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Legal news from Tuesday, September 26, 2006




Former Enron CFO Fastow sentenced to six years in prison
Katerina Ossenova on September 26, 2006 2:42 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow [Houston Chronicle profile; JURIST news archive] was sentenced to six years in prison Tuesday after US District Court Judge Kenneth Hoyt [official profile] reduced the 10 year prison term he accepted as part of his plea agreement [text, PDF] based on Fastow's cooperation [JURIST report] in the prosecution of former Enron CEOs Kenneth Lay [Houston Chronicle profile; JURIST news archive] and Jeffrey Skilling [Houston Chronicle profile]. Hoyt also said Fastow and his family had suffered enough in the Enron collapse and its legal aftermath which left thousands of victims in its wake, many with wiped-out savings, telling the courtroom "Prosecution is necessary, but persecution was not."

Fastow's wife Lea was released from prison [JURIST report] in June after serving a one year sentence for pleading guilty [JURIST report] to filing a false federal tax return related to money she and her husband received from Enron [JURIST news archive] financial dealings. Lay and fellow Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling were convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges [JURIST report] in May but Lay died of a heart attack [JURIST report] before his sentencing hearing. Skilling is set to be sentenced next month. AP has more.






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Former WorldCom CEO Ebbers begins prison sentence
Katerina Ossenova on September 26, 2006 2:16 PM ET

[JURIST] Former WorldCom [MCI/WorldCom website] CEO Bernard Ebbers [JURIST news archive] began his 25-year prison sentence [JURIST report] Tuesday in the Oakdale Correctional Complex [official website] federal prison in Louisiana. In July a federal appeals court affirmed [ruling, PDF] his securities fraud conviction [JURIST report] and rejected contentions that a 25-year sentence for the 65-year old Canadian-born ex-executive who started out as the owner of a Mississippi motel chain in the 1980s was unreasonably long for a non-violent conviction.

Ebbers was convicted of fraud and conspiracy [JURIST report] in March 2005 in connection with an $11 billion scheme which drove telecom giant WorldCom [JURIST news archive] into bankruptcy. AP has more.






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Colombia drug cartel leaders plead guilty in US court
Katerina Ossenova on September 26, 2006 1:49 PM ET

[JURIST] Two leaders of Colombia's notorious Cali Cartel [DEA backgrounder] drug ring pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela [BBC profile] were extradited [JURIST report] to the US from Colombia [JURIST news archive] in 2004 and 2005 respectively as two of the 300 drug traffickers extradited to the US under a 1997 accord. In an agreement [PDF via FindLaw] reached with federal prosecutors in exchange for the guilty pleas, a total of 28 people connected with the brothers, including 6 relatives, will be able to retain property and assets not associated with the cartel.

The Cali Cartel gained worldwide prominence as the leading supplier of cocaine after the collapse of the Medellin Cartel [DEA backgrounder] and the 1993 death of its leader, Pablo Escobar [Wikipedia profile]. The Cali Cartel was responsible for 80% of the global cocaine trade and is believed to have smuggled more than 250 tons of cocaine into the US since the 1970s. US prosecutors are seeking as much as $2.1 billion in drug profits from the brothers. AP has more.

11:45 PM ET - US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced in a press conference [transcript] later Monday that the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers were each sentenced to 30-year prison terms. USA Today has more.






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EU panel chief doubts legality of US financial transactions monitoring program
Brett Murphy on September 26, 2006 1:40 PM ET

[JURIST] The head of an EU panel on Monday criticized a White House program that keeps track of international financial transactions, telling the New York Times that it may have no "legal basis under European law." Peter Schaar, head of the European Commission's Article 29 Data Protection Working Party [official website], will give a final report to European Union officials in Brussels later this week that will set out measures to help guard against abuses of privacy; the panel does not, however, plan to recommend the cessation of the program.

The New York Times and other papers revealed the once-secret program [NYT report; JURIST report] in June, prompting sharp criticism from the Bush administration, which defended the initiative [press briefing]. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee later encouraged the administration to press criminal charges [JURIST report] against the media for publicizing the program, which allowed the CIA [official website] to monitor international financial transactions processed by Swift [official website], a Belgium-based banking cooperative. A London-based civil liberties group subsequently asked data-protection and privacy officials in more than a dozen countries to prevent the further release of confidential financial information [JURIST report] to American authorities. According to US government officials, the program targets those with suspected ties to Al Qaeda. The New York Times has more.






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Change to military commissions bill would broaden scope
Brett Murphy on September 26, 2006 1:02 PM ET

[JURIST] White House and Republican congressional negotiators decided over the weekend to move forward with a definitional change in proposed legislation [PDF text] on military commissions [JURIST news archive] that would broaden the meaning of "unlawful enemy combatant" and allow the detention and trial by commission of a larger spectrum of suspects, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. While the the language of the previous version [PDF text] agreed to by GOP leaders last Thursday defined "unlawful enemy combatant" as "an individual engaged in hostilities against the United States," the new definition also includes those "who [have] purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." It is unclear whether the new definition will apply to US citizens, but there is no express prohibition against such designation.

On Monday, the bill met bipartisan resistance [JURIST report] during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing [committee materials], despite pressure from the Bush administration to fast-track the legislation. The House Judiciary Committee approved a version of the bill [HR 6054 summary] last Wednesday. The Washington Times has additional coverage.






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Supreme Court takes nine cases in lead-up to fall session
Bernard Hibbitts on September 26, 2006 12:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari in nine cases Tuesday less than a week ahead of the official opening of its 2006 Term on October 2. The grants were decided in the Court's long conference Monday following a summer break and were picked from a pool of some 1900 petitions. Several of the cases are expected to be argued later this year, as a number of slots in the Court's December calendar are still open.

