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Legal news from Friday, May 16, 2008




US military judge postpones Hamdan military commission trial
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 16, 2008 6:38 PM ET

[JURIST] A military judge Friday delayed the military commission trial of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] until July. On Thursday, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit rejected [order, PDF] a bid by Hamdan to postpone the start of his military commission until the Supreme Court rules in the consolidated cases of Boumediene v. Bush (06-1195) [docket; merit briefs] and Al Odah v. United States (06-1196) [docket; merit briefs], where the Court will consider whether Guantanamo detainees should be allowed to challenge their detentions in federal court. With Friday's delay, it is likely that the Supreme Court will decide those cases before Hamdan goes to trial. SCOTUSblog has more.

Hamdan has been in US custody since 2001 when he was captured in Afghanistan and accused of working as Osama Bin Laden's driver. In 2006 he successfully challenged US President George W. Bush's military commission system when the Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the commission system as initially constituted violated US and international law. Congress subsequently passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [DOD materials], which established the current military commissions system. Last month, Hamdan announced that he planned to boycott his military commission trial [JURIST report].






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Malaysia panel alleges conspiracy in judicial fixing scandal
Andrew Gilmore on May 16, 2008 4:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Prominent Malaysian lawyer VK Lingam conspired [The Star report] with allies in government, the judiciary, and business to arrange favorable judicial appointments, a Malaysian government inquiry panel announced Friday. The panel was convened to investigate allegations of judicial fixing following the January release of a video [YouTube video; JURIST report] which purportedly depicts Lingam brokering the former Chief Justice's appointment to the Supreme Court of Malaysia. The person on the other end of the phone was believed to be Malaysian Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim. The inquiry panel report also accused four other people, including business tycoon Vincent Tan, of involvement in the conspiracy; the Malaysian Cabinet has ordered an investigation. Law Minister Ziad Ibrahim [firm profile] told Malaysian newspaper The Star Friday that the six alleged conspirators could face obstruction of justice charges. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage. The New Straits Times has local coverage.

The video's release last year prompted 2,000 lawyers and activists to call for an official investigation [JURIST report; press release] in a mass protest. A Royal Commission began its sessions in January, when Lingam told the panel that he was intoxicated [JURIST report] at the time the video was filmed. Lingam also told the panel that Halim was not on the other end of the line [Bernama report] in the first video.






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Federal court rules Countrywide shareholder suit can go forward
David Hanna on May 16, 2008 3:44 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge ruled [PDF text] this week that a shareholder derivative lawsuit brought against the directors and officers of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial [corporate website] for misrepresenting its financial condition could proceed. The court held that the plaintiffs, including a number of state pension funds, met the requisite heightened pleading standards under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act [text] to allow the lawsuit to move to discovery. Plaintiffs said that Countryside's directors and officers failed to provide effective oversight of the company's origination, lending, and underwriting practices, which caused the company's stock to plummet. The court granted defendants' motions to dismiss some claims against current director Harley W. Snyder [corporate profile] and former director Michael E. Dougherty. AP has more.

Recently, Countrywide has objected to providing financial information during discovery in a number of bankruptcy actions brought by its borrowers. In April, the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania denied [Memorandum opinion; order] Countrywide’s attempt to block access to its corporate and financial information in bankruptcy proceedings, holding that good cause existed and the information sought was within the aegis of federal bankruptcy rules. In March, the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched [JURIST report] criminal investigations to determine whether Countrywide violated securities laws in the private mortgage bond market [BBC backgrounder].






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South Africa court delays Zuma corruption trial
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 16, 2008 3:10 PM ET

[JURIST] A South African court delayed the scheduled August corruption trial of South African politician Jacob Zuma [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] Thursday after his lawyer filed an application to have the case declared unlawful. Zuma's lawyers blasted the prosecution's handling of the case after a judge said that an oversight by the prosecution meant that no trial judge has yet been assigned to the case. AFP has more.

Zuma has been facing corruption allegations [BBC timeline] and other charges for several years; he was first charged with corruption in 2005, but those charges were later dismissed [JURIST report] because prosecutors failed to follow proper procedures. In December 2007, South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority [official website] served an indictment [JURIST report] on Zuma, charging him with corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering related to alleged bribes received from arms manufacturer Thint, a subsidiary of the France-based Thales Group [corporate website]. His trial is scheduled to begin in August. Zuma is the leader of the ruling African National Congress [party website], putting him in position to become the country's next president.






