Grassley refers Avenatti and client to DOJ for criminal investigation over Kavanaugh accusations

Supreme Court Nominations

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley meets with then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on July 12./Office of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, via Wikimedia Commons.

A woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh of attending parties where gang rapes occurred has been referred to the Department of Justice for a criminal investigation along with the lawyer who represents her, Michael Avenatti.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, made the referral in a letter on Thursday, according to a press release. The Washington Post, ABC, Politico and the Hill are among the publications with coverage.

Avenatti and his client, Julie Swetnick, submitted statements to the committee that “likely contained materially false claims,” Grassley wrote in the letter, addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Avenatti, who is known for his representation of adult film actress Stormy Daniels, said in a tweet that “We welcome the investigation as now we can finally get to the bottom of Judge Kavanaugh’s lies and conduct.”

Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court on Oct. 6 following committee testimony by another woman, Christine Blasey Ford, who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party when both were high school students.

Swetnick made her allegations in a sworn statement to the committee on Sept. 26. She alleged that she attended house parties in the early 1980s where Kavanaugh was present. Swetnick said she was aware of efforts by Kavanaugh and others to spike the punch with drugs or grain alcohol, so girls would lose their inhibitions and their ability to say no.

Swetnick also said she recalled seeing boys lined up outside rooms for their turn with girls, and she recalls seeing Kavanaugh in line.

In his letter, Grassley said the Senate Judiciary Committee staff began an immediate investigation of Swetnick’s allegations, “diverting significant resources to the effort.” Kavanaugh was questioned about the allegations in transcribed interviews on Sept. 25 and 26, and he “categorically denied the allegations,” Grassley said. The committee also interviewed 10 of Swetnick’s associates.

Avenatti refused to allow committee staff to interview Swetnick.

Later, in an NBC News interview, Swetnick contradicted her claims to the committee, Grassley said. Swetnick said she didn’t know what Kavanaugh did in regard to spiking punch, although she saw him “giving red Solo cups to quite a few girls.” She also said she had no specific knowledge of gang rapes by boys who were huddled outside rooms.

After the “media hubbub” over Swetnick’s contradictory NBC interview, Avenatti “produced a vague and anonymous declaration he claimed supported her allegations,” Grassley said. Avenatti didn’t reveal the person’s identity or make them available for interviews. Avenatti “apparently has a history of claiming to have anonymous clients who never materialize in any verifiable form,” Grassley said.

Grassley said there is no credible evidence that Swetnick ever met or socialized with Kavanaugh, and committee investigators were unable to corroborate Swetnick’s claims. “On the contrary,” he wrote, “they received substantial information calling into question her credibility.”

One former boyfriend said Swetnick had “harassed and stalked” him after their breakup, threatened to murder him, and threatened to falsely accuse him of rape.

Grassley also cited evidence that Swetnick had made false allegations of sexual harassment at previous companies where she worked.

When individuals intentionally mislead the committee, they divert committee resources and materially impede its work, Grassley said.

“It is illegal to knowingly and willfully make materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statements to congressional investigators,” Grassley wrote. “It is illegal to obstruct committee investigations. It is illegal to conspire to do either of those things. When charlatans make false claims to the committee—claims that may earn them short-term media exposure and financial gain but which hinder the committee’s ability to do its job—there should be consequences.”


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In appearance celebrating pro bono, Justice Kagan expresses concern about views of politicized court

U.S. Supreme Court

ABA President Bob Carlson and Justice Elena Kagan at Georgetown law school. Photo courtesy of ABA Media Relations.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan talked about the issue of a politicized court in a Q&A session with ABA President Bob Carlson at Georgetown Law on Wednesday.

Kagan said any belief that the U.S. Supreme Court has become too politicized “has to be a concern.”

It would be “a very dangerous thing,” she said, if the court was viewed as just an extension of the political process, particularly today when there are such deep divisions in politics.

She also addressed the need for lawyers to give something back through pro bono and said there are several ways lawyers can contribute.

Kagan is the honorary chair of the 2018 National Celebration of Pro Bono sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service, taking place this week.

As she talked about divisions in society, Kagan mentioned a proposal that would limit Supreme Court justices to 18-year terms.

