Court Digest

Court extends blocking release of IDs of cops in DC Jan. 6

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington’s Court of Appeals has granted a request by six Seattle police officers to temporarily extend a restraining order barring the release of records that would identify them as participants in the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally that fueled a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Appeals Court Commissioner Jennifer Koh’s ruling lets a restraining order remain in place pending the court’s review of a King County judge’s ruling that would allow the City of Seattle to disclose the records, The Seattle Times reported.

Koh wrote in a three-page ruling that a “brief additional delay is justified.” The appeals court will expedite the case, with a hearing set for April 2.

The officers have sought to block disclosure of the records since Feb. 23, suing after the city voluntarily notified them it planned to release personnel and investigation records to people who had requested them.

The officers obtained a restraining order to temporarily stop the record release, but lost their bid for a preliminary injunction last week. King County Superior Court Judge Sandra Widlan ruled their argument that public records law exceptions for privacy rights and materials related to open investigations of public employees didn’t apply because the officers had voluntarily attended a highly public event outside the workplace.

But Widlan agreed to extend the temporary restraining order to give the officers a chance to ask the appeals court to review her ruling.

All of the officers have acknowledged attending the Jan. 6 rally as an exercise of “their constitutional rights to free speech.”

At that event, Trump pressed his baseless case for overturning the election to the crowd, fueling the grievances of a mob that then stormed the Capitol and disrupted the confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

But, the officers claimed, none of them participated in the Capitol riot or in any wrongdoing while in Washington, D.C.

At least five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died as a result of the violence at the Capitol, and two other officers killed themselves after. More than 300 people have been charged with federal crimes.

Two days later, after images surfaced on social media of them at the rally, two officers were placed on leave pending an investigation. Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz later ordered officers who had attended the event to report their participation. Four other officers did, and remain working. The city’s Office of Police Accountability is investigating whether any of the officers broke laws or department rules.

Ex-prison officer sentenced for taking bribes

VICTORVILLE, Calif. (AP) — A former federal prison corruption investigator was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months behind bars for taking $15,000 in bribes to smuggle methamphetamine, cellphones and other contraband into a California lockup.

Paul James Hayes II, 52, of Victorville, was sentenced by a federal judge more than a year after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and accepting a bribe, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Hayes worked at the Federal Correctional Complex, Victorville, which is in the Mojave Desert. Before retiring in 2019, Hayes was a lieutenant with a federal prison unit that investigates illegal activity by correctional officers and inmates, according to the statement.

In 2018, Hayes took several cash bribes from a woman in return for smuggling at least four packages of contraband into the high-security penitentiary at the Victorville prison complex, authorities said.

He passed the goods to inmates who distributed them to other prisoners, authorities said.

A co-defendant, Angel Marie Wagner, 44, of Buena Park, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and bribery. She was sentenced in February to two years of probation.

West Virginia
Justices hearing cases virtually for law students

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Supreme Court won’t be making its annual trip to the West Virginia University College of Law in Morgantown this year as a result of COVID-19, but the special docket of cases will be heard virtually.

The school and the court have made arrangements to allow students and the public to watch the arguments online, Chief Justice Evan Jenkins said in a news release.

“We will miss being on campus next week and the opportunity to meet in person with the students, but the Justices are committed to continuing our outreach efforts even in a COVID environment,” Jenkins said.

Documents for the cases have been posted online. The arguments will be streamed March 23 on the court’s YouTube channel through a link on the West Virginia judiciary website.

The court also will judge the finals of the Baker Cup Moot Court appellate advocacy competition at 1 p.m. The final competition will also be livestreamed.

New Jersey
Former worker gets new trial in fake-gun stickup

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A man convicted of using a fake gun to try robbing a McDonald’s restaurant where he once worked has been granted a new trial.

In a unanimous ruling, New Jersey’s Supreme Court held that a trial judge unfairly prevented Thomas Outland from acting as his own attorney at his 2017 trial.

Outland was convicted of conspiracy and possession of an imitation firearm for an unlawful purpose after he and an accomplice were accused of trying to rob a McDonald’s in Union County in 2015.

According to trial testimony cited in Tuesday’s ruling, Outland and the accomplice entered the restaurant and demanded money. But the caper was foiled when an employee noticed that Outland’s shotgun was a fake and called him out on it. When Outland took off his mask, a manager recognized him as a former employee.

Outland laughed, said it was a joke and tried to hug the manager before leaving, according to testimony.

When Outland indicated he wanted to act as his own lawyer, the trial judge questioned him on his knowledge of rules of evidence and other legal concepts.

In awarding a new trial, the Supreme Court ruled the judge’s questions were “more like a bar exam than colloquy to determine whether defendant understood the consequences of acting as his own attorney at trial.”

