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Court OK’s $800M settlement for MGM Resorts, Vegas victims
Headline News | 2020/10/01 16:22
A court on Wednesday approved a settlement totaling $800 million from casino company MGM Resorts International and its insurers to more than 4,400 relatives and victims of the Las Vegas Strip shooting that was the deadliest in recent U.S. history.  The action makes final a deal settling dozens of lawsuits on the eve of the third anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 58 people and injured more than 850 at an open-air concert near the Mandalay Bay resort.

“By the grace of God, myself and my family are going to be OK,” said Stephanie Fraser, a plaintiff in the lawsuit from La Palma, California. “I needed to be able to protect our kids.” Clark County District Court Judge Linda Bell, in her brief order, cited “near-unanimous participation in the settlement among potential claimants.”  Authorities said more than 22,000 people were attending an outdoor music festival when a gunman firing military-style weapons from windows on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay rained rapid-fire bullets into the crowd.  Fraser’s husband of 13 years, Brian Fraser, a vice president at a mortgage company, died after being shot in the chest as they danced while country music singer Jason Aldean performed.

“Brian is missed beyond words by all of us — all of our family and all of our friends,” Stephanie Fraser told The Associated Press. The couple had four children and stepchildren. She and her attorney, Dan Robinson, declined to say how much they’ll receive in the settlement. “With this coming to an end, it brings closure and allows us to put pieces back together,” Fraser said. “Brian would want that for us.” MGM Resorts, owner of the hotel and the concert venue, acknowledged no liability. It will pay $49 million, while its insurance companies will pay $751 million.

“We are grateful that the decision brings families, victims and the community closer to closure,” the company said in a statement. It noted the anniversary of the Oct. 1, 2017, event, calling it “a time of great sadness and reflection.” Memorial ceremonies are scheduled Thursday at several venues in Las Vegas, including a reading of the names of the slain beginning at 10:05 p.m. — the time the first shots rang out. Attorney Robert Eglet, the plaintiffs’ lawyer who spent a year arranging the settlement with clients, legal firms and attorneys in at least 10 states, said the amounts to be disbursed will be determined by two retired judges and he’s hopeful that payments will begin going out by the end of the year.

“There’ve been no objections and we expect no appeals,” Eglet told The Associated Press. “We’ll send out notices of the order. After 30 days the $800 million will be deposited.” The case will be dismissed at that time, he added.  “Our firm and the other leadership firms hope it helps victims and their families find some sense of closure and healing,” said Mark Robinson Jr., a California attorney representing Fraser and more than one-third of the shooting victims.

Eglet previously said that everyone involved “recognized there are no winners in long, drawn-out litigation with multiple trials where people and the community are reliving the event every time we try a case.”  A line-by-line list of victims, identified by their initials only, runs for more than 170 pages of a 225-page civil complaint filed Sept. 9 seeking compensation and punitive damages from MGM Resorts. It accused the casino company of negligence, wrongful death and liability in the 2017 shooting.

Plaintiffs came from nearly every state in the U.S., at least eight Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom, Iran and Ireland. In various lawsuits, victims and families accused MGM Resorts of failing to protect people at the concert venue or stop the shooter from amassing an arsenal of weapons and ammunition over several days before he opened fire.

Millions of dollars could go to the most severely and permanently injured, Eglet said, depending on factors including age, number of dependents, type of injuries, previous and future medical treatment, and ability to work.  A minimum $5,000 would go to each person who filed a claim for unseen injuries and did not seek medical attention or therapy. Court filings in the case don’t mention the gunman, Stephen Paddock, who killed himself before police closed in.  Las Vegas police and the FBI determined the 64-year-old retired accountant and high-stakes poker player meticulously planned the attack and acted alone. They theorized he may have sought notoriety, but said they never determined a clear motive for the attack.



Ginsburg makes history at Capitol amid replacement turmoil
Legal Watch | 2020/09/27 16:42
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg  lay in state Friday at the U.S. Capitol as the first woman ever so honored, making history again as she had throughout her extraordinary life while an intensifying election-year battle swirled over her replacement.

The flag-draped casket of Ginsburg, who died last week at 87, drew members of Congress, top military officials, friends and family, some with children in tow, to the Capitol’s grand Statuary Hall, paying respect to the cultural icon who changed American law and perceptions of women’s power.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, joined other invited guests. His vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris said that “RBG,” as she is known by many, cleared a path for women like her in civic life.

