MC&A Newsletter
Volume XV  :: October 2010

Welcome to the 15th Volume of the MC&A Newsletter! It's been a long road and we thank you for your support. This month we've culled together some of the latest in legal news, including bullying and its deadly consequences, the Supreme Court's review of free speech rights and allegations of coerced gay sex against the pastor of a mega-church who is an outspoken opponent of homosexual relationships. We also bring you news of a recent win in court and past and upcoming speaking engagements.



Bullying and Suicide

Bullied ChildOn September 22, 2010, Tyler Clementi -- a freshman at Rutgers University -- leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Clementi committed suicide three days after his roommate Dharan Ravi secretly used his computer web camera to record Clementi's sexual encounter with another man. Ravi controlled the web camera remotely from a friend's dorm room to capture the interaction and then streamed the video onto the internet.

Ravi and Molly Wei -- the friend whose room he used to control the web camera -- are now facing criminal charges of invasion of privacy. In New Jersey, it is unlawful to reproduce images of another person without his or her knowledge under circumstances in which a reasonable person would know that the subject may expose intimate parts or engage in sexual contact. Violation of the invasion of privacy law is a third degree offense and carries a penalty of up to three to five years of imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000 or both. Distributing such images, which arguably Ravi and Wei did by streaming the video on the internet, is also a third degree offense and carries the same penalties.

In reaction to the horrific turn of events in this case and what seems to be a nationwide problem with bullying, New Jersey Senator Shirley K. Turner introduced legislation that would heighten the penalty for breaking the state's invasion of privacy laws. Under the proposed legislation, videotaping and distributing a person in an intimate setting where the person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy would be a second-degree offense. Second-degree offenses in New Jersey carry a punishment of up to five to ten years of imprisonment, a fine of up to $150,000 or both.

In addition to facing charges for the violation of invasion of privacy laws, Ravi and Wei may face hate crime charges. Bruce Kaplan, prosecutor for Middlesex County, New Jersey, said, "[w]e will be making every effort to assess whether any bias played a role in the incident, and, if so, we will bring appropriate charges." Whether Clementi was targeted because of his sexuality or was simply a victim of living in a technologically advanced era is yet to be determined.

Clementi is not the first tragedy to result from bullying. In 2003, thirteen year-old Ryan Halligan committed suicide after classmates bullied him and spread rumors that he was gay. After his son's death, Halligan's father logged onto his son's computer and found many conversations with other teens that harassed Halligan.

The influx in bullying related teen suicide has prompted states to take action. In May 2004, Halligan's father helped pass the Vermont Bully Prevention Law, which establishes procedures for schools on how to deal with bullying. New York's Suffolk County has a proposed new law that would force schools to act upon reports of cyber-bullying. Any school administrator failing to act under the law would face a misdemeanor charge, a $1K fine and up to one year in jail.

Phoebe Prince of South Hadley Massachusetts committed suicide in January 2010 after being subjected to relentless bullying at school. Prince hung herself from a stairwell after fellow classmates severely harassed and threatened her for nearly three months. Nine of Prince's classmates involved in the bullying were charged with a variety of felony charges that included statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment, stalking and disturbing a school assembly.

A year before Prince's suicide, eleven year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, also of Massachusetts, took his own life after being subjected to bullying at school.

In reaction to the Prince and Walker-Hoover suicides, the Massachusetts legislature created an anti-bullying law that was passed on May 3, 2010. The law bans bullying on all school grounds, buses and activities, and requires that school officials investigate all incidents of bullying and report those incidents to the parents of the students involved. Under the law, bullying includes written or electronic expression that causes physical or emotional harm, places the victim in fear or harm to himself, or creates a hostile environment at school, thereby covering instances of repeated cyber-bullying.

Congress has also taken steps to curb bullying in schools. Bills that await passage include those that require grade schools that receive federal funds to expand their definition of bullying to include conduct that places others in reasonable fear of physical harm based upon their perceived identity as belonging to a certain group, such as race or sexual orientation. The bills would also provide a grievance process for those who report an incident of bullying. Another bill calls for colleges and universities that receive federal funds adopt a code of conduct that prohibits harassment and bullying and acknowledges cyber-bullying as harassment.

Sources: "Dad uses son's suicide to show dangers of cyber-bullying while speaking at Somerset County school," by Tiffani N. Garlic, October 17, 2010, The Star-Ledger; "Suffolk Moves to Curb Cyber-Bullying," by Lynda Baquero, May 11, 2010, NBC.com; "Bullying Bill OK'd in House, 148 to 0," by David Abel, March 19, 2010, The Boston Globe; "Massachusetts Gets New Anti-Bullying Law in Suicides' Wake," by Staff at Associate Press, May 3, 2010, cnsnews.com; "6 Teenagers Are Charged After Classmate's Suicide," by Erik Eckholm ad Katie Zezima, March 29, 2010, The New York Times; "From Lockers to Lockup," by Jessica Bennett, October 4, 2010, Newsweek; "Bullying legislation proposed after suicides," by Kris Turner, October 15, 2010, The San Francisco Chronicle.
A Test on the Limits of Free Speech
Westboro Baptist ChurchOn October 6, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Snyder v. Phelps, a lawsuit brought by Albert Snyder, the father of a U.S. marine who died in combat against Fred Phelps and his church Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps and his church members believe that God punishes the United States' tolerance of homosexuality by killing U.S. soldiers; they travel to the soldiers' funerals and picket with signs depicting slogans such as, "God hates you," and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

Snyder filed his lawsuit in October 2007 after Phelps and his followers held a protest at the funeral of Snyder's son. Snyder obtained a jury verdict that found church members liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and civil conspiracy. However, in September 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the verdict on the basis of free speech.

