Special Reports Coming to National Courts Monitor (NCM)

SPECIAL REPORTS: In the coming weeks, the National Courts Monitor (NCM) will be announcing a series of “special reports” focusing on some of today’s most urgent civil litigation issues. Similar to the print-edition special reports that helped launch the website in California (as the California Courts Monitor) more than a decade ago, the reports from across the country will include original reporting and production from the NCM while also showcasing investigative and writing from partner organizations. Watch this space for more information, and we are making this announcement now because our reporters and video producers are now in the field conducting the background research necessary for multi-media reporting on issues including environmental lawsuits, immigration issues and, of course, the rationing of civil justice in America.

– THE EDITORS

Court Case in California will resume in spite of COVID-19

Even while admitting that it will be unlikely that jurors will be available, prosecutors trying a criminal case against Yevgeniy Aleksandrovich Nikulin, a Russian man charged with hacking into Bay Area tech companies, have told a federal judge in San Francisco they’re prepared to resume a criminal trial that’s been delayed due to COVID-19.

According to Law.com, “U.S. District Judge William Alsup pressed pause on the proceedings in the trial last month after a potential witness in the case came into contact with someone displaying symptoms of a COVID-19 infection… After the government filing hit the docket Alsup changed Thursday’s telephonic status conference into an in-person hearing, signaling that the judge could be contemplating making a substantive ruling like declaring a mistrial that would require Nikulin to be present.”

Read more.

Hunter Biden, A Liability on the Precipice 

Photo: Visar Kryeziu/AP. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

By Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher (Originally published in CityWatch LA, 12/30/19)

DC DISPATCH-Amidst Trump campaign slogans calling for Hunter Biden’s location, one thing is clear. . .we all know where Hunter is — Los Angeles — and hope he is enjoying his new life in Citywatch’s backyard.
But in wishing him well, we would be remiss if we did not mention the serious threat he presents to his father’s presidential prospects. Hunter Biden (photo above, left) is an unpredictable tracking cookie who follows his father’s campaign, displacing bytes of data wherever he travels. Furthermore, he appears to be a liability that the campaign or its leader has strongly overlooked in assessing Biden’s chances of winning the presidency. Absent a credible strategy to block Hunter’s cookie trail, he will continue to diminish the fungibility of his father’s candidacy — stonewalling or calling members of the audience on the campaign trail “damn liars” will just not work.

Let me start by saying that I admire Joe Biden as a candidate and public servant. This courageous American has dedicated his entire life to the American people both domestically and abroad. He has endured unimaginable tragedies which makes his ability to connect with fellow survivors genuine. I do not question his patriotism nor his frontrunner status in national and swing-state polling, but I am left feeling very uncomfortable that his former partner in the Executive Branch has failed to endorse him.

According to some media reports, Obama is not convinced that Biden has what it takes to clinch the nomination and beat Donald Trump. Absent the overt and covert blessing of Obama, we are left to infer that he knows something about the former Vice President that the general public does not. What can it be? His health? His age? Or some secret information that he’s gleaned from classified intelligence reports?

Obama, during the last year of his presidency, had the insider track when it came to monitoring the impact Donald Trump was having on the U.S. elections — he may have underestimated the impact, but he knew that the Russians were working to harm Hillary Clinton and to push for Donald Trump. In hindsight, I’m sure he feels his administration should have acted more forcefully as a former member of his cabinet was eviscerated by a very successful Putin-led assault. Obama is likely flustered at the prospect of witnessing another member of his former cabinet suffer the same tortious interference and I suspect he thinks that possibility is very real.

As the activist, silent investor in the Democratic party, Obama knows the assets and liabilities of each candidate on the debate stage. When the former president speaks publicly about the 2020 contest, it has been to caution the party against going too far left. So, when he was reported to be telling top democratic donors that “Elizabeth Warren is a capable candidate,” it seems as if he was steering wealthy donors to look elsewhere — a definite slight to Biden, who served him loyally for eight years.

While out on the campaign trail, Joe Biden has failed to competently address questions and concerns related to his son. While many candidates have previously enjoyed the rule that family is off-limits, in the age of Trump and his tweets, this is no more, and candidates must adapt. Nothing is off-limits and everything is on the table, including Hunter on a platter.

