Archive for the 'Lawyers' Category

Obstruction of Justice: What Does it Mean for President Trump?

Irony hits even the most powerful among us. After spending months trying to persuade Director Comey to tell the public that he wasn’t personally under investigation, Donald Trump wakes up on his birthday to find that he is being investigated by Special Counsel Mueller for obstruction of justice. Since obstruction is the same crime that undid President Nixon and almost brought down President Clinton, Mr. Trump finds himself in hostile legal waters. What exactly is obstruction of justice? Is there another evidence for the investigation that Special Counsel Mueller is committing? And is there enough evidence for impeachment?

Obstruction of JusticeWhat Is Obstruction of Justice?

Congress has defined obstruction of justice under Title 18 Section 1519 of the U.S. Code as:

“Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsified, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under Title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

To obtain a conviction, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the act and that the defendant intended to commit the act. For instance, if a defendant killed someone with a car but didn’t intend to, then the defendant can’t be guilty of murder since one element, intent, is missing. Similarly, a defendant who intended to kill someone with his car, but didn’t actually kill the person, cannot be guilty of murder because the act of murder was not committed (although attempted murder or assault would be easier to prove in that instance).

To be sure, the key here would be intent. Since we are dealing with the Presidency here, many of the actions Trump could take to obstruct the investigation would usually be legal. Normally, a President has the power to decide which types of cases the Justice Department should prosecute or fire an FBI Director. Therefore, any investigation regarding obstruction would need to focus on intent. Checking abuse of power is not about whether the power was used, but whether the power was used for improper goals. If Trump fired Director Comey because he truly believed that was best for the nation, then it would not be obstruction. On the other hand, if Trump fired Directory Comey because he didn’t want to see Flynn imprisoned, then it would be obstruction unless the President could explain why preventing Flynn from being prosecuted was in the best interests of the nation.

Establishing intent is always a challenge for prosecutors, as intent deals with what a defendant is thinking rather than what a defendant is doing. Obviously, if there is a “smoking gun” like the Nixon tapes, then proving intent would be a lot easier. However, the law doesn’t always require a smoking gun. If the facts and circumstances of a case suggest a pattern and practice of corrupt intent, that may be enough to tip the balance. Republicans would be wise to avoid examining specific verbiage such as “I hope you can let this go” and focus on the overall picture forming – whether the President has a pattern of removing people who ask too many questions about the Russian investigation and the Trump campaign.

Is There Enough Evidence For An Investigation?

The standard for a criminal conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, if we’re asking whether there is enough evidence for an investigation to ensure we’re not just perpetuating “a witch hunt,” the standard would likely be probable cause. For example, a police officer only needs probable cause to pull a car over. Only after the officer arrests the driver and the prosecutor charges the driver with a DUI will the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard be applied.

With all the talking points about “fake news,” it’s important to create a base line of facts that reasonable people can agree on. After determining which facts are 100% true, we can determine whether they warrant an investigation. So far, the agreed upon timeline appears to be:

This is a long chain of events, so let’s parse through it. Prosecutors, i.e. Mueller and his team, would be looking to fit these events with the two elements for obstruction, the act of impending the investigation, and the intent to do so. In this list, terminating Comey, the tweet about releasing tapes should Comey “leak to the press,” and threatening to terminate Mueller might be considered acts of obstruction. Removing the leading investigators could derail the investigation, although White House Spokeswoman Sanders claims the investigation would continue even after Comey left.

The White House would argue that these actions, terminating an FBI Director and considering the termination of a Special Counselor, are completely legal actions. However, while the actions might normally be legitimate, case law does state that if otherwise legal actions are done for corrupt reasons, then those otherwise legal actions would themselves become illegal. For example, if a prosecutor brings charges against a political opponent and a court later finds that the prosecutor acted based on politics, not law, then the action would become illegitimate, even though it is normally a prosecutor’s job to bring charges.

This idea can also be found in employment law; an employer can fire an employee for any reason, except for illegal ones, such as racial discrimination. Looking through the justifications that the White House gave for firing James Comey, it is very likely that the President gave a bunch of pretexts to mask the fact that he terminated the FBI Director for not dropping the investigation into Michael Flynn.

Of course, it is also possible that Trump had other motivations for firing Comey. Perhaps all Trump wanted was for Comey to announce that the President was not personally under investigation. Or maybe Trump really wanted Comey to say he was “loyal” and not just “honest.” We don’t really know, but if there is a potential for improper and illegal intentions, then its worthy of investigation. If the investigation cannot eliminate these foolish-but-not-illegal intentions, then the investigation will likely be a bust. But if the investigation has evidence to show that the illegal intention was the actual cause of these terminations, then the case would move to Congress to consider impeachment.

