Officer who shot and killed unarmed teen is charged with homicide

Criminal Justice

A suburban Pittsburgh police officer has been charged with homicide for shooting and killing an unarmed black teen while investigating a drive-by shooting.

East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld was charged Wednesday and released on $250,000 unsecured bond, report TribLive, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, CNN, WTAE, BuzzFeed News and NBC News. The criminal complaint defines homicide as “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently” causing the death of another.

Police say Rosfeld fired three shots on June 19 that hit 17-year-old Antwon Rose, including one shot that hit Rose in the back. Witnesses said Rose and another youth were fleeing the car when Rose was shot. One witness recorded a video that showed the car driver was lying on the ground when Rosfeld fired his gun.

Rosfeld was a rookie East Pittsburgh police officer who was officially sworn in the day of the shooting, though he had served in other departments.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said Rose, an honors student, was in the vehicle during the drive-by shooting, but he did not fire a gun. One person received a graze wound in the drive-by incident.

Rosfeld allegedly told inconsistent stories to investigators about whether he saw a gun or an object in Rose’s hand, according to a police affidavit.

A youth believed to have been in the car with Rose has been charged with attempted homicide in connection with the drive-by shooting.

Rosfeld’a lawyer, Pat Thomassey, told WTAE that, “I don’t think it’s a murder case. I don’t.”

Thomassey said that, at most, the charge should be involuntary manslaughter and he sees it “as an acquittal if everybody looks at it on the facts. … You know, this wasn’t stopping a car for going through a stop sign or for speeding. This is stopping a car that was involved in a shooting right up the road.”


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How do you read your news? What publications do you read?

Question of the Week

online news

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What is your media diet?

Last week at Above the Law, New York City litigator Matthew W. Schmidt suggested that lawyers take stock of how they stretch their minds in their free time. Constant learning can compound your “crystallized intelligence” as you rely on your accumulated knowledge to make connections and solve problems–“in other words, how you get smarter from learning things.”

Lawyers are constantly learning from their caseload, “but if you just read legal briefs all day then go home and drink yourself to sleep while watching Survivor, you’re not getting a sufficiently well-balanced diet to help you build those mental connections.”

Schmidt says he reads select newsletters, and saves newspaper or blog articles for future reading on Instapaper or Pocket.

This week, we’d like to ask you: How do you read your news? What publications do you read (besides, at least right this moment, ABAJournal.com)? Do you save select articles that appear in your social media feeds? Read subscriptions to particular newsletters, newspapers and magazines?

Do you feel your reading helps make you a better lawyer? Answer in the comments.

Read the answers to last week’s question: How do you deal with difficult clients?

Posted by RDC: “I agree the best advice is not to take difficult clients in the first place. In family law, however, even reasonable people can (at least temporarily) become difficult clients. I’ve found that active listening and acknowledging their feelings and perceptions goes a long way to helping them move past the emotional challenges of the process.”

Do you have an idea for a question of the week? If so, contact us.


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Driver accused of killing paralegal in Charlottesville is indicted on federal hate crimes charges

Criminal Justice

Charlottesville

Memorial flowers and notes are left at the spot where Heather Heyer was killed and others were injured when a car plowed into a crowd of protesters. Kim Kelley-Wagner / Shutterstock.com

A driver accused of killing a paralegal protesting white supremacists who staged a “Unite the Right” rally last August in Charlottesville, Virginia, was indicted Wednesday on hate crimes charges.

The driver, 21-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, was accused of killing Charlottesville paralegal Heather Heyer when he plowed his car into a crowd of people protesting the rally’s message.

The federal indictment charged Fields with a hate crime resulting in Heyer’s death, and with racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity that resulted in Heyer’s death. USA Today and the Washington Post have news coverage; a press release is here.

Fields was also charged with and 28 counts of hate crimes causing injury and involving an attempt to kill in connection with the injuries of other people.

“At the Department of Justice, we remain resolute that hateful ideologies will not have the last word and that their adherents will not get away with violent crimes against those they target,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the press release.

Fields is also facing a murder charge in state court. His trial is scheduled for November.


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Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s swing justice, announces his retirement

U.S. Supreme Court

Kennedy

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday in a letter to President Donald Trump. Kennedy, 81, is stepping down July 31. He turns 82 next month.

Kennedy was nominated to the court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and joined the bench in February 1988.

“It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years on the Supreme Court,” Kennedy said in a press release. USA Today, the New York Times and the Washington Post have news coverage.

Kennedy said he decided to step aside because of a deep desire to spend more time with family. In the resignation letter, he expressed “profound gratitude for having had the privilege to seek in each case how best to know, interpret, and defend the Constitution and the laws that must always conform to its mandates and promises.”

Kennedy’s retirement gives Trump a chance to create a decisively conservative Supreme Court.

Trump said Wednesday that the process of choosing a replacement for Kennedy would “begin immediately,” USA Today reports. Trump said he would choose someone from a list of 25 judges he would consider for the job. The complete list is here.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a vote on Kennedy’s replacement this fall, the New York Times reports. The Senate currently has 51 Republicans.