Among the highlights:

  • Davenport v. Washington Education Association [cert. petition, PDF] and Washington v. Washington Education Association [cert. petition, PDF] will raise the question of whether states can prohibit labor unions from using dues collected from non-union members for political activities without the consent of those members. AP has more.
  • in Gonzales v. Duenas-Alvarez [cert. petition, PDF] the Court will rule on whether an alien convicted for aiding and abetting a theft offense can be deported under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
  • in Schriro v. Landrigan [cert. petition, PDF] the justices will rule on whether a defense attorney has a duty to gather and develop evidence favorable to his client in a death penalty case when the client does not want that to be done. AP has more.
  • the consolidated cases of Safeco Insurance v. Burr and Geico General Insurance v. Edo [cert. petitions, PDF] will determine what constitutes a wilful violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act exposing a lender to higher damages. AP has more.
Read Tuesday's full Order List [PDF]. SCOTUSblog has more.





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Republicans agree to tentative deal on domestic surveillance bill
Brett Murphy on September 26, 2006 9:31 AM ET

[JURIST] A tentative agreement has been made on domestic surveillance [JURIST news archive] legislation after Republican negotiators agreed to remove language that would have implicitly recognized the constitutionality of warrantless wiretapping from the National Security Surveillance Act of 2006 [S 3876 materials], GOP officials announced Monday. Senator Arlen Specter [official profile], Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Chairman and sponsor of the legislation, said that he believes that with these changes there will be enough Senate votes for the bill to pass. Supporters claim that the new bill requires the White House to receive court approval to tap into conversations of US citizens, however, opponents worry that a narrowing of the definition of "electronic surveillance" will render this requirement obsolete.

A previous version [S 2453 materials] of the Senate bill and the House version [HR 5825 materials] of the bill cleared their respective judiciary committees earlier this month. The New York Times has more.






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New Thailand constitution gives military leaders 'security' role in government
Holly Manges Jones on September 26, 2006 8:20 AM ET

[JURIST] Thailand's new military leadership, which seized power [JURIST report] in a coup last week, said Tuesday that a temporary constitution has been drafted that appoints the military rulers as advisers to any interim government. Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin [BBC profile] said the document will be submitted to academics for their review and then given to King Bhumibol Adulyadej [profile] on Sunday for his anticipated approval [JURIST report]. The draft constitution calls for the military leadership to form a National Security Council, which will offer advice to the new government regarding security issues.

Sonthi said his regime wants a constitution that will hold future leaders of Thailand [JURIST news archive] more accountable, a main focus of the military council which has already empowered several panels to investigate alleged wrongdoing by ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile]. Sonthi also said the newly named prime minister would be announced after the king's approval of the draft and would have the power to select a 35-member cabinet. AP has more.






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Federal judge bars sale of government oil leases on Alaskan land reserve
Holly Manges Jones on September 26, 2006 7:45 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge Monday stopped the sale [ruling, PDF; Earthjustice press release] of oil and gas rights on approximately 1.7 million acres of protected land on Alaska's North Slope, which the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) [official website] had planned for Wednesday to recover an estimated 2 billion barrels of oil sitting under the land. The sale of federal leases would have included land in the Alaskan Teshekpuk Lake [Sierra Club backgrounder] area, but US District Court Judge James Singleton refused to allow the leases to proceed after he issued a preliminary injunction against the sale [JURIST report] earlier this month. Singleton said the government's environmental studies did not address how oil drilling would impact the land and wildlife in the 600,000-acre section of the Teshekpuk Lake reserve, which environmentalists have argued encompasses some of the most important wetlands in the Arctic. The Center for Biological Diversity [advocacy website] and the National Audubon Society [advocacy website], both plaintiffs in the suit, praised the court's decision.

A spokesperson for the government said it will conduct another set of environmental studies and try again for the sale, but the process could take over a year. In the meantime, BLM attorneys are determining if they can proceed with sales in the northwest section of the reserve, since the ruling only explicitly prohibits sales in the northeast section. AP has more.






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Saddam thrown out of court for third consecutive time
Holly Manges Jones on September 26, 2006 7:12 AM ET

[JURIST] Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] was thrown out of court Tuesday for the third time [JURIST report] by new chief judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa, who took over the genocide trial [JURIST news archive] after the former chief judge was removed by the Iraqi government [JURIST report] last week. Oreibi opened Tuesday's hearing by telling Saddam that he would have to "behave" and then allowed him to read a 20-minute statement while the microphones to the press gallery were disabled. Two Kurdish witnesses testified next amidst vocal arguments by Saddam; the judge said he would not tolerate that and ejected Saddam from the courtroom. After a recess, the trial resumed but none of Saddam's six co-defendants returned to the courtroom, marking the first time in this trial that all the defendants have been absent from the courtroom at once. A court spokesman said afterwards that the other defendants had similarly been ejected.

Lawyers defending Saddam and his cohorts have been boycotting the trial [JURIST report] since Oreibi took over as chief judge last week. International legal rights groups have said the replacement may harm the credibility of the trial in which Saddam faces genocide charges [JURIST report] for the 1988 deaths of 180,000 Kurdish villagers in the so-called "Anfal" campaign [HRW backgrounder]. A verdict is also expected next month in Saddam's previous trial for crimes against humanity [JURIST report] in connection with the murder, torture and illegal arrest of hundreds of people in Dujail as part of a crackdown in the town after an assassination attempt on Hussein's life. In that case he is eligible for the death penalty [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.

3:35 PM ET - The trial has now been adjourned for two weeks until October 9 to provide time for the defendants to instruct court-appointed counsel or persuade their own lawyers to end their boycott of the proceedings. AP has more.






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