Posts Tagged ‘Department of Justice’

“If you stepped on a protected beetle while jogging…”

“…should you go to jail? You might.” A lawsuit from environmentalists challenges the U.S. Department of Justice’s “McKittrick Policy,” under which individuals are criminally prosecuted for Endangered Species Act violations only if they “knew that their action would cause a [prohibited taking], and [were] aware of the identity of the affected species.” [Jonathan Wood, Pacific Legal Foundation/The Blaze on WildEarth Guardians and New Mexico Wilderness Alliance v. U.S. Department of Justice; more from PLF and its memorandum in support of a motion to intervene; WildEarth Guardians]

Federal law enforcement roundup

  • Manufacturing while foreign: Holman Jenkins compares Department of Justice’s handling of General Motors case with those of Toyota and Takata [WSJ, paywall]
  • “Electronic surveillance by the Drug Enforcement Administration has tripled over the past 20 years, and much of that increase has involved bypassing the federal courts.” [Brad Heath, USA Today via Balko]
  • Sen. Hatch: criminal justice reform needs to include reform on issue of mens rea/criminal intent [John Malcolm, Daily Signal]
  • Clinton administration tended to embed its anti-gun gestures in its then-popular carceral-state enactments [Jesse Walker on the 12-year lull in anti-gun legislation and whether it’s ending]
  • New DoJ policy on corporate criminal prosecutions risks scapegoating [Thaya Knight, Cato] Despite transient surge early in Obama years, federal white-collar crime prosecutions have now fallen to 20-year low [TRAC Reports]
  • A legal remedy should federal law enforcers falsely malign you in a press release? Dream on [Scott Greenfield]
  • If you oppose high U.S. incarceration rate, but wish more corporate executives went to prison, check your premises [Matt Kaiser, Above the Law]

Law enforcement for profit roundup

  • “Why Morristown officers seized the cars in the first place is unclear.” Maybe because it enabled an officer to pocket $6,000? [Tennessee: Watchdog] Louisiana town getting 87% of its revenue from traffic tickets has 188 people, 5 cop cars [Marshall Project via Balko] For second time, this time in Chicago case, former CEO of red light camera company cops a federal plea [Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica]
  • Opposition from law enforcement shoots down asset forfeiture reform in California [Scott Shackford/Reason, more] Despite talk of being friendlier to forfeiture reform, Department of Justice fed talking points to reform opponents in California battle [TechDirt] “Most Americans don’t realize it’s this easy for police to take your cash” [Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post “WonkBlog”]
  • Other side of the ledger: how governments pay for claims against law enforcement [Joanna Schwartz, SSRN via TortsProf]
  • Louisville traffic school allows violators to get cases “dismissed without having to pay court costs… and generates revenue to operate the county attorney’s office” [Insurance Journal]
  • Lawsuit alleges private probation companies in Tennessee abusing power, free-marketers should be as worried as anyone else about misalignment of private, public incentives [Radley Balko, earlier]
  • Odd how feds can prevent someone resisting extradition from contesting asset forfeiture [Trevor Burrus/Cato, Ilya Somin on Kim Dotcom case]
  • Insurers often pool funds to support insurance fraud prosecution efforts, but critics say Travis County, Texas prosecutors are needlessly close to a single company [Texas Tribune]

Getting ready for ADA website regulations

As I’ve said more than once, I view the Department of Justice’s much-delayed plans to mandate “accessibility” of websites under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as perhaps the single most under-reported and alarming regulation that I know of in the federal pipeline. Here is a June rundown from Porter Wright attorneys Bob Morgan and Melissa Barnett of the state of play on the issue. It notes, as has our coverage, that even without getting around to issuing regs, DoJ is busy using ADA settlements to impose its views of accessibility on businesses it sues.

The article affords some glimpses of the staggering hassles that lie ahead for those who sell or promote products or services online, including for many the likely need to hire not just consulting help but full-time web accessibility specialists. Just one excerpt:

…making a website accessible to disabled users centers on design and functionality. The complexity of achieving this objective varies by the “type of content, the size and complexity of the site, and the development tools and environment,” according to the World Wide Web Consortium. But hundreds of design options exist to make a website accessible; WGAC 2.0 [the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines] alone provides 206 options. These include, but are not limited to, providing links to definitions, removing time limits for activities, providing spoken word versions of text, and ensuring keyboard control for all website functions.

One wording in this passage strikes me as a bit peculiar. To say that WGAC “alone provides 206 options” might suggest that achieving legal compliance is a snap — look, there are 206 options to comply, just pick one. But it doesn’t mean that, does it? Just because you’ve arranged to “provide spoken word versions of text” to fend off a lawsuit on behalf of blind users doesn’t mean you can get out of a lawsuit representing persons lacking fine hand motor control for not “ensuring keyboard control for all website functions” (i.e., disabling any mouse-only functions and patching any failures this generates in your current design). And even if you can do both those things along with fifty more, you may still be exposed to a lawsuit if you haven’t gotten around to “removing time limits for activities.”

According to Porter Wright’s Morgan and Barnett the Department of Justice is now expected to release its new rule in April 2016. Do not count on Congress to save the day; its record in the past under both Republican and Democratic leadership has been one of stepping in to expand the scope of the ADA, not rein in its more extreme applications. A better hope is the courts, which, despite some recent erosion, have not overturned some noteworthy precedents in which judges declined to extend ADA regulation wholesale from physical to virtual “space.”

