MC&A Newsletter
Volume XVII  :: January 2011


Welcome to the first MC&A Newsletter of 2011! In this issue, we pause to take a look back at the top ten legal stories of 2010. These stories were chosen because they made headlines and have significant impact on the law, which in turn affect our lives. There is no telling what legal dramas will unfold in 2011 but be rest assured that MC&A will be there to keep you informed. Read and enjoy!


Mdiwin Charles

Wikileaks and Julian Assange

Julian AssangeIn 2010 Wikileaks, an international organization that publishes secret and classified documents from anonymous sources, made major headlines.  Wikileaks was founded in 2006 by Julian Assange, an Australian internet activist and journalist.  In April 2010, Wikileaks began posting U.S. documents that pertain to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.  While some praised Wikileaks for trumpeting transparency in government, others worried that the disclosure of classified war documents placed U.S. soldiers at risk and harmed U.S. international diplomacy.  The leaks spurred the U.S. to undertake a criminal investigation into how Assange obtained and disclosed the documents.  The investigation is still ongoing.  In addition to Wikileaks' legal troubles, Assange made headlines of his own for allegations of sexual assault by two Swedish women.  All in all, it was a big year for both Assange and Wikileaks.

Bullying in Schools

Bullied ChildBullying amongst youngsters made headlines in 2010 after the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge after a video was released showing his sexual encounter with another man.  lementi's roommate filmed the incident on a web camera he controlled remotely from another dorm room.  The video of Clementi's sexual relations went viral, causing Clementi to be the subject of ridicule and harassment.  Clementi's death came after a number of other student suicides, including the death of Phoebe Prince in January 2010, who took her life after facing relentless bullying at school and over the internet.  These tragedies prompted schools and local governments across the nation to pass anti-bullying laws and rules.  The nation finally opened its eyes to what has become a major problem and even Congress took steps to curb bullying by creating a bill that prohibits cyber-bullying.  MC&A covered cyber-bullying in several of our newsletters; in Volume XVI we teamed up with specialists at Social Media and provided our readers with information on how to use technology and the internet safely.  Read about here:



Craigslist Under Scrutiny

craigslistPhilip Markoff, the "Craigslist Killer," took his life in a jail cell on August 15, 2010 while awaiting trial for the murder of Julissa Brisman, a woman he met thru a personal ad on www.craigslist.com.  Craigslist had already been under fire for hosting ads for adult services.  Soon after Markoff's death, Craigslist removed the adult services section due to allegations that it was a breeding ground for prostitution and child trafficking.  Although Craigslist was protected under the Communications Decency Act, as the site only provides a bulletin board for others to post personal content, it finally folded under public pressure.  Many felt that Craigslist should be liable for postings that lead to illegal acts such as the murder of Brisman.  While the website did not face prosecution, it certainly changed its ways.  The act of removing the adult services section may be the first step towards change in what websites allow others to post on their site.

Gay Marriage Ruling in California Federal Court

handsOn August 4, 2010, Judge Vaughn Walker of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that California's ban on same-sex marriage -- known as Proposition 8 ("Prop 8") -- was unconstitutional.  Prop 8 was first passed in California in 2008 in reaction to the California State Supreme Court ruling that gay and lesbian couples could marry.  The case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, brought by a gay couple and a lesbian couple, claimed that Prop 8 violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The court ruled that Prop 8 did indeed violate the two clauses of the Constitution, making heterosexual couples superior to same-sex couples and that same sex couples were seeking to exercise the same fundamental right to marry that heterosexual couples have enjoyed for centuries.  Those in favor of Prop 8 appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  The Ninth Circuit issued a stay on Judge Walker's ruling until it decides the appeal; the case is still pending before the Ninth Circuit.  The case first made headlines when Judge Walker ruled that the Prop 8 proceedings would be videotaped and fed live to other rooms in the courthouse, and eventually posted on YouTube for public viewing.  The U.S. Supreme Court intervened and blocked all videotaping of the trial.  Prop 8 made headlines in 2010 and will continue to do so in 2011.

Repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell

On December 18, 2010, the Senate overturned the ban on gays serving openly in the military -- a policy better known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).  For 17 years, gays in the military have been forced to remain closeted or face discharge from the military.  The repeal of DADT is a historic moment because for the first time, gays will have equal rights in the military.  Opposition to the repeal claimed that openly gay military service men and women will weaken troop strength by hindering recruitment and unit cohesion.  Nonetheless, the repeal is a huge victory for the gay community who had to hide their true identity for years while serving their country.