“She, first of all, made America see what leadership looks like -- in the law, in terms of public service -- and she broke so many barriers,” Harris told reporters at the Capitol. “And I know that she did it intentionally knowing that people like me could follow.”

Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Ginsburg was confirmed 27 years ago this month, said he was brought back to when he met her back then. “Wonderful memories,” he said.

Mourners gathered to honor Ginsburg under coronavirus distancing restrictions with the nation in political turmoil.

President Donald Trump is to announce a conservative nominee to replace her on Saturday, just weeks before the election. White House officials have indicated to congressional Republicans and outside allies that the nominee will be Indiana’s Amy Coney Barrett  but are maintaining a semblance of suspense to let Trump announce her.

His third justice, if confirmed, would be sure to move the court rightward on health care, abortion and other pivotal issues. A Senate confirmation vote would be expected in late October.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was with “profound sorrow” that she welcomed Ginsburg and opened the private service.

She and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer stood under gray skies as Ginsburg’s casket made the short procession from the court’s steps where it had been on public view for several days to the East Front of the Capitol.


Lawyer: Case of Black inmate set to die reveals racial bias
Legal Watch | 2020/09/25 05:01
The lawyer for the first Black inmate scheduled to die this year as part of the Trump administration’s resumption of federal executions says race played a central role in landing her client on death row for slaying a young white Iowa couple and burning them in the trunk of their car.

One Black juror and 11 white jurors heard the 2000 federal case in Texas against Christopher Vialva, who is now 40 but was 19 at the time of the killings. Prosecutors portrayed Vialva as the leader of a Black street-gang faction and alleged he killed the deeply religious husband and wife, Todd and Stacie Bagley, to boost his status within the gang, attorney Susan Otto said.

But Otto contends there was no evidence Vialva, scheduled to be put to death Thursday, was even a full-fledged member ? let alone a leader ? of the 212 PIRU Bloods gang in his Killeen, Texas, hometown. She said the false claim only served to conjure up menacing stereotypes to prejudice the nearly all-white jury.

“It played right into the narrative that he was a dangerous Black thug who killed these lovely white people. And they were lovely,” Otto said in a recent phone interview. She added: “Race was a very strong component of this case.”

Questions about racial bias in the criminal justice system have been front and center since protests erupted across the country following the  death of George Floyd after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on the handcuffed Black man’s neck for several minutes.



White House lawyer in running for seat on the Supreme Court
Opinions | 2020/09/22 12:02
President Donald Trump didn't have to look very far for one of the contenders on his short list to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court: he's been considering one of his own lawyers.

Kate Comerford Todd is a deputy White House counsel, helping navigate Trump's White House through a thicket of legal issues. It's a role she knows well, having served in the counsel's office during the administration of the last Republican president, George W. Bush.

Todd, 45, is the only lawyer mentioned as being on Trump's shortlist who has not previously been a judge, though she's hardly unfamiliar with the high court, having clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. Her experience is otherwise diverse: she's twice counseled the White House, worked at a prestigious law firm and represented the interests of a leading business advocacy group.

“She is absolutely brilliant,” said Helgi Walker, a partner at the Gibson Dunn law firm who also served as a Thomas law clerk and in the White House counsel's office under Bush. “She is thoughtful, caring, considerate. She always tries to get it right, no matter what she's doing.”

Trump has signaled that he intends to name a woman for the third Supreme Court selection of his administration. Amy Coney Barrett is emerging as the early favorite to be the nominee after he met with her Monday before leaving the White House to campaign in Ohio. Todd was viewed as the favorite of White House lawyers, but there were concerns that the confirmation process would not be as smooth for a first-time jurist, according to people familiar with the situation.


Biden to focus on health care in Supreme Court debate
Legal Watch | 2020/09/20 22:56
Joe Biden on Sunday used the sudden Supreme Court vacancy to reinforce his argument that the upcoming election should be a referendum on President Donald Trump's handling of health care and the coronavirus.

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg jolted the presidential campaign just six weeks before the election and as several states are already voting. Trump has seized on the opportunity to nominate a new justice to motivate his most loyal voters. Biden kept the focus on health care, which has proven to be a winning issue for Democrats during previous elections and could be even more resonant amid the pandemic.