“Wonder Woman” Screening for Women Only Opens Theater to Lawsuit

The new Wonder Woman movie seems to be a big hit with crowds, but one theater in Austin is drawing sharp criticism.  Alamo Drafthouse unveiled “women only” screenings of the movie, to celebrate the “only woman superhero, directed by a woman, to hit theaters EVER.” Alamo Drafthouse also promised to staff only women at the event. The screenings were scheduled for June 6th and only women were admitted. The screenings sold out within hours of the announcement.

The announcement drew online criticism, mostly from men. One of those men, Stephen Clark, a law professor at Albany Law School and LGBT Rights Advocate, filed an administrative complaint with Austin’s Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office, alleging discrimination against male customers and male employees. The City has promised to investigate the complaints.

wonder womanWill the Complaints Be Successful?

There are two alleged complaints, discrimination against male customers and discrimination against male employees. The latter probably won’t get very far. In order to have a successful employment suit, there must be some injury or loss that the employee suffers, such as a pay cut, termination, or demotion. Although Alamo Drafthouse is only planning to have women serve the female only screenings, the men who would normally work at the Alamo Drafthouse were not removed. There are other movie screenings that the men can work at and they are still working at the same rate and for the same pay as their female counterparts at the women only Wonder Woman screenings. Without further evidence of injury on the part of the employees, the complaint on behalf of the men working at the theater probably won’t get too far.

The more controversial case would be the male customers who feel discriminated against. Alamo Drafthouse claims that there is no discrimination because there are other screenings going on at the same time in the same theater that do not have restrictions on gender. Men can see the same movie at the same time and it would be the same experience as the women only screening. The only difference is that they are held in separate locations.

The problem is that Alamo Drafthouse’s argument sounds too much like “separate but equal,” which was prohibited by the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board.  Of course, the difference is that the Court found that the segregated institutions of the south had discriminatory intent behind them; the purpose of that segregation was to exclude African Americans. Alamo Drafthouse can try to argue that their purpose is to celebrate and empower women, not to demean men. “This is a celebration of a character that has meant a lot to women since 1940.”

Where Do We Go from Here?

The biggest issue here is probably the marketing. Instead of “women-only” or “no men allowed,” the theater would be on better legal footing if this was sold as an event that celebrated women, but didn’t exclude men. We still live in a world where sex and gender are largely viewed as binary elements. An advantage for one group is often perceived as a disadvantage for the other. This is a big problem when each of the two groups make up half the human race. Like so many other discrimination issues, both sides have divergent understands of “equality and fairness.” One side strives for equality by treating both sides as equal from the present forward. The other believes that equality can be best achieved by acknowledging the past and trying best to correct those prior wrongs.

In this case, many of the men are willing to let women participate in events that once excluded women, but feel that women are not negotiating in good faith when some women demand events that exclude men. The women believe that the past cannot be over until women are not only allowed in to events that they were once excluded from, but also given a space where they feel they will not be discriminated against. Neither side is wrong, but the struggle will continue until both sides feel secure about everyone’s rights.

Anti-Seizure Medication: What Your Doctor Might Not Have Told You

Many people in the United States suffer from epilepsy and other disorders that can cause seizures and this affects every aspect of their lives. From not having the legal ability to drive a car to the simple fact that a seizure can often happen without warning, those who suffer from these crippling disorders depend on a variety of medications to keep their seizures under control.

Physicians who specialize in or are familiar with the nature of seizures and their causes treat their patients with the best medications available that are right for them. As is the norm, new medications arrive to the consumer market all the time and some of these new drugs may find their way into a seizure sufferer’s hands.

Again, most of these drugs work anti-seizure medicationwell and allow seizure patients to lead healthy and more normal lives. However, as with most drugs, side effects are always a risk and some of the risks associated with anti-seizure medications can be very serious.

If you’re taking an anti-seizure medication these are a few things you should know about their side effects and learn more about how to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have.

Types of Seizures

Regardless of the underlying cause seizures are classified by type. These types vary due the patient’s condition, age, and even menstrual cycle. These are some of the types of seizures that healthcare experts have classified.

