Court Digest

Appeals court sides with teen who spoke out against assault

CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine (AP) — A federal appeals court has ruled that a lower court was justified in blocking the suspension of a Maine high school student who posted a note in a bathroom to draw attention to sexual assault.

Cape Elizabeth schools suspended Aela Mansmann, then a 15-year-old sophomore at Cape Elizabeth High School, after she posted a note in a bathroom that said: "There's a rapist in our school and you know who it is." The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine then took on Aela's case, and a federal judge blocked the suspension while defending Aela's note as free speech.

United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled on Thursday that the lower court was within its right to stop the suspension. The court's ruling states that Aela's actions were "far from the best way" for the student "to express her concerns about student-on-student sexual assault and Cape Elizabeth H.S.'s handling of sexual assault claims."

However, the appeals court also found that the lower court did not abuse its own discretion in stopping the suspension. Cape Elizabeth schools didn't respond to a request for comment.

"I hope this ruling helps more students speak up about sexual assault, and other topics that are important to them," Aela said in a statement issued by the ACLU.

United Arab Emirates
Federal suit filed against Saudi crown prince by ex-official

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A former top Saudi counterterrorism official has filed a federal lawsuit in the United States against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, alleging the royal tried to trap and kill him in the U.S. and Canada.

The lawsuit filed by Saad Aljabri is the latest effort by the former intelligence official to try and bring about international and public pressure on the crown prince, following years of silence in exile abroad.
Aljabri's lawsuit claims the crown prince has detained two of his children in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to force him back to the kingdom because of the sensitive information he knows regarding the inner workings of the royal court and kingdom's leadership. It also alleges that the prince's efforts to kill him continue to this day.

Attempts by Saudi Arabia to forcibly return certain citizens who reside abroad began attracting global attention after the killing of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi agents who worked for the crown prince. Khashoggi was slain inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey in an operation the Saudis claim was initially an effort to forcibly bring him back to Saudi Arabia.

The crown prince denies he had any knowledge of the operation, but Western intelligence agencies and the U.S. Senate have declared the prince ultimately responsible for Khashoggi's killing.

Aljabri's lawsuit follows years of silence by the former intelligence official, who left the kingdom quietly around the time his former boss, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, fell from power. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef had been the kingdom's feared interior minister and was crown prince before he was ousted from the line of succession and stripped of his powers in 2017 by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose father is king.

The formerly powerful prince was detained in March along with others by bin Salman's forces, but he has yet to face formal charges. That is also when two of Aljabri's children were reportedly detained, after earlier being barred from traveling abroad.

Both Aljabri and his former boss had worked closely with the C.I.A. in counterterrorism operations, and are well-known among intelligence officials in Washington. The two were among Washington's steadiest counterterrorism partners in the Middle East following the 9/11 attacks.

In a press release accompanying details of the lawsuit, it is claimed that Aljabri is also being targeted for suspicion that his close relationship with members of the C.I.A. helped the agency reach its conclusions about Prince Mohammed's alleged involvement in Khashoggi's death.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington and the Royal Court did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Aljabri has also not responded to repeated attempts over the years by The Associated Press to contact him.

While the Saudi government has not officially commented on Aljabri, it has issued extradition requests and Interpol notices. Saudi officials have also told the Wall Street Journal he is wanted for corruption involving billions of dollars during his time at the interior ministry.

Al-Jabri's lawsuit claims the crown prince deployed operatives into the United States to track him down and that members of a "kill team" were dispatched for him in Canada just two weeks after the same squad killed Khashoggi in October 2018.

The statement claims the effort was thwarted by Canadian border security officials.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of D.C., names a number of Saudi officials as defendants, including Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed Assiri, former top advisors to the crown prince who were implicated in the killing of Khashoggi but were found not guilty by a Saudi court. Bader al-Asaker, a close confidante of the crown prince and secretary-general of MiSK, a non-profit founded by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is also named.

In recent months Aljabri's son Khalid Aljabri has been speaking to some U.S. media outlets, such as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times, about his father and detained siblings, Sarah and Omar.

Appeals court revives House lawsuit for McGahn's testimony

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court in Washington on Friday revived House Democrats' lawsuit to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to appear before a congressional committee, but left other legal issues unresolved with time growing short in the current Congress.

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voted 7-2 in ruling that the House Judiciary Committee can make its claims in court, reversing the judgment of a three-judge panel that would have ended the court fight.

The matter now returns to the panel for consideration of other legal issues. The current House of Representatives session ends on Jan. 3. That time crunch means "the chances that the Committee hears McGahn's testimony anytime soon are vanishingly slim," dissenting Judge Thomas Griffith wrote. Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson also dissented.

The Judiciary Committee first subpoenaed McGahn in April 2019 as it examined potential obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump during special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
Trump directed McGahn not to appear and the Democratic-led panel filed a federal lawsuit to force McGahn to testify.