Police and prosecution roundup

  • mr-district-attorneySheriff’s group wants Facebook to ax “hate speech against police,” “anti-police rhetoric”: what could go wrong? [WDIV, Daily Caller]
  • The “Mr. District Attorney” comic book cover at right is from Jim Dedman at Abnormal Use, who as part of his Friday links roundup for years now has featured great law-related comic book covers related to law, crime, and justice. Check out his archive;
  • “Under the Microscope: The FBI Hair Cases,” on a major forensic fiasco [Al-Jazeera America documentary, auto-plays, via Scott Greenfield]
  • Knock and announce: in case from Eastern Shore of Maryland, Fourth Amendment got SWATted by militarized police [Ilya Shapiro and Randal John Meyer, Newsweek and Cato]
  • Of course the intersection of civil asset forfeiture with sex panic is one big disaster area for liberty [Elizabeth Nolan Brown] “Should Prostitution Be Legalized?” [David Boaz, Cato; Reason panel on “sex trafficking” goes on despite threatened activist disruptions]
  • Doctrine of qualified immunity shields police officers (and other public employees) from most civil liability. How does it work? [Nathan Burney at Radley Balko]
  • The U.S. Department of Justice regularly settles complaints against local police departments by extracting a promise to abide by future negotiated constraints. Federalism and constitutional concerns aside, how well do these consent decrees actually work in reforming conduct? [Marshall Project]

“GM will pay $900M to end US criminal probe over ignition-switch issues”

Details at ABA Journal. The settlement inevitably invites comparison with Toyota’s agreement to pay the federal government $1.2 billion to settle criminal charges over alleged coverup on the sudden acceleration issue. One difference that comes to mind is that GM’s use of a flimsy ignition switch was a genuine design flaw that appears to have contributed to numerous accidents and deaths, while the Toyota “flaw” was imaginary.

P.S. “Apparently, there is no Vice President In Charge Of Going To Jail at General Motors.” [Daniel Fisher]

Barry Bonds: “obstruction of justice” trail peters out

“After more than a decade of wasted tax dollars in the name of ‘justice’ the government has officially dropped its case against the embattled slugger. [Last week] the federal government informed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that it would not ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that reversed Bonds’ obstruction of justice conviction.” [The Legal Blitz/Above the Law RedLine; earlier on Barry Bonds]

“Judge Kozinski: Time to Rein in Prosecutors”

“In the latest issue of Georgetown Law Journal, Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turns a critical gaze toward America’s criminal justice system. …one of [the essay’s] major themes is prosecutorial advantage, both in federal and state courtrooms.” Among his topics: judges’ and federal authorities’ reluctance to name or charge misbehaving prosecutors. He thinks the U.S. Department of Justice should drop its opposition to “a bill proposed by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in 2012 — called the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act — that would require federal prosecutors to disclose any evidence ‘that may reasonably appear to be favorable to the defendant in a criminal prosecution.'” (The Department currently follows a less demanding standard on disclosure of adverse evidence). Kozinski also “favors abolishing state judicial elections, among other recommendations.” [Jacob Gershman, WSJ Law Blog; Alex Kozinski, “Preface,” Georgetown Law Journal Annual Review of Criminal Procedure 2015]

Banking and finance roundup

  • Critics say by naming payment processors in massive enforcement action over debt collection practices, CFPB is implementing its own version of Operation Choke Point [Kent Hoover/Business Journals; Barbara Mishkin, Ballard Spahr; Iain Murray, CEI]
  • Green sprout in Amish country: “Bank of Bird-in-Hand is the only new bank to open in the U.S. since 2010, when the Dodd-Frank law was passed” [WSJ via Tyler Cowen; Kevin Funnell on smothering of new (de novo) bank formation; Ira Stoll (auto-plays ad) on growth of non-bank lenders]
  • “Quicken Loans Sues DOJ; Claims ‘Political Agenda’ Driving Pressure to Settle” [W$J; J.C. Reindl, Detroit Free Press]
  • Shocker: after years of Sen. Warren’s tongue-lashings, some banks consider not giving to Democrats. Is that even legal? [Reuters] “Elizabeth Warren’s Extraordinarily Bad Idea For A Financial Transactions Tax” [Tim Worstall]
  • Still raging on: Delaware debate about fee-shifting corporate bylaws as deterrent to low-value shareholder litigation [Prof. Bainbridge first, second, third posts]
  • “How a Business Owner Becomes Criminally Liable for How Customers Spend ATM Withdrawals” [Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason]
  • New York financial regulator pushes to install government monitors at firms where no misconduct has been legally established [Robert Anello, Forbes]

Senate confirms Loretta Lynch as Attorney General

One always hopes for the best, but there are multiple reasons to think that Loretta Lynch will be even less friendly toward liberty issues than predecessor Eric Holder, himself no favorite of this space. “Loretta Lynch zealously defended civil asset forfeiture during her confirmation hearings, and was a devoted practitioner of it as a U.S. Attorney in New York.” She’s a staunch Drug Warrior, too. [Adam Bates, Cato]

P.S. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which bills itself as a “civil and human rights coalition,” worries not about Lynch’s record on police power or, really, any of these issues [Ed Krayewski, Reason]