross-examination that he dealt directly with Cohen and never Trump.

The testimony from Davidson was designed to directly connect the hush money payments to Trump’s presidential ambitions and to bolster prosecutors’ argument that the case is about interference in the 2016 election rather than simply sex and money. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has sought to establish that link not just to secure a conviction but also to persuade the public of the significance of the case, which may be the only one of four Trump prosecutions to reach trial this year.

“This is sort of gallows humor. It was on election night as the results were coming in,” Davidson explained. “There was sort of surprise amongst the broadcasters and others that Mr. Trump was leading in the polls, and there was a growing sense that folks were about ready to call the election.”

Davidson is seen as a vital building block for the prosecution’s case that Trump and his allies schemed to bury unflattering stories in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. He represented both McDougal and porn actor Stormy Daniels in negotiations that resulted in the purchase of rights to their claims of sexual encounters with Trump and those stories getting squelched, a tabloid industry practice known as “catch-and-kill.”

Davidson is one of multiple key players testifying in advance of Cohen, the star prosecution witness who paid Daniels $130,000 for her silence and also recorded himself, weeks before the election, telling Trump about a plan to purchase the rights to McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer so it would never come out. The tabloid had previously bought McDougal’s story to bury it on Trump’s behalf.

At one point in the recording, Cohen revealed that he had spoken to then-Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg about “how to set the whole thing up with funding.” To which Trump can be heard responding: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?”

Trump can be heard suggesting that the payment be made with cash, prompting Cohen to object by saying “no” multiple times. Trump can then be heard saying “check” before the recording cuts off.

Trump’s lawyers sought earlier in the day to blunt the potential harm of Davidson’s testimony by getting him to acknowledge that he never had any interactions with Trump — only Cohen. In fact, Davidson said, he had never been in the same room as Trump until his testimony.

He also said he was unfamiliar with the Trump Organization’s record-keeping practices and that any impressions he had of Trump himself came through others.


Retrial of Harvey Weinstein unlikely to occur soon, if ever, experts say
Class Action News | 2024/05/01 23:28
A retrial in New York of disgraced former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein won’t be coming to a courtroom anytime soon, if ever, legal experts said on a day when one of two women considered crucial to his rape trial said she wasn’t sure she would testify again.

A ruling Thursday by the New York Court of Appeals voided the 2020 conviction of the onetime Hollywood power broker who prosecutors say forced young actors to submit to his prurient desires by dangling his ability to make or break the their careers.

On Saturday, Weinstein was in custody in a Manhattan hospital where he was undergoing multiple tests, attorney Arthur Aidala said. He was returned Friday to New York City jails from a state prison 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Albany. He remains behind bars because he was also convicted in a similar case in California.

“He’s got a lot of problems. He’s getting all kinds of tests. He’s somewhat of a train wreck health wise,” Aidala said.

The appeals court in a 4-3 decision vacated a 23-year jail sentence and ordered a retrial of Weinstein, saying the trial judge erred by letting three women testify about allegations that were not part of the charges and by permitting questions about Weinstein’s history of “bad behavior” if he testified. He did not. He was convicted of forcibly performing oral sex on a TV and film production assistant and of third-degree rape for an attack on an aspiring actor in 2013.

Several lawyers said in interviews Friday that it would be a long road to reach a new trial for the 72-year-old ailing movie mogul and magnet for the #MeToo movement who remains behind bars, and it was doubtful that one could start before next year, if at all.

“I think there won’t be a trial in the end,” said Joshua Naftalis, a former Manhattan federal prosecutor now in private practice. “I don’t think he wants to go through another trial, and I don’t think the state wants to try him again.”

Naftalis said both sides may seek a resolution such as a plea that will eliminate the need to put his accusers through the trauma of a second trial.

Aidala said Saturday that he plans to tell a judge at a Manhattan court appearance Wednesday that he believes a trial could occur anytime after Labor Day.

With the scaled-down case ordered by the appeals court, Aidala predicted that it could be finished in a week and his client would be exonerated.

Deborah Tuerkheimer, a professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, said whether there is a second trial will “hinge on the preferences of the women who would have to testify again and endure the ordeal of a retrial.”

“I think ultimately this will come down to whether they feel it’s something they want to do, are able to do,” she said.

Jane Manning, director of the nonprofit Women’s Equal Justice, which provides advocacy services to sexual assault survivors, agreed “the biggest question is whether the two women are willing to testify again.”