A trial judge ruled in November that the president's close advisers do not have the absolute immunity from testifying to Congress that the administration claimed. Griffith and Henderson formed the majority when the appellate panel said in February that the Constitution forbids federal courts from refereeing this kind of dispute between the other two branches of government.

On Friday, the full court said the panel reached the wrong decision. Lawmakers can ask the courts "for judicial enforcement of congressional subpoenas when necessary," Judge Judith Rogers wrote.

Congress needs detailed information about the executive branch for both oversight and impeachment, she wrote.

House lawmakers had sought McGahn's testimony because he was a vital witness for Mueller, whose report detailed the president's outrage over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump's efforts to curtail it.

In interviews with Mueller's team, McGahn described being called at home by the president on the night of June 17, 2017, and being directed to call the Justice Department and say Mueller had conflicts of interest and should be removed. McGahn declined the command, deciding he would resign rather than carry it out, the report said.

Once that episode became public in the news media, Mueller's report said, the president demanded that McGahn dispute the news stories and asked him why he had told Mueller about it and why he had taken notes of their conversations. McGahn refused to back down.

If McGahn is ever to testify, it's unclear his testimony would include any new revelations beyond what Mueller has already released. Mueller concluded that he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice but also that there was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy between Trump's campaign and Russia.

Seattle brothers sentenced to 40 years in homeless shooting

SEATTLE (AP) — Two brothers were sentenced to 40 years in prison each after they were found guilty of fatally shooting two people and injuring three others during a 2016 robbery at a former homeless encampment, a judge said.

King County Superior Court Judge Sean O'Donnell sentenced 22-year-old James Taafulisia and 20-year-old Jerome Taafulisia on Thursday, ending a case that had previously resulted in two mistrials, The Seattle Times reported.

The shooting occurred on January 2016 at an encampment below Interstate 5 as a result of a planned robbery of a drug dealer who reportedly owed their mother money.

The night of the shooting six masked men, including the brothers, went to the encampment to target Phat Nguyen, who was seated around a fire pit with others. Nguyen was shot in the stomach, but survived.

Nguyen's girlfriend, Tracy Bauer, and Amy Jo Shinault were each shot in the back, but also survived.

James Tran, 31, and Jeanine Brooks, 45, also known as Jeanine Zapata, died at the scene.

The brothers were minors at the time, but were charged as adults. They stood trial three times — the first two in August 2018 and March 2019 ended in mistrials.

The Taafulisias' younger brother, who was 13 at the time and also at the scene, was convicted in juvenile court of murder and assault charges in the case in 2018. He will remain in custody until his 20th birthday.

Court date reset for 3 in Vegas 'boogaloo' terror plot case

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Arraignment was postponed Thursday in Nevada state court for three men accused of plotting to firebomb a Las Vegas racial injustice protest in May to spark violence and advance views of an extremist anti-government "boogaloo" group.

Stephen Parshall, Andrew Lynam and William Loomis were not brought in custody to Las Vegas from a private detention facility in rural Pahrump, where they're being held on separate but similar federal charges.

Prosecutor Michael Dickerson told Judge Valerie Adair that authorities have been unable to arrange video appearances for the men from the CoreCivic Southern Nevada Detention Center.

The judge reset to Aug. 27 the Clark County District Court hearing for what defense attorneys say will be not-guilty pleas to four felony charges. Adair then would schedule trial.

The men already are scheduled for trial Nov. 31 in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas on federal conspiracy and firearm charges.

They were arrested together May 30 by police and the FBI while allegedly preparing gasoline-rag-and-glass-bottle firebombs on the way to a Las Vegas protest following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

Boogaloo refers to a loosely organized internet-rooted network of gun enthusiasts who generally express support for overthrowing the U.S. government.

Ex-death row inmate's rape, murder conviction overturned

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former death-row inmate's conviction in the rape and killing of a woman in Connecticut was overturned by the state Supreme Court, which ruled his rights were violated when he made admissions to a fellow prisoner.

In a decision released Thursday afternoon, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Lazale Ashby, now 35, for the Dec. 2, 2002 rape, kidnapping and killing of Elizabeth Garcia in Hartford, the Hartford Courant reported.

Prosecutors plan to retry Ashby.

The court found that Ashby was entitled to representation by a lawyer when speaking with the other inmate, Kenneth Pladsen, because Pladsen had previously communicated with authorities about getting Ashby to incriminate himself.

The finding overruled Judge Carmen Espinosa, who had concluded during the trial that Pladsen acted on his own and not at the direction of now-retired Hartford police Det. Andrew Weaver, with whom he had previously conversed, when he coaxed Ashby into incriminating himself.

Ashby was previously sentenced to death after being convicted of multiple crimes. His sentence was later changed to life without the possibility of release, plus 125 years, after the Supreme Court abolished the state's death penalty in 2015.

Ashby is also serving a 25-year sentence in another case — for murder in the fatal shooting of Nahshon Cohen, 22, on Sept. 1, 2003.

Prosecutor John Fahey told the Courant on Thursday that the state will try Ashby again for the rape, kidnapping and killing of Garcia.