Kagan said she is a fan of life tenure for Supreme Court justices, but longer set terms could serve the same purpose of insulating the justices from outside pressures. Proposals for terms rather than life tenure, she said, are trying to “take some of the high stakes out of the confirmation process” and if it worked, that could be a good thing.

But Kagan said she doesn’t have an answer on the issue. “Thankfully, that one is not our call,” she said.

Kagan said the Supreme Court has a legitimacy and credibility, so that people follow its decisions even if there is significant disagreement. “That’s one of the glories of our country, and it’s something that is a very precious thing that the court has to be very careful to protect,” she said.

Kagan said the court decides about half of its cases unanimously, and in another 30 to 35 percent of the cases the vote is lopsided or scrambled in ways that people wouldn’t predict.

Still, she said, there are 10 to 15 cases per year where the Supreme Court is closely divided and not so scrambled. People say, “There’s the supreme court again, doing it’s 5-4 thing,” Kagan said.

Kagan said the 5-4 rulings stem from differing philosophies on interpreting the Constitution and statutes that do lead to predictable outcomes. “It’s not partisan,” she said, but you can see how people would say, “This is just politics by another name.”

To fight that misconception, Kagan said, she believes the Supreme Court should “avoid conflicts where it’s not necessary to have one.” One way, she said, is to take big cases and make them smaller by figuring out areas of consensus.

It’s important for society as well as the court to find ways to collaborate and agree on common ground, she said. “I think we could in this country be doing a better job on that,” Kagan said.

Carlson noted that Kagan is the only member of the Supreme Court without judicial experience and asked what experience she draws on as a justice.

Kagan said her work as solicitor general and as a law professor were valuable. As solicitor general, she said, her job was to try to convince nine justices. Now, she tries to convince eight justices, she said.

Being a law professor helps her think about ways to convey information in understandable ways, she said.

Kagan referred to the variety of work options and volunteer opportunities for lawyers when she talked about the importance of pro bono.

Kagan said she met a lot of different people as the dean of Harvard Law School who followed a variety of career paths. Some people give their whole lives to public interest or government work. “But the numbers of those people are actually dwarfed by people who create different types of careers, who go in and out” of different types of organizations, she said.

“The worst thing for students to think when they were in law school was that you had to kind of make an on-off choice in the beginning” between the private sector and public interest work, she said.

Her experience taught her that “people can do work for the public, do pro bono in all kinds of different capacities, in all kinds of different ways,” she said.

Harvard Law School required mandatory pro bono for law students before she became dean, Kagan said.

The challenge, she said, wasn’t making sure that people met the requirement. Rather, the challenge was finding the right opportunities for students.

Some students found the opportunities on their own, she noted. And some far exceeded the requirement.

The law school would recognize students who had done the most pro bono work. Some put in so many hours, she said, that she wondered how they found time to go to class.

The National Law Journal also has coverage of Kagan’s appearance.


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As judges rule for sanctuary cities, Chicago sues Sessions for blocking new public safety grants

Immigration Law

Chicago police

Chicago police patrol on bicycles. Photo by Shutterstock.com.

Litigation over President Donald Trump’s order restricting federal grants to sanctuary cities continues, despite several rulings favoring the cities and other jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Some of the latest battles concern restrictions placed on public safety grants administered by the Justice Department. The Justice Department is slowly releasing the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants for fiscal 2017, but it has a new list of cities it is excluding from the grants in fiscal 2018 because of their failure to agree to the department’s new conditions on immigration cooperation, Route Fifty reports.

The Edward Byrne grant program, established in 2006, “provides states, tribes, and local governments with critical funding necessary to support a range of program areas including law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, planning, evaluation, technology improvement, and crime victim and witness initiatives and mental health programs and related law enforcement and corrections programs, including behavioral programs and crisis intervention teams,” according to its website.

The most recent decision was issued on Wednesday, though it concerned a broader order by Trump restricting grants. U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones of the Western District of Washington ruled that the cities of Seattle and Portland, Oregon, are entitled to appropriated funds as a result of a decision by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, report KOMO and the Hill.

The 9th Circuit ruled in August that President Donald Trump’s order to withhold all federal grants from sanctuary cities and jurisdictions violates separation of powers principles that gave spending power to Congress. The combined cases are City and County of San Francisco v. Trump and County of Santa Clara v. Trump.

The 9th Circuit decision applied to grants that aren’t tied to a federal law that requires sharing of immigration information. The federal law is known as Section 1373.