If they are, then Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg “will absolutely retry the case,” said Manning, who prosecuted sex crimes when she was in the Queens district attorney’s office in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Tama Kudman, a West Palm Beach, Florida, criminal defense lawyer who also practices in New Jersey and New York, said prosecutors will likely soon have conversations with key witnesses for a retrial.


Elon Musk will be investigated over fake news and obstruction in Brazil
Class Action News | 2024/04/08 22:17
A crusading Brazilian Supreme Court justice included Elon Musk as a target in an ongoing investigation over the dissemination of fake news and opened a separate investigation late Sunday into the executive for alleged obstruction.

In his decision, Justice Alexandre de Moraes noted that Musk on Saturday began waging a public “disinformation campaign” regarding the top court’s actions, and that Musk continued the following day — most notably with comments that his social media company X would cease to comply with the court’s orders to block certain accounts.

“The flagrant conduct of obstruction of Brazilian justice, incitement of crime, the public threat of disobedience of court orders and future lack of cooperation from the platform are facts that disrespect the sovereignty of Brazil,” de Moraes wrote.

Musk will be investigated for alleged intentional criminal instrumentalization of X as part of an investigation into a network of people known as digital militias who allegedly spread defamatory fake news and threats against Supreme Court justices, according to the text of the decision. The new investigation will look into whether Musk engaged in obstruction, criminal organization and incitement.

Musk has not commented on X about the latest development as of late Sunday.

Brazil’s political right has long characterized de Moraes as overstepping his bounds to clamp down on free speech and engage in political persecution. In the digital militias investigation, lawmakers from former President Jair Bolsonaro’s circle have been imprisoned and his supporters’ homes raided. Bolsonaro himself became a target of the investigation in 2021.

De Moraes’ defenders have said his decisions, although extraordinary, are legally sound and necessary to purge social media of fake news as well as extinguish threats to Brazilian democracy — notoriously underscored by the Jan. 8, 2023, uprising in Brazil’s capital that resembled the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol.

On Saturday, Musk — a self-declared free speech absolutist — wrote on X that the platform would lift all restrictions on blocked accounts and predicted that the move was likely to dry up revenue in Brazil and force the company to shutter its local office.

“But principles matter more than profit,” he wrote.

He later instructed users in Brazil to download a VPN to retain access if X was shut down and wrote that X would publish all of de Moraes’ demands, claiming they violate Brazilian law. Musk had not published de Moraes’ demands as of late Sunday and prominent blocked accounts remained so, indicating X had yet to act based on Musk’s previous pledges.


Former Georgia insurance commissioner John Oxendine pleads guilty
Class Action News | 2024/03/25 18:20
A former Georgia insurance commissioner who made a failed Republican run for governor has pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit health care fraud.

John W. Oxendine of Johns Creek entered the guilty plea Friday in federal court in Atlanta. The 61-year-old had been indicted in May 2022 on charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but Oxendine is likely to be sentenced to less. Federal sentencing guidelines discussed in the plea agreement suggest prosecutors will recommend Oxendine be imprisoned between 4 years, 3 months, and 5 years, 3 months, depending on what U.S. District Judge Steve Jones decides at a sentencing hearing set for July 12. Jones could also fine Oxendine and order him to serve supervised release.

Oxendine also agreed to pay nearly $700,000 in restitution to health insurers who lost money in the scheme, the plea document states. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the money laundering charge as part of the plea.

“John Oxendine, as the former statewide insurance commissioner, knew the importance of honest dealings between doctors and insurance companies,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a statement. “But for personal profit he willfully conspired with a physician to order hundreds of unnecessary lab tests, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Prosecutors say Oxendine conspired with Dr. Jeffrey Gallups to pressure other physicians who practiced with Gallups to order unnecessary medical tests from Next Health, a lab in Texas. Prosecutors said Oxendine pushed the plan in a September 2015 presentation to doctors who worked for Gallups’ practice.

The lab company, Oxendine and Gallups agreed the company would pay Gallups a kickback of 50% of the profit on the tests, Oxendine’s indictment said. Next Health paid $260,000 in kickbacks through Oxendine’s insurance consulting company, prosecutors said. Oxendine paid a $150,000 charitable contribution and $70,000 in attorney’s fees on Gallups,’ behalf, prosecutors said, keeping $40,000 for himself. Some patients were also charged, getting bills of up to $18,000 for the tests, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Oxendine told Gallups to lie and say the payments from Oxendine were loans when a compliance officer at Gallups’ company asked about them. Oxendine told Gallups to repeat the same lie when questioned by federal agents, prosecutors said. And they said Oxendine falsely said he didn’t work with the lab company or get money from Next Health when interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


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