Hunter Biden’s ongoing child support and paternity case illustrate the type of prey that Trump, a known carnivore, will pounce on, feasting on every savory morsel of output. If Trump had known that Hunter would risk gravely harming his father by engaging in an open-source civil matter, our President would not have needed to risk abuse of power and obstruction of Congress by mining for dirt in Ukraine. Trump could simply have waited for Lunden Roberts, Biden’s baby momma, to produce a trove of public and humiliating documents.

This case cried for a quiet settlement, but for some reason, Hunter first refused to acknowledge paternity and then to make steady payments to the child he knew he had helped produce. By his arrogant conduct, Hunter managed to anger the judge who has denied a protective order in part and compelled him to appear for a deposition in Arkansas in early 2020. Hunter will now be forced to supply five years of financial documents (instead of three) which include his time as a Burisma board member, his work in China and who knows where else he has been conducting business. These will be made public in redacted form.

D & A Investigators, a private, Florida-based company is assisting with the effort of digging up dirt on Hunter and has filed a series of salacious documents with the court.

These allude to a series of criminal investigations that have tenuous links to Hunter at best, but they have become part of the court record. More importantly, it is not known who is footing that bill. In all likelihood, the T-shirt catchphrase, “Where is Hunter” will soon give way to, “I’ve got the Dirt on Hunter” from the Trump campaign.

Hunter’s recent claims of poverty, rebuked by the purchase of an upscale home in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, does not help his credibility. And though he lives far from Little Rock, it is clear that Hunter Biden will have to deal with this now very public proceeding and discovery process. It would have been the more prudent move to shield his father, his 18-month-year-old infant, and his newly pregnant wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, the pain of a public display by reaching an out of court settlement.

In the current political environment, where dirt and kompromat have more value than the actual record, the younger Mr. Biden will continue to be an onus to his father’s campaign. Trump has demonstrated time and again that he will risk all to mine for valuable “oppo” data. Since it will now be available in plentiful supply in Little Rock, Trump won’t have to rely on Ukrainian cutouts. He will soon learn the utility of having an open legal proceeding out there for the press to dissect. The current Commander in Chief will benefit greatly from the subpoena of Hunter’s financial records, emails, and other communications and he won’t even have to show a trace of the clumsy machinations he and Giuliani used in Ukraine.

The Biden family must address this unresolved liability head-on even if it involves acknowledging wrongdoing and errors of judgment. Candidate Biden cannot plead the loving father, asking no questions of his errant son. Hunter can no longer claim his finances are a private matter. There are simply too many areas of questionable conduct — from allegations of shady business dealings and child support obligations. Both Bidens need to sit down together for a lengthy, no-holds-barred interview and explain to the American people how they erred in the past and how they both intend to behave in the future. If Biden is to be elected President, it is the only way to take a step back from the precipice. If successful, they will be able to assuage voters’ fears and blunt the onslaught of oppo dirt that Trump and his campaign will keep hurling their way.

(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of the California and National Courts Monitor and contributes to Daily Kos and other important news publications.) 

 

Trump Games the Legal System but Will It Last?

Photo: AP/Alex Brandon, as published in CityWatch LA, 12/2/19.

by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher
(Originally published in CityWatch LA, 12/2/19)

DC DISPATCH-In a normal judicial proceeding, when the Court speaks, it does so through orders. A court order is a command issued by a judge. If a judge orders you to appear for your speeding ticket hearing, failure to do so can result in a bench warrant or a default judgment. Penalties can also include jail time and fines.
A subpoena, also an order of the court, can be issued by either of the parties to a civil action and, if approved by the judge, can require a person to produce documents or appear in person to provide testimony. And like most CityWatchers, when faced with a court order, a subpoenaed party would cooperate. For many of us that may mean paying a speeding ticket or getting current on child support, because the fear of being held in contempt of court or jailed would frighten most people, especially given their unfamiliarity with judicial process.