  • Absence seizures. These are generally mild and consist of short periods of “spacing out.” These were previously called petit mal seizures.
  • Atonic seizures. These are brief seizures that result in a loss of muscle tension. They rarely last longer than 15 seconds.
  • Catamenial seizures. These seizures occur at varying times during a woman’s menstrual cycle and are generally hormone related.
  • Dravet Syndrome. This syndrome begins in the first year of an infant’s life and the seizures increase in frequency as the child ages.
  • Focal seizure. These seizures are among the most unpredictable as the seizure can begin in any part of the brain resulting in differing levels of seizure activity.
  • Myoclonic seizures. These seizures involve brief shaking or jerking of the muscles. The patient is generally conscious during this type of seizure.
  • Tonic Clonic seizure. Previously called a grand mal seizure, a tonic clonic seizure involves the shaking or jerking of the entire body and the patient loses consciousness. These seizures can last from one to three minutes. Anything longer than five minutes is a medical emergency.

Seizure Medications and Their Side Effects

Physicians prescribe a number of different medications for seizure related disorders and one of the more popular of these medications is Dilantin (phenytoin). Dilantin works by decreasing certain activities in the brain that can result in seizures.

However, as with any drug, dilantin comes with side effects and some of them have been severe. Dilantin’s interactions with other medications can also cause life-threatening side effects. Be very clear with your doctor about any medications you are taking if you are prescribed Dilantin.

anti seizure medicationOne of the most serious concerns about Dilantin is during pregnancy. It’s a conflicting issue because discontinuing the use of the drug while pregnant can cause seizures that can be very harmful for the mother and unborn child. On the other hand, Dilantin has been known to cause some serious birth defects ranging from cleft palate to heart defects. It’s vital that you discuss this with your doctor if you are pregnant and taking Dilantin. If taking Dilantin has affected your pregnancy or baby, you may have recourse against the pharmaceutical company.

Dilantin also decreases the effectiveness of hormone-based birth control which can result in irregular periods, spotting, bleeding, and pregnancy. Talk with your doctor about alternative methods of birth control if you take Dilantin.

People with low vitamin D levels or who have osteoporosis should also take Dilantin with caution. The drug is known to contribute to bone loss and this could become more severe if thinning of the bones is already a health concern.

Dilantin has also been associated with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and Purple Glove Syndrome, both of which are skin disorders that can be fatal and need immediate medical attention if they happen.

Dilantin has been a lifesaver for many people who suffer from seizures but it has also caused many people lasting problems due to the side effects. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any side effects that you experience and if those side effects have impacted your life in a severe way you might also want to speak with an attorney. After all, you can’t be too careful when it comes to your health.


Authored by Thomas J. Henry, a renowned trial attorney who has been practicing personal injury law in Texas for more than 25 years. He has represented victims of catastrophic trucking and auto accidents, on-the-job accidents, medical malpractice claims, and many other claims across the United States.

Attorney General Sessions is Under Fire for Ties to Russia

The Trump administration just can’t seem to stay away from scandal. Or Russia.

President Trump’s recently appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions is under hot water for some statements he made during his confirmation hearing. When asked what he would do if evidence emerged implicating that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government during the course of the campaign, Sessions replied that he “did not have communications with Russians.” Now, we’ve discovered that Sessions had communications with Russia twice. Specifically, Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in July and then at his office in September.

Attorney GeneralDid Sessions Commit Perjury?

The American Civil Liberties Union wants the Attorney General investigated for perjury. Perjury is defined as willfully giving false testimony under oath or affirmation.

While it seems like Sessions would be guilty of lying under oath, it doesn’t necessarily mean he perjured himself. Perjury requires proof that the person “willfully” made a statement he knew to be untrue. This means Sessions must have lied on purpose instead of making an accidental falsehood. This would not only be extremely hard to prove, but Sessions himself clarified that he “did not recall any discussions with the Russian ambassador, or any other representative of the Russian government, regarding the political campaign on these occasions or any other occasion.” Sessions continued to claim that he misinterpreted the question and thought he was being asked whether he was a Trump surrogate that continuously met with Russian officials. Finally, Sessions argued he met with Kislyak in his official capacity as a senator, not as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.

Perjury is a felony that carries a possible prison sentence, plus fines and probation. Certainly if Sessions is investigated and found to have committed perjury, he will be forced to resign as Attorney General and may face incarceration.

Recusal

Due to the controversy surrounding his ties to Russia, Sessions decided to recuse himself from any investigations by the Justice Department into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Recusal is a common tool used when a person of power has a potential conflict of interest. For example, a judge must recuse himself from presiding over case if he has an interest in the subject matter or a personal relationship with one of the attorneys in the case. Here, Sessions made his decision after consulting with Justice Department officials who recommended he should no longer participate in the investigation.