Landmark Miranda Ruling from Supreme Court

ssshhhhFor years, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miranda v. Arizona required police officers to inform a suspect in custody of his or her rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.  To waive that right, a suspect had to sign a form stating that he knowingly and voluntarily gives up those rights.  This changed on June 1, 2010.  On that day, the Supreme Court ruled in Burghuis v. Thompkins that criminal suspects must specifically state to police interrogators that they are invoking their right to silence to bring the interrogation to a halt.  This ruling completely changes the way in which police can conduct interrogations, and has made it easier to obtain confessions since the police may now continue interrogations -- even if the suspect remains silent -- until the suspect says he is invoking the right to remain silent.  Therefore, any statements the suspect makes prior to invoking his right to silence will be considered a waiver of Miranda rights and will be admissible in court.

BP Oil Spill

TimeOn April 20, 2010, the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and continued leaking into the gulf for nearly three months, releasing approximately 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the ocean.  The well was finally capped on July 15, 2010, and the federal government declared it "dead" on September 19.  The oil caused, and continues to cause, extensive damage to marine life in and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.  The spill was the biggest in U.S. history and spurred numerous lawsuits against oil giant British Petroleum (BP).  In addition to money spent on the clean-up effort, BP is expected to pay out millions to those on the Gulf Coast whose livelihoods were destroyed due to the spill.

Elena Kagan

Elena KaganU.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the longest serving Justice in history, announced his plan to retire.  The announcement of his retirement provided President Obama with an opportunity to nominate a candidate to replace him; he chose Elena Kagan.  Kagan, former Solicitor General and former Dean of Harvard Law School, is the fourth woman to sit as a Supreme Court Justice and is one of three women currently on the bench.  With Kagan's nomination came a great deal of opposition, primarily due to her actions as Dean of Harvard Law School.  Kagan had barred military recruiters from Harvard's campus because of their "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gay service men and women.  Meanwhile, Kagan's own sexuality came under fire by internet bloggers, who speculated that Kagan is a lesbian.  Despite the controversy surrounding her nomination, the Senate confirmed Kagan.  On August 7, 2010, Kagan was sworn in as the 112th Supreme Court Justice.  Kagan was President Obama's second Supreme Court nominee; Justice Sonia Sotomayor was his first.

Arizona's Immigration Law

police carThe controversial Arizona immigration law (SB 1070) allows police to detain anyone they suspect is in the U.S. illegally.  Protests broke out throughout the nation against the law because many believe it opens the door to racial and ethnic profiling by Arizona police.  Portions of the law went into effect on July 29, 2010, while the controversial portions of the law were placed on hold pending a federal lawsuit brought by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr.  The provisions placed on hold include a section of the law that would allow police to arrest and hold a person suspected of being an illegal immigrant based upon "reasonable suspicion" without obtaining a warrant.  Under federal law, police must have probable cause to make an arrest, a standard higher than that of reasonable suspicion.  The temporary injunction also placed a portion of the law requiring immigrants to carry federal immigration documents on them at all times.  The concern with this requirement is that police may then wrongfully arrest U.S. citizens under the false belief that the person is an illegal immigrant.  Perhaps the strongest argument in the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Attorney General is that power to regulate immigration belongs to the federal government and therefore trumps Arizona law.  The federal lawsuit awaits a final decision from the District Court.

Roman Polanski

polanskiOscar-winning film director Roman Polanski escaped extradition after over three decades of running from the law.  In 1977, Polanski pled guilty to sex crimes committed against a 13 year-old girl.  Before he could be sentenced, Polanski fled the U.S. to France.  The U.S. was unable to extradite Polanski because, as a French citizen, he was protected by France's extradition treaty which allows France to refuse to extradite its own citizens.  In 2009, U.S. authorities finally arrested Polanski when they learned that he was visiting a chalet in Switzerland.  However, 2010 saw a turn of events for Polanski when the Swiss Justice Ministry ruled that Polanski would go free.  The Swiss Justice Ministry denied the United States' request for extradition, stating that the U.S. failed to provide Switzerland with the proper legal records; the ministry also determined that Polanski had a reasonable right to believe he would be arrested while visiting Switzerland.  Once again, the award-winning director has evaded the U.S. legal system.

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For more information about how we can be of service to you, call us at 212.551.3617 or send an email to info@charleslawfirm.com.

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Midwin Charles will speak to young professional women at the New Year - New You Tool Kit Informational, sponsored by BelTiFi on January 28, 2011 in New York.


Midwin Charles will speak to high school students at the Lunch with Lawyers program at the Urban Assembly School for Law & Justice on February 8, 2011 in New York.
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