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Arizona appeals court strikes down school voucher program
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 16, 2008 1:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The Arizona Court of Appeals struck down [opinion, PDF] a 2006 state program providing government funds for private and religious schools, ruling Thursday that it violated a ban in the state constitution [text] on granting state benefits to private schools. The court rejected arguments that the vouchers benefited low-income families rather than schools, holding that schools benefited indirectly when they received tuition from parents. School voucher proponents said that they would appeal the ruling. Capitol Media Services has more.

Opponents of school vouchers [NEA advocacy site] argue that these programs do not achieve their stated goal of expanding childrens' educational opportunities, and several states limit their use through constitutional provisions. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court held [JURIST report] that the state's 1999 school voucher law [text] violated the state constitutional requirement of a uniform system of free public schools.






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Ex-US soldier may raise insanity defense in Mahmudiya rape-murder case
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 16, 2008 12:19 PM ET

[JURIST] Former US Army Pfc. Steven D. Green [JURIST news archive] may raise an insanity defense at his scheduled 2009 civilian trial [JURIST report] for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl [JURIST news archive] and the murder of her family in Mahmudiya (also "Mahmoudiya"), according to two motions filed Thursday. Green's lawyers said they may raise the defense both at trial and at sentencing. They have previously argued that he should be tried under the military system because the alleged acts occurred while Green was enlisted. Green was honorably discharged pursuant to a psychiatric disorder diagnosis [JURIST report] made after the Army learned of the Mahmudiya incident. AP has more.

Four soldiers [JURIST report] from the 101st Airborne Division have already been convicted in military court for crimes stemming from the Mahmudiya incident. Spc. James P. Barker and Sgt. Paul E. Cortez [JURIST reports] received prison sentences of 90 and 100 years respectively after they pleaded guilty to participating in the attack. Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, who stayed at the soldiers' checkpoint but had prior knowledge of the plan, was sentenced to 27 months after pleading guilty [JURIST report] in March to conspiracy to commit rape and premeditated murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Pfc. Jesse Spielman was sentenced to 110 years in prison after being convicted [JURIST report] on four counts of felony murder, rape, conspiracy to commit rape, and housebreaking with intent to commit rape. All four will be eligible for parole in 10 years.






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Federal appeals court enjoins Forest Service logging plan
David Hanna on May 16, 2008 12:08 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] has reversed [opinion, PDF] a lower court order denying an injunction against a US Forest Service [official website] plan to allow commercial logging in the Plumas National Forest [USFS materials] in California. The Forest Service had argued that commercial logging would help pay for forest maintenance that would reduce the risk of fires, but the court ruled that the Forest Service had failed to explore other alternatives as required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 [text]. The court also held that the potential of irreparable harm to wildlife in the forest was sufficient to warrant an injunction. AP has more.

In December 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down [JURIST report] a Bush administration rule aimed at preventing urban forest fires by exempting logging projects under 1,000 acres from environmental review. In March 2007, the US District Court for the Northern District of California blocked the enforcement [JURIST report] of Forest Service regulations governing the management of National Forests. In August 2006, a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] against a Forest Service plan to allow commercial logging inside Central California’s Giant Sequoia National Monument [USFS materials].






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US convicts Afghan drug trafficker under narco-terrorism program
Abigail Salisbury on May 16, 2008 11:04 AM ET

[JURIST] A jury in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] Thursday convicted [DOJ press release] an Afghan national originally held as an enemy combatant on charges of drug distribution and narco-terrorism. Khan Mohammed was charged [grand jury indictment, PDF] in 2006 with distribution of heroin destined for the US, thereby aiding and abetting terrorism. AP has more.

This was one of the first prosecutions of the US anti-narco-terrorism effort [DEA program site], aimed at crippling terrorist organizations by stopping the sale of the drugs said to finance them [DOS testimony]. Last month, Afghan tribal chief Haji Bashir Noorzai [IHT profile] was indicted [PDF text; JURIST report] for violation of US drug laws after DEA officials lured him into the country [JURIST report]; he is scheduled to face trial on May 18 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.






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US Marine to face court martial for 2004 Fallujah death
Andrew Gilmore on May 16, 2008 11:03 AM ET

[JURIST] US Marine Sgt. Jermaine Nelson will face a court martial later this year for murder, according to an order given by Marine Lt. Gen. Samuel T. Hellman [official profile]. The murder charge, announced Wednesday, stems from an incident during the Multinational National Force-Iraq's November 2004 offensive in Fallujah [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in which unarmed Iraqi prisoners were allegedly killed. Following the order, Nelson was given limited immunity [Newsmax report] in return for testifying against his squad leader, former Marine Sgt. Jose Nazario. In April, a federal court ruled that Nazario could stand trial [JURIST report] in a California federal court on two counts of involuntary manslaughter. AP has more.

