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Washington Governor Signs Domestic Partnership Law
U.S. Legal News | 2007/04/23 04:02

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation Saturday recognizing domestic partnership status for same-sex couples. The law guarantees gay and lesbian couples some of the legal rights that previously were afforded only to husband and wife. To be considered a legally recognizable domestic partnership, couples must be over the age of 18, live together and not be in a domestic relationship with anyone else. The legislation also introduces a state wide domestic partnership registry and affords same-sex couples hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, and the ability to authorize medical decisions for their partner. The registry will also include heterosexual couples with one partner over the age of 62. Many of these couples have been hesitant to marry because of the repercussions for their pension or social security benefits.

The Washington State Senate and House of Representatives approved the bill in March and early April respectively. Opponents of the measure claim it erodes the institution of marriage, but the bill's supporters stressed the importance of granting equal rights to same-sex couples. The bill is the latest step in Washington's pioneering stance on gay civil rights which includes a revision of the state's Civil Rights Act to include the phrase "sexual orientation" among the classes of people protected from discrimination in housing, lending, and employment.



In Testimony, Gonzales Says Firings Were Justified
U.S. Legal News | 2007/04/19 16:03

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is facing tough questions about his honesty and his competence from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. Gonzales defended his controversial decision to dismiss eight U.S. federal prosecutors late last year, saying it was "justified and should stand." Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican member of the panel, said he did not understand how Gonzales could say he played a "limited role" in the dismissals, after several of his aides had testified otherwise under oath. In a fiery exchange, Specter said he either had to question Gonzales's candidness or his judgment.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said the U.S. Department of Justice is experiencing an unparalleled crisis of leadership. He said Gonzales has undercut the credibility of the rule of law in the United States.

Gonzales is trying to explain the different explanations he has given about his involvement in the firings. Other Department of Justice officials also have given contradictory reasons for the firings, at first saying they were performance-related, and then backing away from that rationale.

Critics say they believe the firings were politically motivated and that President Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, was deeply involved.

The Bush administration has defended the firings, saying the prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president.

In prepared testimony released Sunday, Gonzales apologized for mishandling the matter, and says he was "less than precise" in his statements.

Committee Democrats are focusing many of their questions on the role Gonzales and the White House played in the firings of two prosecutors in the western states of California and New Mexico.

Gonzales has said that the prosecutors were dismissed as part of a management review designed to improve leadership in the Justice Department.



Newt Gingrich says Alberto Gonzales should resign
U.S. Legal News | 2007/04/09 17:23

Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich said Sunday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should consider resigning in the wake of his role in the firings of eight US Attorneys. With his criticism of Gonzales' judgment, Gingrich joins a growing group of Republicans who have voiced displeasure with how the attorney general handled the firings. Several other Republican legislators, including administration allies, either support the call for Gonzales' resignation or are demanding an explanation. Gonzales is scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17. Last week, committee chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) rejected attempts by the Bush administration to move up the date that Gonzales is scheduled to testify. The Senate Judiciary Committee has authorized subpoenas for former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and several DOJ aides to testify and provide documents regarding the scandal. Monica M. Goodling, one of the key aides who took part in planning the US Attorney firings, submitted her resignation without cause Friday. Goodling's resignation, effective Saturday, is the third by a Department of Justice official involved in the controversy.

Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff who has since resigned, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that the prosecutors were fired for political reasons rather than for poor performance as the Justice Department has claimed. Gonzales has defended his role in the firings, admitting that there has been some confusion but saying that his involvement in the matter was limited to signing off on recommendations made by Sampson.



Bush defends Gonzales' role in US Attorney firings
U.S. Legal News | 2007/04/02 04:28

US President George W. Bush again defended US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over his role in the firings of federal prosecutors in a press conference Saturday, saying that Gonzales has his "full confidence." Bush called Gonzales "an honorable and honest man" and said that "there is no credible evidence that there has been any wrongdoing. On Friday White House spokesperson Dana Perino told reporters that despite any reports to the contrary, the president has "100 percent confidence" in Gonzales. Gonzales will testify before Congress on April 17.

Gonzales defended his role in the firings on Friday, admitting that there has been some confusion but that his involvement in the matter was limited to signing off on recommendations made by his former chief of staff Kyle Sampson. Sampson, who resigned last month, told the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday that the prosecutors were fired for political reasons rather than for poor performance as the Justice Department has claimed. Sampson also said Gonzales did more than merely follow his recommendations, and that Gonzales and former White House counsel Harriet Miers were deeply involved in the firings. On Saturday Republican Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska joined the call for Gonzales' resignation.