Court tosses $8M verdict in stuntman’s fatal injury

ATLANTA (AP) — An appeals court has thrown out an $8 million jury verdict awarded to the family of a stuntman who was fatally injured while filming an episode of “The Walking Dead” in 2017.

The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that civil claims brought by the parents of stuntman John Bernecker were barred by the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Bernecker’s family sued AMC Networks, production company Stalwart Films and others in Gwinnett County State Court outside Atlanta after the 33-year-old stuntman died from a head injury suffered while performing a fall from a balcony 25 feet (8 meters) above the ground during filming in the Georgia town of Senoia.

Attorneys for Bernecker’s parents, Susan and Hagen Bernecker, argued those producing the show skimped on safety measures for financial and scheduling concerns. Lawyers for the defendants said the stuntman’s death was an unforeseeable accident.

A civil jury hearing the case in December 2019 found AMC wasn’t negligent, but awarded Bernecker’s parents $8 million from Stalwart Films and others it found to be at fault.

Jeffrey Harris, an attorney for Bernecker’s parents, told the Daily Report  he believes the March 11 ruling by the appeals court was in error. He said he plans to ask the Georgia Supreme Court to review the decision.

New Mexico
Gang member convicted of murder, racketeering

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal court jury has convicted a self-admitted member of a New Mexico prison gang of ordering and participating in the 2008 killing of a man who allegedly disrespected the gang and was left dead, naked and facedown in an icy river.

Jody Rufino Martinez, 41, faces life in prison after the jury on Tuesday found him guilty of racketeering and murder in the death of David Romero, 34, to advance his own standing in the Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico gang, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Martinez, also known as Mono, pleaded not guilty in the case. The initial investigation by New Mexico State Police had gone stale until revived by the FBI in 2019 as part of a wider focus on drug distribution and other violent crimes in northern New Mexico.

When the FBI took over the case, three who allegedly participated with Martinez in the killing of Romero gave new statements implicating him as having ordered the attack and destroying evidence.

Martinez’s defense attorney Nicholas Hart said that according to the government, “Mr. Martinez is guilty by association.”

Hart argued the accomplice testimony was false, concocted and riddled with inconsistencies. He also said two of the members who admitted participating in the slaying have not been charged.

Martinez still faces three counts of assaulting a federal corrections officer, most recently on March 2, as he was about to be transported to his federal trial. He was acquitted of witness tampering in the Romero case.

Martinez is now the 10th member of the gang to be convicted at trial under the federal Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering law. The prosecution stemmed from an ongoing six-year investigation by the FBI to dismantle the criminal enterprise.

Up to 150 Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico gang members and their associates have been arrested. Most have been convicted of crimes that range from racketeering to murder to witness intimidation, authorities said. At least 10 homicides have been solved.

City disputes claims from paraplegic jail inmate

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis officials are disputing claims that a paraplegic inmate hasn’t been able to get clean.

Associate City Counselor Brent Dulle told U.S. District Judge Ronnie White on Wednesday that it was an “untenable” argument that Anthony Tillman is suffering irreparable harm by having to to bathe instead of take a shower, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Tillman sued in federal court last week alleging the downtown jail has no showers for people in wheelchairs and that he has only been provided a basin and a rag for washing. Tillman, his suit says, has a bullet lodged in his back from a 2017 shooting.

Tillman’s lawyers on Wednesday sought a judge’s emergency order that the jail accommodate Tillman’s disability.

Tillman’s lawyer, Emanuel Powell III, said Tillman is entitled to access to an ADA-compliant shower and help washing himself. He said Tillman was injured when he fell in the shower last year.

Dulle said the jail’s doctor concluded Tillman is capable of accessing the shower and washing himself. He said the jail is willing to help him move from his wheelchair to a shower bench or chair.

The judge took Tillman’s request under advisement.

Businessman sues to end ballot drop boxes

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A conservative businessman has filed a lawsuit with the Wisconsin Supreme Court seeking to ban a host of election practices, including ballot drop boxes.

Jere Fabick filed the lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission on Monday. The high court has ordered the commission to respond to be filed by March 30.

Fabick wants the court to stop municipalities from offering absentee ballot drop boxes; bar clerks from filling in missing witness address information on absentee ballots; and prohibit third parties from requesting or returning a ballot for another elector, a practice known as ballot harvesting, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission has allowed municipalities to set up drop boxes and clerks to fill in missing witness address information on absentee ballots if they can discern the information on their own to help the locals navigate a surge of absentee ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fabick argues that the practices aren’t authorized under state law. The lawsuit doesn’t seek to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory, instead asking that the justices ban the practices going forward.

State and local election officials have maintained the November election was conducted lawfully. WEC spokesman Reid Magney referred questions to the state Department of Justice, which will defend the commission.
DOJ spokeswoman Gillian Drummond didn’t immediately respond to an email.