The 9th Circuit noted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had interpreted Trump’s order narrowly to apply only to federal grants administered by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. But the court said Sessions’ May 2017 memo is not a reasonable interpretation of the executive order to withhold all federal grants.

Ruling in a different lawsuit, U.S. District Judge William Orrick of San Francisco on Oct. 5 struck down a requirement for immigration cooperation imposed on jurisdictions that receive the Edward Byrne public safety grants from the Justice Department.

Orrick said the Justice Department was continuing to withhold funding for these grants to six states and several local jurisdictions, including California and San Francisco. Law.com and Reuters had coverage.

Orrick said he was ruling “in agreement with every court that has looked at these issues.” The combined cases are City and County of San Francisco v. Sessions and California v. Sessions.

A week after Orrick’s ruling, the city of Chicago alleged in a new lawsuit that Sessions has not released millions of dollars in Edward Byrne Memorial Assistance Grants for fiscal year 2018 because of its sanctuary cities policy. Courthouse News Service covered the complaint.

The suit filed in federal court in Chicago says the court already enjoined restrictions on the same public safety grants for last year.

“But now, despite the court’s clear ruling that the conditions are unlawful, and its clear warning that reissuing them could result in an award of attorney’s fees against the federal government, the attorney general has imposed them again on the coming year’s grants,” the suit says.

The case concerning last year’s grants reached the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed an injunction but restricted it to Chicago.

Chicago’s new suit asks the court to ban Sessions from withholding the grant funds for fiscal 2018 and all future grant years “to prevent an endless cycle of litigation.” The case is Chicago v. Sessions.


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Justice Ginsburg says Congress is the ‘obvious culprit’ in polarized judicial confirmation battles

Judiciary

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said at an appearance on Wednesday that Congress is to blame for divisive judicial confirmation battles.

Speaking in a question-and-answer session at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., Ginsburg noted that the late Justice Antonin Scalia was confirmed unanimously, the Washington Post reports.

“What a difference in time that was from what we are witnessing today,” she said.

Referring to the polarization, Ginsburg said that, “to me, the obvious culprit is Congress.”

Ginsburg gave a tribute to retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who announced on Tuesday that she has probable early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

O’Connor put “country above party and self-interest” and “worked collaboratively to solve problems,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg said that collegiality “means understanding the institution you work for is more important than the egos of the individuals.”

Hat tip to How Appealing.


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Fastcase acquires legal news company Law Street Media

Business of Law

Fastcase

Legal research company Fastcase has purchased Law Street Media, a legal news site, marking an entrance into the media market.

Announced on Tuesday on the Fastcase website, Law Street will be retooled and relaunched in the second quarter of 2019 to highlight national and state legal news complemented by analytics powered by Fastcase’s legal information products.

“Legal research isn’t just about logging into an online service and running searches,” said Fastcase CEO Ed Walters in a statement. “Lawyers have to stay as informed as their clients, and our partnership with Law Street Media will be an important source of must-have information about the fast-changing practice of law.”

Walters declined to share the cost of the acquisition. However, he did say that beyond the URL, the acquisition includes a built-in readership—which he said is in the range of hundreds of thousands of page views a year—the company’s search engine optimization and its reach across various social platforms. He says that this was better than starting from scratch.

“Now we don’t have to start at square one,” he tells the ABA Journal. “We can start at square eight.”

Focusing on millennial lawyers and law students, Law Street Media was founded in 2013 by John Jenkins. Jenkins was previously the president and publisher of CQ Press, which focuses on government and politics.

The current incarnation of Law Street has the tagline “Law & Policy for Our Generation” and a navigation bar with the following categories: news, crime, issues, blogs, schools, cannabis and videos. While the media site has made handful of posts in the last week, the most recently posted article prior to that was from August 2017. There are about 5,000 posts on the site.

Walters says that his goal with the company is to expand it beyond a millennial base.

This marks the second acquisition this year by Fastcase, founded in 1999. This spring the company purchased Docket Alarm, a legal research and litigation prediction tool.

“Lawyers already get their news from Fastcase’s research alerts, and Docket Alarm is itself named after its alerting service,” Walters said in his press statement. “We can’t wait to explore the legal news potential from telling these stories in Law Street Media.”


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