Could you ever imagine being completely immune from any court order and/or subpoena? Life would be very different for most of us, if we thought that the arm of the law could in no way reach out and touch us. Yet, this is the position that Trump is claiming. He maintains that he is basically above the law and needs to answer to no one for his conduct. He also argues that anyone who works for him is similarly exempt — in effect, claiming absolute immunity from any legal process. We are witnessing in real-time what life is like for a person who believes this. In a country that promotes the rule of law, this monarchical conduct is simply not sustainable if Congress and the Courts are to have a role in running the country.

In his recent book, “The Warning,” Anonymous notes President Trump’s familiarity with the legal system. When Trump became President, he had something like 3000 outstanding cases to his name. Anonymous recalls a conversation Trump had with a group of staffers when he paraphrased, “If you want to irritate someone threaten to sue, but if you really want to scare someone, file a lawsuit against them.” Trump is in the luxurious position of being able to rely on an army of Justice Department lawyers to bring his claims, however frivolous, and he no longer has the check of legal fees to control his conduct. He also has a group of lawyers led by Rudy Giuliani who work for him pro bono. Talk about carte blanche. No wonder he is tempted to abuse the American legal system.

We have a litigious expert in the White House and while rules of civil procedure may not be his strength, he is very familiar with the benefits of delay. Trump is now for the first time in his life concerned with outcomes. Even if he loses in the lower courts, there is always a higher court to appeal to and more time to prevent the public from getting access to whatever information he is hiding. When coupled with his constant attacks on Twitter and in the press designed to undermine whatever position his opponents may take, Trump has manipulated the legal system to his ultimate advantage — likely assuring that he can defer any negative court decisions until after the election of 2020.

There are a few risks on the horizon for the President, however. The litigation calling for him to produce his tax returns is advancing at a faster than expected pace and is already pending review by the Supreme Court. The Court could decide to take one of the cases and stall a resolution until next year, or it could decline to hear the cases, letting the lower courts’ decisions stand — in which case, the President could find himself suddenly exposed and forced to produce his taxes.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) has issued countless subpoenas for both testimony and documents. Trump has instructed his subordinates at the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) not to cooperate in any way, citing an unfair impeachment process. This obstruction of Congress is unprecedented and exceeds even the Nixonian example.

While the Democrats have managed to build a credible case working around the top layer, the testimony of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney under oath, should under normal circumstances present the President’s defense that his conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine was a proper exercise of his foreign affairs powers and not, as Congress is alleging, an improper request to a foreign government for Trump’s personal benefit in a political campaign. By refusing to cooperate in any fashion, it is logical that Congress would infer guilt from these parties’ obstruction. Congress has also wisely refused to engage with Trump in the courts in trying to enforce subpoenas against these parties. The Congressional figures pressing Trump’s indictment know his game and are pressing on without them.

Even though Trump and his legal counsel expressly ordered parties not to appear before the HPSCI, it is amazing how many people have shown extraordinary courage to testify both secretly and in public notwithstanding the Presidential orders. The recent conviction of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone for lying to Congress may also have served as a harbinger. When there is a conflict between the Congress and an Executive branch leadership that may be engaged in wrongdoing and covering up that wrongdoing, it may be prudent to comply with the subpoena. While the long arm of the law has not yet reached into the White House and taken hold of our President, it has caught up with some of those around him. If individuals very close to the President are now concerned that the blanket claim of executive privilege won’t protect them indefinitely, the President himself should be worried as well.

(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of the California and National Courts Monitors and contributes to Daily Koz and other important news publications.)

 

Ten former NFL players charged by the Justice Department

Brian A. Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Department of Justice stated in a Washington Post report, “Ten former NFL players allegedly committed a brazen, multimillion dollar fraud on a health care plan meant to help their former teammates and other retired players pay legitimate, out-of-pocket medical expenses.” (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Justice)

According to a report by The Washington Post, “After an FBI investigation, the Justice Department filed charges Wednesday morning in the Eastern District of Kentucky against Robert McCune, John Eubanks, Tamarick Vanover, Ceandris Brown, James Butler, Frederick Bennett, Correll Buckhalter, Etric Pruitt, Portis and Rogers.”

Ten former NFL players were charged by the Justice Department “with defrauding a health care program for retired players of nearly $4 million.” Other players may be charged, as well.