The Supreme Court will hear a Republican-led case seeking to throw out the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration supports, the week after the Nov. 3 election. Biden charged that Trump is seeking to undermine the protections for people with pre-existing conditions under the ACA, as well as its provisions covering preventative care for women.

“Millions of Americans are voting because they know their health care hangs in the balance," Biden said during remarks at Constitution Center in Philadelphia. “In the middle of the worst global health crisis in living memory, Donald Trump is before the Supreme Court, trying to strip health care coverage away from tens of millions of families.”

The Supreme Court could also hear cases on a few more particularly salient issues in the next few months: voting rights, and potentially who wins the November election.

Biden is expected to focus in the weeks ahead on the Democratic fight to prevent a nominee from being confirmed to the court, with a particular emphasis on the effect the court could have on health care and climate change. Biden aides stopped short of ruling out the possibility the campaign would advertise around the court fight, though that decision hadn’t been finalized.


Shooting outside US court in Phoenix wounds federal officer
Legal News | 2020/09/16 15:52
A drive-by shooting wounded a federal security officer outside the U.S. courthouse in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, and a person was later taken into custody, authorities said. The officer was taken to a hospital and was expected to recover, according to city police and the FBI. Jill McCabe, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Phoenix office, said someone was later detained and there was no indication of a further threat to the public.

The court security officer works for the U.S. Marshals Service and was struck in their protective vest, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly. Court security officers work under the direction of the U.S. Marshals Service but generally are employed by private security companies.

The FBI said it isn’t providing any more details as it investigates. Police had released a photo of a silver sedan spotted leaving the area around the Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. Courthouse. Hours after the shooting, a street surrounding the courthouse was closed to traffic, roped off by yellow tape with police officers standing on each corner. Armed federal officers talked outside the main entrance to the courthouse, which was still open to the public, according to a court clerk.

The shooting came after the weekend ambush of two Los Angeles County deputies. They were sitting in their parked vehicle when a man walked up to the passenger’s side and fired multiple rounds. The deputies were struck in the head and critically wounded but were expected to recover. The gunman hasn’t been captured, and a motive has not been determined. Federal courthouses have been flashpoints for recent violence, but it’s not clear who shot the officer in Phoenix or why.

In June, a federal security officer was shot and killed and his partner was wounded outside the federal courthouse in Oakland as they guarded the building during protests over racial injustice and police brutality. An Air Force sergeant was charged with the shooting, and prosecutors say he had ties to the far-right, anti-government “boogaloo” movement and used the protest as cover for the crime and his escape.

During demonstrations in Portland, Oregon, protesters and federal officers clashed at the federal courthouse, where people set fires and tossed fireworks and rocks, while federal authorities unleashed tear gas and made arrests.


'Hotel Rwanda' hero charged with terrorism in Rwanda court
Headline News | 2020/09/15 22:52
A Rwandan court on Monday charged Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda,” with terrorism, complicity in murder, and forming an armed rebel group.

Rusesabagina declined to respond to all 13 charges, saying some did not qualify as criminal offenses and saying that he denied the accusations when he was questioned by Rwandan investigators.

Rusesabagina, 66, asked to be released on bail, citing poor health that has caused him to be taken to hospital three times in the time that he has been held in Rwanda.

“I request that I am given bail and I assure the court that I will not flee from justice,” Rusesabagina said. The court said it will rule on his bail application on Thursday.

Rusesabagina was represented by Rwandan lawyers David Rugaza and Ameline Nyembo, who have been discounted as state-imposed representation by his family outside Rwanda.

Neither his lawyers nor the prosecution explained the circumstances under which Rusesabagina arrived in Kigali at the end of August from Dubai. He had traveled from the U.S. to Dubai and then mysteriously appeared in Rwanda. The Rwandan court said the suspect was arrested at Kigali International Airport, contradicting the earlier police version that he was arrested through “international cooperation.”

When Rwandan President Paul Kagame spoke on national broadcasting about the case, he indicated that Rusesabagina may have been tricked i nto boarding a private plane in Dubai that took him to Rwanda.

Amnesty International on Monday urged Rwandan authorities to guarantee Rusesabagina his right to a fair trial.


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