Not to be missed: Sara Corcoran, the NCM founding publisher and frequent contributor to news websites like CityWatchLA and Daily Kos, begins 2024 by clearing the air on some rumors, reports and even misleading allegations.
In a CityWatchLA post headlined “I’m Just A Journalist,” she addresses her ties to China, the death of her CIA-employed husband and other issues. She also shows an intricate knowledge of U.S. defamation laws. The CW/LA piece is complete with an AI image of Sara’s time in China.
The Golden State legislature in 2023 continued its push for housing development reform, in effect removing barriers while up-zoning much of the state. In particular, says a report from the Santa Monica Daily Press, the new laws will limit environmental review and take the unusual step of targeting “middle” market housing along with affordable housing and lower income focus.
From the SMDN report by the news group Cal Matters: “… a host of new laws will make it more ifficult for opponents of proposed housing projects to use the California Environmental Quality Act to delay certain types of housing projects. Oakland Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks wrote a bill that instructs judges not to consider the noise of future residents as a pollutant in need of environmental mitigation, a response to one of the most headline grabbing California court decisions of the year.”
The report also noted that the trend “… was especially true for developers of purpose-built affordable housing, per policy analysts at UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation in an end-of-year legislative summary. Lawmakers, the analysts wrote, in the continuation of a ‘remarkable run over the last several years,’ gave ‘more flexibility to exceed or override local zoning, greater certainty on the timing and likelihood of planning approvals, and substantial relief from [environmental] review and litigation.'”
You can find the Santa Monica Daily Press story here.
Moving this to the top of your 2024 civil justice reform list: Welfare reform sending money meant for families to actual families, and not for investigation of families.
The Biden Administration changes, which might seem wildly optimistic in an election year, come on the heels of a scathing investigative report from ProPublica, the non-profit journalism folks.
In a follow up last month (Dec. 2023), ProPublica reminded that it had “… found that in Arizona and elsewhere, money meant to help parents struggling to raise their children is instead used to investigate them for alleged child maltreatment — which often stems from the very financial circumstances that they needed help with in the first place.
The story by Eli Hager, who is fast becoming a sort of Bob Woodward of family law, continued to say that “.. the proposal, drawn up by the federal Administration for Children and Families, is open for public comment until Dec. 1. Once comments are reviewed, officials plan to issue final regulations that could take effect in the months after that, heading into the 2024 election.
Hager outlines key points of the reform: “The first change would prohibit states from counting charitable giving by private organizations, such as churches and food banks, as ‘state’ spending on welfare, a practice that has allowed legislatures to budget less for programs for low-income families while still claiming to meet federal minimums.”
That reporting includes: “You get more due process protections when facing a couple months in jail than you do when you’re facing losing your kids forever,” said Josh Gupta-Kagan, founder and director of the Family Defense Clinic at Columbia Law School and an expert on civil liberties as they apply to child protective cases.
And then point: “The right to remain silent, the right to a public jury trial, the right to face your accuser and so on are not recognized and enforced by the courts in the child welfare system, according to our interviews and a review of case law. Neither is the related ideal of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ or the standard that guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
It is not for the faint of heart. But if 2024 is going to be a year of family law reform, then reporting like ProPublica’s is going to become increasingly important.
By Sara Corcoran, Publisher, the National Courts Monitor
H.R. 5525 of the 117th Congress is the ENABLERS Act—an acronym for Establishing New Authorities for Businesses Laundering and Enabling Risks to Security. It is an amendment of the National Defense Authorization Act, a bill that is currently under consideration by the U.S. Senate.
Although it is largely an appropriations bill dealing with budgetary matters for the intelligence community, the amendment calls for greater transparency of foreign capital inflows into the U.S., including proceeds from crime and corruption.
As had been initiated long ago by the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970—legislation aimed at preventing criminals using financial institutions to hide or launder money—the ENABLERS Act goes a step further by authorizing the US Treasury Department to designate lawyers who provide certain financial services as financial institutions. This would subject lawyers to federal law & oversight when managing or investing money for foreign clients.
The American Bar Association (ABA) is a trade group that represents the interests of the legal community, and it is vehemently opposed to the ENABLERS Act. It claims that the legislation “will jeopardize a lawyer’s ability to consult candidly with their clients, and thus weaken their ability to prevent money laundering”.
Moreover, the ABA believes that subjecting members of their trade association to federal law instead of state law violates their traditional ability to seek redress in the state courts.
Scott Greytak—a principal at Transparency International U.S.—argues that these arguments do not survive scrutiny: “Not a single one of the activities that are covered by the ENABLERS Act requires a law degree or legal training.”
He also points out that the lawyers involved are simply the professionals retained for the setting up of a trust, company, or LLC. “There are thousands of other people who engage in these activities who are not lawyers,” says Greytak. “ABA is trying to conflate the very strong heritage in the US about the sanctity of attorney/client privilege and the threat of additional regulation for a tiny but influential minority of lawyers who want to help criminals hide their dirty money in the United States.”
According to Debra LaPrevotte—former Supervisory Special Agent, International Corruption Unit at FBI Headquarters—passage of this legislation is a critical component for law enforcement to be able to do their job: “When you are going after billions of dollars from corrupt foreign leaders and their schemes, what you find is that there are enablers who are allowing this process to happen.” In her 20-year career at the FBI, LaPrevotte was alarmed to learn that American corporations and lawyers were the agents that shielded the illegal activity. She recounts how members of international law enforcement were frustrated at the United States’ inability to “clean up corruption” in our own backyard. “Most people are looking at corporate structure after a crime is being committed,” says LaPrevotte, who thinks that is too little, too late.
It is the removal of secrecy that would prove most useful in crime prevention.
The bill was passed with bipartisan support in the House, and the act was introduced as an amendment with bipartisan support in the Senate, by senators Roger Wicker (R- MS) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
Momentum appears to be on the side of proponents for the ENABLERS Act. So why does the ABA continue its advocacy efforts even in the face of likely defeat?
It appears that the latter hopes to be able to weaken provisions in the bill so as to allow the very small group of ABA members to continue some of their activities with confidentiality; but I think their efforts will be in vain because the ENABLERS Act closes a gaping hole in the regulatory scheme. We have the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to regulate and prevent corruption abroad, but what good is it if we fail to enforce similar policies at home?
I think we should unite with law enforcement and national security professionals in supporting the passage of the ENABLERS Act. We need to join the rest of the Western International Community in preventing dirty money from flowing in and corrupting agents, both covert and overt within the United States.
What we do hope to add is a unique voice to the nation’s hotly debated civil justice conversations. Our role is to curate coverage from the civil justice community and amplify that coverage, by posting here and sometimes across our informal networks. Sometimes we add our own reporting and commentary. Granted, from affordable housing to immigration to our old buddy tort lawsuits, the landscape seems fairly bleak — it seems that civil justice is certainly still being rationed, even if there are some bright spots here and there.
Sara Corcoran gets us started once again with this report, first posted at CityWatchLA on 4/28/22: Affordable Housing Getting Crunched.