MC&A Newsletter
Volume XIX  :: April 2011

Welcome to Volume XIX of MC&A Newsletter. In this issue, we cover the interrogation of terrorism suspects and the extent to which they can be done without the warnings set out by the U.S. Supreme Court. We also take a look at a case that may question the presumption that a child born to a married woman is the child of the woman's husband. Finally, we examine why Charlie Sheen may in fact be winning!



FBI Memo Takes Rights Away From Terrorists

FBI logo

On March 24, 2011, the Wall Street Journal uncovered a three-page Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) memo dated October 21, 2010, which permits the interrogation of terrorist suspects for a long period of time without first reading them their rights.


According to Miranda v. Arizona, police must warn a suspect of their rights prior to conducting a custodial interrogation in order for the suspect's statements to be admissible in court. The Supreme Court carved out an exception to the Miranda Rule for questions relating to immediate threats to public safety. There is no official ruling, however, on whether questioning a terrorist suspect can be considered, on its own, to fall under the public safety exception.


In May 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. talked about potentially seeking legislation that would allow the exception to cover interrogations of terrorist suspects. Mr. Holder never did pursue such legislation. However, according to the October 21, 2010 memo, the Department of Justice (DOJ) went ahead and instructed FBI agents to broadly interpret the public safety exception.


The memo informs FBI agents that they can question terrorism suspects without reading them their Miranda rights if the agents believe that valuable intelligence can be gained and public safety is at risk. The memo further states that prior to refraining from informing suspects of their Miranda rights, FBI agents must obtain approval from supervisors and DOJ lawyers.


Civil liberties groups believe that the FBI's policy would not withstand legal action, given the Supreme Court's repeated support of the Miranda rule. However, the DOJ and FBI disagree; DOJ spokesman Matthew Miller stated that the memo clarifies an already existing exception to the Miranda rule. With this policy, the FBI may be risking their ability to use a suspect's statements in court.


Sources: "Delayed Miranda Warning Ordered for Terror Suspects," by Charlie Savage, March 24, 2011, The New York Times; "FBI Gives Agents More Leeway to Question Terrorism Suspects," by Carrie Johnson, March 24, 2011, www.npr.org; "Rights Are Curtailed for Terror Suspects," by Evan Perez, March 24, 2011, The Wall Street Journal
Lose a Father, Gain a Fortune

Nina Viola Montepagani, 58, filed a lawsuit in New York to remove her father's name from her birth certificate. Montepagani's father was married to her mother when she was born. According to Montepagani, the man listed on her birth certificate, Giuseppe Viola, is not her biological father. At first blush, this sounds trivial; however, removing Viola's name from the birth certificate could open the door to such other lawsuits and challenge how the law views children born within the union of marriage.


Montepagani's mother, Anna, married Viola on September 30, 1950, in Italy. Viola immediately returned to New York, while Anna moved to Rome to await papers that would allow her to come to the U.S. In 1951, Anna finally left Rome for New York. Prior to coming to the U.S., Anna met a doctor in Rome named Sebastiano Raeli, and eight months after she moved to New York, Montepagani was born.


Looking back, Montepagani sees signs that suggest Raeli may have been her father. Anna wrote numerous tortured letters to Raeli, making statements such as, "If I would ever tell this story to someone, it would seem impossible to believe." Another clue: until his death, Viola carried in his wallet a piece of paper with Raeli's address in Rome. After Montepagani married and had her own child, Raeli mentioned his role as grandfather in a letter.


While Montepagani grew up in the U.S., Raeli built a hotel empire. At the time of his death a few years ago, he left $100 million to an Italian university. However, under Italian law, children can claim up to half of their parents' estates regardless of a will. The Raeli's had no children. Unfortunately for Montepagani, the Italian courts threw out the lawsuit she had filed there because she already had a father listed on her birth certificate. And thus, her lawsuit to erase Viola's name from her birth certificate began.


In the United States, it is presumed that a child born to a married woman is the child of the woman's husband. This rule is old and rigid and deeply tied to what is seen as the sanctity of marriage. If the court grants Montepagani her wish, it will drastically change the antiquated rule that a child born in wedlock is a child of the marriage. For Montepagani, it will also mean obtaining the opportunity to gain $50 million from Raeli's estate.


Sources: "New York Paternity Fight May Have Millions of Ripples," by William Glaberson and Elisabetta Povoledo, April 15, 2011, The New York Times

Charlie Sheen: Winning?
charlie sheen

Charlie Sheen, film actor and star of Warner Bros. Television's (WB) sitcom "Two and a Half Men," filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. and producer Chuck Lorre on March 10, 2011, for breach of contract after they canceled the hit show mid-season. WB's decision to fire Sheen came in the wake of his numerous outbursts on national television, including an interview in which Sheen verbally attacked and belittled Lorre.


Sheen seeks $100 million in damages from WB and Lorre. Meanwhile, WB claims that Sheen in fact was the one who breached the contract. WB wrote a letter to Sheen's attorney outlining portions of his employment contract. Specifically, they pointed to a clause that allows the producer to terminate the contract if he "believes [Sheen] has committed an act which constitutes a felony offense involving moral turpitude under federal, state or local laws, or is indicted or convicted of any such offense."


WB claims that this clause is equivalent to a morality clause, allowing the studio to terminate Sheen for certain behavior in his private life. Legal experts, however, disagree. Entertainment labor attorney Barry Peek told Reuters that the reference to "moral turpitude" in the clause cited above is not that standard language normally found in a morals clause. Peek stated that the language of WB's is much more specific. "They are talking about a felony. It's going to be a matter of fact whether they can prove a reasonable good faith belief he actually committed a felony, and Warner's problem is they continued to negotiate the contract and employ him despite the troubles."


Standard morality clauses found in entertainment contracts restrict the actor from engaging in conduct that disparages the studio or brings bad publicity. Unfortunately for WB, they continued to employ Sheen for years, knowing about his bad behavior, including being arrested and charged with attacking then-wife Brooke Mueller.


Many compare Sheen's case to that of shock jock Don Imus, who sued CBS after they fired him for making discriminating remarks about a New Jersey women's college basketball team. Imus won his case based upon the argument that CBS had bargained for that type of controversy in hiring Imus, and that the studio extended his contract several times despite Imus' previous controversial behavior. What does all this mean for Sheen? The man with Adonis DNA and tiger blood in his veins may just continue his legacy of, well, winning.


Sources: "Sheen's legal case against studios not so crazy," by Matthew Belloni & Eriq Gardner, March 3, 2011, Reuters.com; "Morals clause at issue in Charlie Sheen legal fight," by Eriq Gardner, March 9, 2011, The Montreal Gazette; "Charlie Sheen's Lawsuit Isn't All Talk: It Seeks $100M and Cites 'Alleged' Disability," by Debra Cassens Weiss, March 10, 2011, abajournal.com

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