Hicks could face Australian control order after release
U.S. Legal News | 2007/04/02 04:27

The Australian Federal Police will determine whether Guantanamo Bay military prison detainee David Hicks will be subject to a control order when released from prison later this year, members of the Australian government said Sunday. On Friday a US military commission recommended sentencing Hicks to seven years in prison; all but nine months of that were effectively suspended by a military judge under the terms of a plea agreement kept secret from the panel of military officers during its deliberations. Hicks is expected to be returned to Australia to serve his prison term within two months, after having already spent more than five years in US custody since being captured in Afghanistan.

The controversial "control orders" authorized under Australia's 2005 anti-terror legislation allow "the overt close monitoring of terrorist suspects who pose a risk to the community." The first such order was issued in August 2006 and is still undergoing an appellate court challenge. Similar orders have been called unconstitutional in the European Union. Hicks' lawyer said Sunday that he plans to return to school and will not be a threat, but Australian officials have called him "dangerous" and seek closer surveillance.



Gonzales Highlights DOJ Efforts to Combat Sexual Abuse
U.S. Legal News | 2007/03/31 17:13

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today joined U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan to highlight the ongoing efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement in combating the sexual abuse and exploitation of children in Massachusetts. "The horrors of sexual exploitation and abuse are all too real for hundreds of children across the nation," stated Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. "I am calling on law enforcement, community leaders and the citizens of Massachusetts to take up the fight to save our children. I applaud the work of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts, whose tireless efforts have led to increased prosecutions and stronger sentences against sexual predators in the Commonwealth."

Attorney General Gonzales was also joined in today's roundtable by the Massachusetts Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Director, Massachusetts State Police Captain Tom Kerle, and other members of the Project Safe Childhood initiative for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Launched in May 2006, Project Safe Childhood is a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorneys Offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as identify and rescue victims.

Last year, the Department of Justice prosecuted 1,543 cases involving the sexual exploitation or abuse of children. To ensure maximum prison sentences for sexual predators in Massachusetts, the U.S. Attorney's Office provides training for local prosecutors about federal laws and sentences and works collaboratively with District Attorneys and the Massachusetts Attorney General to refer appropriate cases for federal prosecution. As a result, the U.S. Attorney's Office has seen a 300% increase in referred cases, including cases from Plymouth, Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk Counties. The prosecution of child exploitation cases has been a long held priority of U.S. Attorney Sullivan. In 2002, four years prior to the national launch of Project Safe Childhood, the U.S. Attorney's Office created a position and hired an experienced, specially trained prosecutor to be dedicated solely to the prosecution of child exploitation cases. The number of child exploitation prosecutions has consistently increased—from five in 2000 to 18 in 2006.

"Nothing is more important than protecting our children from predators," said U.S. Attorney Sullivan. "The U.S. Attorney's Office and our federal, state and local law enforcement partners are committed to doing whatever we can—through enforcement and educational outreach—to provide that protection. Child predators should not to be lulled into thinking they are safe from law enforcement detection by the perceived anonymity of the Internet. We will find you and use every resource at our disposal to ensure you won't harm again."

Project Safe Childhood partners for the District of Massachusetts include: the Massachusetts Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force; Massachusetts Attorney General's Office; Plymouth County District Attorney's Office; Essex County District Attorney's Office; Suffolk County District Attorney's Office; Middlesex County District Attorney's Office; the Massachusetts State Police; the FBI; ICE; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and U.S. Secret Service.

In addition to participating in the law enforcement roundtable, Attorney General Gonzales also unveiled a new series of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) regarding online sexual exploitation. The ads, which were developed jointly by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), and the Ad Council, are designed to educate teenage girls about the potential dangers of posting and sharing personal information online. The Think Before You Post campaign reminds teens that anything you post online, anyone can see, family, friends and even not-so-friendly people.

Popular social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Sconex make it easier for teens to post and share personal information, pictures, and videos, which may make them more vulnerable to online predators. Teenage girls are particularly at risk of online sexual exploitation. A recent study by University of New Hampshire researchers for NCMEC found that of the approximately one in seven youth who received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet, 70 percent were girls.http://www.missingkids.com

For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov. For more information about the Think Before You Post campaign, please visit http://www.cybertipline.com



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