Court Digest

High court suspends judge’s law license

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis County municipal judge has seen her law license suspended for at least two years for mismanaging an announced that held the funds of several clients.

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended the license of Jennifer Fisher. The case against Fisher was opened after the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel received notice of an overdraft on Fisher’s client trust account, according to a case summary issued by the state’s high court.

An audit revealed the trust account’s balance frequently fell below the amount necessary to pay settlement proceeds to clients and that funds were withdrawn from the account before being earned by Fisher.

A disciplinary panel had recommended a year’s probation for Fisher, but the disciplinary council’s office rejected that plan, saying lawyers can’t qualify for probation when the violation includes the misappropriation of funds.

Fisher’s attorney, Bernard Edwards, had argued that Fisher was facing numerous personal challenges, including caring for two family members with physical and mental issues. Fisher also suffered from a medical condition that caused her sleep deprivation, headaches and pain, Edwards said.

A message left Wednesday with the Missouri Municipal and Associate Circuit Judges Association seeking information on whether the suspension will affect Fisher’s ability to serve as a municipal judge was not immediately returned.

Judge: NPR can air recordings of newspaper shooting trial

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — National Public Radio can air audio recordings from the trial of the gunman who killed five Capital Gazette newspaper employees in 2018, a federal judge has ruled in a case challenging Maryland’s ban on broadcasting court proceedings.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bennett on Tuesday permanently barred the state of Maryland from enforcing its “broadcast ban” against NPR, which intends to use audio from the trial of Capital Gazette newsroom shooter Jarrod Ramos in an upcoming episode of its “Embedded” podcast.

Bennett ruled it would be unconstitutional for Maryland to ban NPR from broadcasting recordings of the jury trial for Ramos’ criminal case. NPR’s challenge to the broadcast ban was limited to its use of recordings of Ramos’ court proceedings.

In July, a jury rejected defense attorneys’ mental illness arguments and found Ramos criminally responsible for killing five people at the newspaper’s office in Annapolis. Prosecutors are seeking five life sentences without the possibility of parole when Ramos is sentenced.

The judge already had ruled in NPR’s favor after a hearing Sept. 13, issuing a preliminary injunction that temporarily blocked the law’s enforcement against the radio network. Tuesday’s ruling granted NPR’s request for a permanent injunction.

Bennett’s decision is limited to NPR’s case and does not strike down the broadcast ban.

A broader court challenge to the broadcast ban has not been resolved yet. In June, a three-judge panel from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived a lawsuit in which Baltimore-based journalists and community organizers argue that the broadcast ban is unconstitutional. The appeals court sent the case back to district court.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office, which represented the two state judges sued by NPR, argued that the broadcast ban preserves the “fairness and integrity” of criminal trials.

“The statute does not prohibit any person from describing, transcribing, or reenacting any portion of a criminal trial,” lawyers from Frosh’s office wrote in a court filing. “It bans only methods of communication that depict participants’ images and voices from inside the courtroom.”

Bennett rejected that argument as “prophylactic at best, and speculative at worst.”

“Nothing on the record suggests NPR’s podcast will endanger witnesses or undermine the fairness of the proceedings against Jarrod Ramos — whose trial is concluded, whose sentencing is imminent, and whose potential appeal will not require witness participation,” the judge wrote in his earlier decision.

NPR argued that the broadcast ban violates its First Amendment free speech rights. Bennett agreed, saying the law “constitutes a prior restraint on speech that is irreparable as a matter of law.”

Doctor cleared of COVID-19 vaccine theft sues county

A doctor who was fired after Houston-area public health officials accused him of stealing vials of COVID-19 vaccine to administer to family and friends sued the county Tuesday, accusing it of discriminating against South Asians and issuing disinformation about him.

The lawsuit filed on Dr. Hasan Gokal’s behalf seeks unspecified damages.

Gokal said his supervisor in the Harris County Public Health department and a representative from the department’s human resources office accused him of giving the vaccine to too many people of South Asian origin or descent late the first night of the Moderna vaccine rollout in a north Harris County parking lot last December. All those present had been vaccinated, and there were 10 doses left.

None of the volunteers and police at the rollout wanted them, Gokal said, so he made late-night calls to people he knew, and even his wife, who were eligible to receive the doses. “So that evening, I actually went around making sure all those 10 doses were given out,” he said.

“There wasn’t one single person who was turned down (for vaccination) who was at risk that he could have given it to instead,” said Michael Killingsworth, Gokal’s attorney.

Gokal said he routinely reported and documented what he did. He said he was told, “Oh, you admit it? So, you’re fired.”

“It was stated in no uncertain terms,” Gokal said in a video interview from his Houston attorney’s office Tuesday. “The conversation specifically was, as I was being told I did the wrong things, ‘Well, you didn’t give it out equitably.’ I asked him, ‘Equitably? What do you mean equitably? Are you saying there’s too many Indian names in the group?’ He looks at me and says, ‘Exactly.’”

The department charged him with misdemeanor theft, which a judge dismissed, and reported him to the state’s medical licensing board. County officials still presented the theft case to the grand jury, however, a process that took six months before the jury finally cleared him.

The medical licensing board had cleared him long before then, and he was able to resume practicing emergency medicine at Houston-area hospitals.

A spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office referred requests for a response to the county attorney’s office, which did not immediately return a message.

New York
Second accuser joins lawsuit against billionaire Leon Black

NEW YORK (AP) — A second woman has accused billionaire Leon Black of rape in claims lawyers are seeking to add to a defamation lawsuit filed against him in the spring.

The woman, identified only as Jane Doe, added her claims late Monday to a June lawsuit in New York state court that seeks unspecified damages for a woman who said she was sexually abused and raped by Black over a six-year period.
Black responded to the original claims by saying in a statement that they resulted from a consensual affair, according to court papers.

The new claims brought by a single mother from New Jersey who worked as a receptionist in Manhattan alleges that she was introduced to Jeffrey Epstein, who then arranged for her to meet Black in 2002 for what she assumed might be a $300 massage like she had given Epstein.

Instead, the lawsuit said, Black raped her.

A spokesperson for Black called the claims “complete fiction” and predicted that the courts will view them as frivolous and beyond the reach of a lawsuit because of the statute of limitations.

The suit alleged defamation resulted when Black falsely described the circumstances surrounding his relationship with the woman and payments he subsequently made to her.

The spokesperson said the goal of the litigation appeared to be to publicly destroy the former chief executive of Apollo Global Management’s personal and professional reputation and to defame him with a “baseless smear campaign.”

Epstein, 66, was found dead in his Manhattan federal jail cell in August 2019 as he awaited a sex trafficking trial. An autopsy labeled his death a suicide.

Grand jury charges man in family slaying

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A grand jury has formally charged a Florida man in a 22-count indictment that includes four first-degree murder charges in the fatal shooting of a family authorities say he attacked at random.

Court documents show the indictment was filed Tuesday in Polk County Circuit Court against Bryan Riley. Other charges included attempted murder — one 11-year-old girl survived the Sept. 5 rampage and Riley got into a gunfight with police — kidnapping, arson, burglary and animal cruelty for killing the family dog.

Riley, a 33-year-old former Marine, could ultimately face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted of the murders. Prosecutors have not announced a decision on whether to seek the death penalty.

Riley is being held without bail and has not yet entered a plea to the charges.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd previously said  Riley falsely believed the family was involved in child sex trafficking and that he had been told by God to rescue a purported child victim named “Amber.” There was no child by that name at the home.

Riley chanced upon the family after seeing a man mowing his lawn with a young girl out in the yard that he thought might be the trafficking victim, Judd said.

Officials say Riley, wearing body armor, had three weapons with him and fired at least 100 shots in the main home and a smaller one in back where Catherine Delgado, 62, was the first to be killed.

Law enforcement officers fired about 60 shots in a gun battle that left Riley with a non-life threatening gunshot wound to the abdomen. Riley surrendered after that.

The victims are Justice Gleason, 40; his 33-year-old girlfriend, Theresa Lanham; their baby boy, Jody, who was born in May; and Delgado, who was Lanham’s mother and owned the property. Gleason’s daughter survived despite several gunshot wounds.

Riley served as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan and was working as a security guard in the Lakeland area, including at a church. After that recent job, his girlfriend of four years told investigators Riley began talking about communication with God but not about violence.

New York
R. Kelly says he won’t testify

NEW YORK (AP) — R. Kelly told a judge on Wednesday that he won’t take the witness stand at his sex trafficking trial, meaning he’ll avoid the risk of a potentially brutal cross-examination.

“You don’t want to testify, correct?” U.S. District Judge Ann Connelly asked the R&B singer. He responded: “Yes, ma’am.”

Lawyers had already said Kelly was unlikely to testify in his own behalf. The defense is now expected to rest its case later Wednesday, clearing the way for the start of closing arguments.

The short defense case has relied on a handful of former Kelly employees and other associates who agreed to take the stand to try to discredit allegations that he sexually abused women, girls and boys during a 30-year musical career highlighted by the 1996 smash hit “I Believe I Can Fly.”

Most of the defense witnesses said they never saw Kelly abuse anyone. One went as far to say Kelly was “chivalrous” to his girlfriends. Another admitted he owed Kelly for his break in music business and wanted to see him beat the case.
By contrast, prosecutors have called dozens witnesses since the trial began in federal court in Brooklyn on Aug. 18. They included several female and two male accusers to back up allegations that Kelly used a cadre of managers, bodyguards and assistants to systematically recruit potential victims at his shows, malls and fast-food restaurants where he hung out.

The accusers testified that once they were in Kelly’s web, he groomed them for unwanted sex and psychological torment — mostly when they were teenagers — in episodes dating to the 1990s. Their accounts were supported at least in part by other former Kelly employees whose own testimony suggested they were essentially paid off to look the other way or enable the recording artist.

The 54-year-old defendant, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, has pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges. He’s also charged with that multiple violations of the Mann Act, which makes it illegal to transport anyone across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”

Kelly has vehemently denied the allegations, claiming that the accusers were groupies who wanted to take advantage of his fame and fortune until the #MeToo movement turned them against him.

Members of the media and the public haven’t actually seen the jailed Kelly in person. U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly has barred people not directly involved in the case from the courtroom in what she called a coronavirus precaution.