Russia and the Bigger Picture

Regardless of whether Sessions willfully intended to deceive Congress during his confirmation hearing, he is now the fifth person affiliated with the Trump administration that has ties to Russia. Most recently, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was discovered to have had an undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador back in December. As a result, Flynn resigned from his post.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and current senior adviser, also had a meeting at Trump Tower with Flynn and the Russian ambassador during campaign season. The extent and frequency of any of Trump’s inner circle to Russia remains unclear.

The possible secret ties between the Trump campaign and Russia have more serious implications than simply lying under oath and committing perjury. The real question is why – why did they lie about their ties to Russia? Conspiracy theorists have wondered whether Russia is blackmailing President Trump. They theorize that Trump borrowed money from Russia to keep his personal businesses afloat in the early 90s after a string of bankruptcies, which could explain why Trump refused to release his tax returns. They further believe Russia has some sort of incriminating information about Trump.

With so many ties to Russia, we have to wonder how far up the totem pole these Russian ties go. Do they go all the way to the President?

Understanding President Trump’s Muslim-Based Immigration Ban

Since President Trump’s inauguration, his presidency has been fraught with controversy. Trump ran his presidential campaign on a platform that pledged he would “Make America Great Again.” Among his promises were to bar immigration from Muslim nations. Now he’s trying to make good on his promise.

As one of his first orders of business, President Trump signed an executive order on Friday that indefinitely suspends admissions for Syrian refugees to the United States. It further banned all refugees from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen from entering the United States while prioritizing Christian refugees.

What Exactly Does the Order Do?

Under a guise of protecting Americans from acts of terrorism, President Trump calls his order “extreme vetting” of immigrants. He is careful not to call it a “Muslim Ban.” Instead the order is titled, “Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” and it will restrict entry from countries with a “history of terrorism.”

The order will suspend the entire U.S. Refugee Admissions program for 120 days, thereby blocking all refugees from all countries from resettling in the United States. Additionally, people from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Iran will be barred from entering the United States for 90 days regardless of if they have valid visas. After the 90 days, permanent visa bans could be enacted for those countries and for others. The order also caps the amount of refugees who may be admitted to the United States at 50,000 immigrants, down 60,000 from last year.

Donald Trump

What is an Executive Order?

An executive order is an official statement from the President of the United States regarding how federal agencies are to use their resources. So long as the order is not against any existing laws, they are legally binding for federal agencies. The President is not creating new laws, but instead instructing the government how it must work within the confines of existing law set by the Constitution and Congress. While the Supreme Court may overturn any executive order, it is very rare. Congress may also limit executive orders.

What exactly gives the President such powers? Article II of the Constitution gives the President broad powers under “executive actions.” Executive actions generally are known to include executive orders, but they also include presidential memorandums (basically a step below executive powers), proclamations and directives.

Is a Muslim Ban Legal?

People are already questioning the legality of President Trump’s Muslim ban. Executive orders are legal so long as they do not conflict with existing law. Trump cannot, for example, sign an executive order requiring torture of any enemy combatant. Congress issued a law banning torture of U.S. prisoners back in 2015, and any order allowing torture would fly in the face of existing law.

In the 19th Century, the U.S. enacted laws which excluded all Chinese and almost all Japanese from entering the country. Based on this discriminatory history, Congress passed a law more than 50 years ago that outlawed discrimination against immigrants based on national origin. So no, Trump’s discriminatory Muslim-based ban is not legal. Because Trump is targeting Muslim-majority countries while prioritizing Christian refugees, he couldn’t even argue his order does not deliberately discriminate against Muslims, although he will.

On Saturday, the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) obtained an emergency stay from a federal New York judge which temporarily halts the deportation of refugees detained in the United States after Trump issued his Muslim-ban. This means that any immigrant, and certainly those from Muslim-majority countries, cannot be deported back to their home country despite Trump’s executive order.

Something to Remember

It’s also important to note that President Trump’s proposed list of banned countries does not include Muslim-majority countries where he has business links. Notably absent from the Muslim ban are Turkey, where Trump has two luxury towers, the United Arab Emirates, where Trump has golf courses, and Egypt, the location of two Trump business companies. Surely, this presents a potential conflict of interest where he is electing not to ban certain Muslim-majority countries because of his business ties, even though these countries also have a history of terrorism.

With all the controversy surrounding Trump’s first full week of office and his approval rating going down steadily, only time will tell whether he will hold firm on his Muslim-based immigration ban.