The Times describes McConnell as having “led the blockade” against President Barack Obama’s failed Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

The New York Times describes Kennedy as “moderately conservative.” Kennedy wrote the decision finding that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, and a decision upholding a race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas. He has provided a liberal vote on issues such as abortion and criminal justice protections for minors and intellectually disabled people.

But Kennedy most often votes with conservatives, according to the Washington Post. He wrote the Citizens United decision, much criticized by liberals, that found corporations have a First Amendment right to expressly support political candidates. The Post describes him as “comfortable with the court’s protective view of business” and notes that he would have found the Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional, a view that was not embraced by a majority.

Speculation surrounding a possible Kennedy retirement has swirled at least since Trump took office. In a Slate article published Tuesday, University of California at Irvine law professor Richard Hasen pointed to Kennedy’s conservative leanings in the most recent term and concluded they are evidence of a possible retirement.

Kennedy didn’t side with liberals in any significant 5-4 cases this term, Hasen said. On Tuesday, he sided with conservatives to uphold Trump’s travel ban and to find a potential First Amendment violation in required notices at crisis pregnancy centers. On Wednesday he joined with conservatives in an opinion that is a blow to public-sector unions.

Kennedy wrote a concurrence in the travel ban case calling on government officials to adhere to the First Amendment. “An anxious world must know that our government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts,” he wrote. Some viewed the statement as directed at Trump.

The justice also agreed to “punts” this term, joining a unanimous decision on standing in a case involving partisan gerrymandering and writing a narrow decision supporting the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding.

Kennedy has “returned to his conservative roots and has given up decisively bucking his own party,” Hasen wrote. “The separate concurrence in the travel ban case felt to me like a Kennedy mic drop. He’s done all that he can do to fix the problems in American society. Now it’s up to those in power, and those who put them there.”

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, praised Kennedy’s opinions on gay rights in a statement. “No Supreme Court justice in history has done more to advance gay rights than Justice Kennedy,” Angelo said. “This is not something that is up for debate; in his 30 years on the bench of the nation’s highest judicial body, Justice Kennedy did not simply author the most pro-gay decisions of a Supreme Court justice—he authored all of them. Justice Kennedy will likewise leave a legacy as a staunch supporter of religious liberty, as his discerning opinion in this term’s Masterpiece Cakeshop case showed.”

David Cole, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, issued a statement calling Kennedy “a critical moderating force on the Supreme Court for decades.”

Alliance Defending Freedom president Michael Farris said the group respectfully disagreed with decisions in which Kennedy found rights not in the Constitution. “But we also praise Justice Kennedy’s insight and forceful celebration of First Amendment freedoms, his sensitivity to the danger of authoritarian government, and his refreshing desire to preserve and teach the necessity of freedom of speech to future generations.”

The Empirical SCOTUS blog said in December that one likely Trump pick is Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a former Kennedy clerk. Kavanaugh is a likely pick if Trump’s aim “is to move the court at least minimally right of its current position,” according to the post by Adam Feldman, a fellow in the empirical study of public law at Columbia Law School.

Christine Kexel Chabot, a scholar in residence at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, told the ABA Journal that she would expect Trump to nominate a justice in the mold of Justice Neil Gorsuch. “There is no reason,” Chabot said, “to expect the Republican-controlled White House and Senate to appoint a successor who will perpetuate Kennedy’s voting record.”

Related articles:

ABAJournal.com: “Trump adds 5 names to his Supreme Court shortlist, including former Kennedy clerk Kavanaugh”

ABA Journal: “Speculation swirls over Supreme Court retirements”


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A second judge refuses to toss Manafort charges, yet criticizes ‘distasteful’ prosecution tactic

Criminal Justice

A federal judge in Virginia criticized special counsel appointments but refused Tuesday to dismiss charges of bank fraud, tax evasion and failure to report foreign bank accounts against Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III of Alexandria refused to dismiss a superseding indictment, but said his conclusion “should not be read as approval of the practice of appointing special counsel to prosecute cases of alleged high-level misconduct.” The National Law Journal, Courthouse News Service and the Washington Post have stories.

Ellis said the appointment of special counsel has the potential to disrupt the Constitution’s system of checks and balances “and to inject a level of toxic partisanship into investigation of matters of public importance.”

“Although this case will continue,” Ellis said, “those involved should be sensitive to the danger unleashed when political disagreements are transformed into partisan prosecutions.”

Ellis added in a footnote that “even a blind person can see the true target of the special counsel’s investigation is President Trump” rather than Manafort.

“Specifically, the charges against defendant are intended to induce defendant to cooperate with the special counsel by providing evidence against the president or other members of the campaign. Although these kinds of high-pressure prosecutorial tactics are neither uncommon nor illegal, they are distasteful.”

Manafort was charged in connection with consulting work he did for a former president of Ukraine who was “strongly pro-Russian,” Ellis said.

Ellis said the prosecution falls within a valid grant of jurisdiction in a May 2017 order appointing the special counsel and authorizing him to investigate links between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign. A “scope memorandum” issued last August also makes clear the special counsel was authorized to investigate Manafort’s payments from the Ukrainian government, Ellis said.

A judge hearing a different case against Manafort, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, refused last month to dismiss charges of money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent.


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