Now, the Supreme Court must decide if the church's actions are to receive protection under the First Amendment. According to the Constitution, speech is protected with few exceptions. Some of those exceptions are: obscenity, defamation, breach of the peace and fighting words. Additionally, speech can be regulated through time, place and manner restrictions.

In this case, it can be argued that a special zone of privacy should be created because the picketing occurs at funerals, which are usually private, and concern the death of a member of the military. While the argument is certainly appealing, free speech supporters question where will the lines be drawn if such an exception is created. There are myriad types of speech that people consider intolerable, but being intolerable does not exempt speech from First Amendment protection. No matter the outcome, the Supreme Court's decision will greatly impact the future of free speech in America.

Sources: "Why Spewing Hate at Funerals is Still Free Speech," by Adam Cohen, September 29, 2010, TIME; "Free Speech and Picketing Funerals," October 6, 2010, The New York Times; "In Topeka, the Price of Free Speech," by A.G. Sulzberger, October 9, 2010, Topeka Journal.
Bishop Eddie Long Faces Accusations of Forced Gay Sex
Bishop Eddie LongBishop Eddie Long, leader of the 8,000 member mega-church New Birth Missionary Baptist Church ("New Birth Church") in Georgia, faces four separate civil lawsuits from young men who claim that he forced them to have sexual relationships with him when they were teenagers. The four plaintiffs -- Jamal Parris, Spencer LaGrande, Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg -- all claim that Long used his status as pastor to coerce them into sexual relationships. Long says the accusations are false and vows to fight the allegations.

Long, the New Birth Church and Longfellows Youth Academy (the "Academy") are named defendants in the lawsuits. The Academy is a program Long created for young men ages 13-18 to help guide them through their "masculine journey." The plaintiffs, with the exception of LeGrande, were enrolled in the Academy as teenagers. It was during that time they say that Long engaged in sexual acts with them. They claim that Long took them on expensive trips and allowed them to travel on his private jet. The men allege that despite the many trips, the majority of the sexual encounters occurred in Long's guesthouse where according to Parris, Long would "encourage [Parris] to call him daddy." Parris also claims that Long used the holy scripture to support his actions.

According to plaintiffs' attorney B.J. Bernstein, Long began having inappropriate relationships with the boys when they were 16 year old, which is the age of consent in Georgia. Given that the young men were old enough to give consent when the alleged encounters took place, no criminal charges have been filed against Long.

Long addressed the accusations during his sermon on September 26, 2010. He stated, "I feel like David, against Goliath, but I've got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one of them yet."

Long has been an opponent of gay rights, spending much of his time preaching against homosexual relationships. In 2004, Long led a march in Atlanta at which he called for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Sources: "Alleged Victim Calls Pastor Eddie Long a 'Monster,'" by Steve Osunsami, Leezel Tanglao & Sarah Netter, September 29, 2010, ABCNews.com; "Bishop Eddie Long: Lawsuits accuse leader of sexual coercion; Long 'adamantly denies,'" by Sheila M. Poole, Megan Matteucci & Katie Leslie, September 22, 2010, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; "Bishop Eddie Long vows to fight lawsuit accusations," by Ted Haggard, September 26, 2010, The Los Angeles Times. "Touch Questions for Bishop Long from Atlanta's Gay Community," by Rebekka Schramm, September 27, 2010, cbsatlanta.com; "Bishop Eddie Long - Megachurch had Modest Beginning," by Larry Hartstein, September 23, 2010, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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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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MC&A obtained a favorable ruling for our client! A three-judge appellate panel recently upheld a lower court decision that MC&A's client was not liable on the strength of the arguments of MC&A's brief.

Midwin Charles is scheduled to speak at a Continuing Legal Education seminar on Building a Successful Small Firm Practice: Taking Steps to Achieve Success Conference, hosted by the New York State Bar Association in New York on November 8, 2010.
For more information, go to www.nysba.org.

Midwin Charles was interviewed by she-blogs.com. Read the interview here: http://she-blogs.com/blog/?p=8029

Midwin Charles gave a presentation on criminal investigations at the International Bar Association 2010 Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia on October 5, 2010. For more information, go to www.ibanet.org.

MC&A is proud to have sponsored the Corporate Counsel Women of Color's Sixth Annual Career Strategies Conference which took place in New York, October 6-8, 2010. For more information, go to www.ccwomenofcolor.org.

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