In July 2007, the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) [official website] announced investigations of at least 10 Marines [JURIST report] in connection with the Fallujah offensive [JURIST news archive] after former Marine Corporal Ryan Weemer admitted during a polygraphed job interview with the US Secret Service that he had witnessed indiscriminate killings in Fallujah. Military journalist Nathaniel Helms later corroborated that account, reporting that he witnessed Marines execute subdued Iraqi prisoners, whose bodies were later buried under rubble from an air strike. Weemer was charged last month with murder and dereliction of duty in March, while Nazario was charged last year with voluntary manslaughter [JURIST reports].






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ICTY transfers Kosovo war criminal to France prison
David Hanna on May 16, 2008 10:20 AM ET

[JURIST] Convicted Kosovo Albanian war criminal Haradin Bala has been transferred [ICTY press release] to a prison in France to serve out the rest of his 13-year sentence [JURIST news report], the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website; JURIST news archive] announced Thursday. In 2005, Bala was found guilty of the torture, cruel treatment, and murder of prisoners held at a camp run by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) [BBC backgrounder] during the KLA's open rebellion against Serbian forces in 1998. Bala's conviction was upheld [JURIST report] on appeal in 2007. The UN News Service has more.

ICTY war crimes suspects are held at the a detention unit [ICTY backgrounder] in The Hague during trial, and after conviction are moved to one of 15 countries that have agreed to take custody of ICTY defendants.






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SEC sues Broadcom officers for backdating stock options
Andrew Gilmore on May 16, 2008 8:53 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website; JURIST news archive] filed a civil complaint [PDF, text; SEC press release] in the US District Court for the Central District of California [court website] Wednesday against California-based microchip maker Broadcom [corporate factsheet] in conjunction with a scandal over the backdating of company stock options. The complaint alleges that from 1998 to 2003, Broadcom's former president and chief executive officer, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III, along with chief technical officer Dr. Henry Samueli, former chief executive officer William J. Ruehle, and general counsel David Dull omitted and falsified employee compensation documentation, resulting in incorrect financial statements. Samueli and Dull both took leaves of absence [Broadcom press release] from Broadcom on Wednesday, and Samueli also resigned from the Broadcom Board of Directors. AP has more.

Backdating a stock option grant typically allows the options to be set at a fraudulently-low exercise price. While the practice is not illegal on its own, it usually involves a violation of SEC and other federal reporting requirements [SOX guide]. Broadcom is the latest technology-related firm to come under SEC scrutiny for stock option backdating. In January, the former CEO of Brocade Communication Systems was sentenced to 21 months in prison and fined $15 million for the improper backdating of stock options. In October 2007, Mercury Interactive settled a similar case for a record $117.5 million. In February 2007, the US Department of Justice indicted the former general counsel of McAfee systems for stock option backdating. In January 2007, the US Attorney's office in San Francisco, CA opened a criminal probe into backdating at computer maker Apple Inc [JURIST reports].






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Colombian ex-militia head pleads not guilty to US drug trafficking charges
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 16, 2008 8:34 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Colombian militia leader Salvatore Mancuso pleaded not guilty in a Florida court Thursday to drug trafficking charges after being extradited [JURIST report] to the US Tuesday on suspicion of organizing violent massacres and drug smuggling operations. Mancuso and 13 other men are suspected of being members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia [BBC backgrounder], which is designated as a terrorist group by the US. The guerrilla leaders had surrendered to Colombian authorities under a peace deal in which Colombian President Alvaro Uribe [official profile, in Spanish; BBC profile] suspended warrants for their extradition, but Justice Minister Carlos Holguin [official profile, in Spanish] told local radio that the leaders had broken the deal by continuing to organize gangs or by refusing to cooperate with government officials. AP has more.

In April, a Colombian court temporarily blocked [JURIST report] the extradition of one such leader, Carlos Mario Jimenez-Naranjo, ruling that it would deny the victims of his crime the chance to seek compensation. Despite the ruling, Jimenez-Naranjo was extradited [DOJ release] to the US earlier this month, where he could face up to life in prison if convicted.






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US military detained over 2000 minors as illegal enemy combatants since 2002: report
Andrew Gilmore on May 16, 2008 2:50 AM ET

[JURIST] Approximately 2,500 minors under the age of 18 have been detained as illegal enemy combatants by the US military at facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay since 2002, according to a US government report [text, DOC; ACLU press release] made public Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website]. As of April 2008, the US is reportedly holding 10 juveniles in Afghanistan and 500 juveniles in Iraq. The US had filed the report with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child [committee website] pursuant to the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of the Child [text].

Also Wednesday, the ACLU released a report [PDF text] criticizing the US military for targeting minors under the age of 17 in its recruitment practices despite official stated policy against the practice. The Washington Post has more.






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