TIME Law

U.S. Judge Grants Investigators Access to Gmail Accounts in Criminal Probes

The judge says the law already supports giving investigators access to documents simply to determine whether they're warrantable or not.

A New York federal judge ruled on Friday that prosecutors have a legal right to access Gmail-based emails in criminal probes that involve money laundering, a sharp turnaround from previous rulings in comparable cases and an alarm bell for privacy advocates.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein said that his decision was based on a law already on the books that allows investigators to seize documents–which Gorenstein interpreted as including emails–to determine whether data should be subject to a warrant, Reuters reports.

The big question is what happens if a user’s email account doesn’t yield any information that would justify a legal warrant, and how much public support lies behind the idea of privileging high profile investigations over personal privacy.

[Reuters]

TIME Autos

GM’s Mary Barra Faces Another Capitol Hill Mauling

General Motors CEO Mary Barra Testifies Before Senate Committee About GM's Recalls
CEO of the General Motors Company Mary Barra testifies during a hearing before the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on July 17, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Barra is headed to the Senate for her fourth congressional hearing since record series of recalls began in February

Senators grilled GM’s general counsel Michael Millikin during a hearing Thursday after an internal investigation released last month found that his legal team knew of safety concerns linked to a faulty ignition switch for several years before recalls were announced in 2014.

“How in the world, in the aftermath of this report, did Michael Milliken keep his job?” asked Sen. Claire McCaskill, chair of the Subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety, and insurance, which held the hearing. “It is very clear that the culture of lawyering up and Whac-A-Mole to minimize liability in individual lawsuits killed innocent customers of general motors.”

“The failure of this legal department is stunning,” she said.

CEO Mary Barra, making her fourth hearing appearance on Capitol Hill since the company began massive recalls this year related to the ignition switch problem that has been linked to at least 13 deaths, was largely praised by Senators for her handling of the scandal, which erupted just weeks after she assumed the post.

Thursday’s hearing came in the wake of a New York Times report that found that GM withheld information from regulators inquiring about fatal accidents. Citing documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that GM “repeatedly found a way not to answer the simple question from regulators of what led to a crash.” In some cases, GM said it had not conducted an assessment and in others it simply declined to provide an answer. In another case, the company cited attorney-client privilege.

The hearing in Congress aimed to focus on accountability in corporate culture, as lawmakers aim to keep corporations from covering up safety concerns. Three senators introduced a bill on Wednesday that would impose criminal penalties for corporate executives who hide product dangers.

Milliken says he was not informed about the safety concerns until February of this year, and Barra defended her decision not to fire him. “He is a man of high integrity,” she said.

Following the internal investigation last month, GM fired 15 employees and Barra blamed “a pattern of management deficiencies and misjudgments.” But she said the probe found no deliberate cover-up by the company.

The Justice Department is separately investigating why it took the company more than a decade to address the problem.

Barra and Millikin were joined at the hearing by Anton Valukas, who headed up the internal report, and Rodney O’Neal, the head of the ignition switch supplier, Delphi. Kenneth Feinberg, who is administering GM’s compensation payments, also took questions from lawmakers about the compensation program.

TIME Law

FAA Investigates Congressman’s Drone Wedding Video

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in Capitol hill in 2013.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in the Capitol in 2013. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The Federal Aviation Administration indicated Wednesday that it is investigating whether a video of a congressman’s wedding last month violated the agency’s ban on drone flights for commercial purposes.

The agency’s carefully worded statement doesn’t mention Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., by name, but said it was looking into “a report of an unmanned aircraft operation in Cold Spring, New York, on June 21 to determine if there was any violation of federal regulations or airspace restrictions.”

Maloney has acknowledged hiring a photographer to produce a video of his wedding using a camera mounted on a small drone. The wedding took place in Cold Spring on June 21. Maloney is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s aviation subcommittee, which oversees the FAA.

Top agency officials have testified extensively before Congress about their concern that commercial drones could collide with manned aircraft or injure people on the ground. Congress has been pressing the FAA to move faster on creating regulations that will allow commercial drones access to U.S. skies. The agency has been working on regulations for about a decade.

“On their wedding day, Sean and Randy were focused on a ceremony 22 years in the making, not their wedding photographer’s camera mounted on his remote control helicopter,” Stephanie Formas, spokeswoman for Maloney, said in a statement.

The FAA has approved a few limited commercial drone operations. But the agency has also been sending letters to commercial operators across the country — including other videographers and companies that hire videographers — to cease their drone flights or face fines.

One videographer, Raphael Pirker, challenged the $10,000 fine the FAA tried to level against him for flying a small drone in an allegedly reckless manner near the University of Virginia. An administrative law judge sided with Pirker, whose attorney argued the agency can’t ban commercial drone flights when it hasn’t formally adopted safety rules governing drone flights. The FAA has appealed the case to the five-member National Transportation Safety Board. A decision is expected this fall.

Formas, citing the judge’s ruling, said there was “no enforceable FAA rule” or regulation that applied to “a model aircraft like the helicopter used in the ceremony.”

The wedding photographer subcontracted Parker Gyokeres of Propellerheads Aerial Photography in Trenton, New Jersey, to shoot the video. Gyokeress posted outtakes of the wedding on his company’s website and created a YouTube video.

TIME Military

Lawyer: Bergdahl ‘Deeply Grateful’ to Obama

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for nearly five years before being released in May. U.S. Army / Getty Images

Army sergeant held by Taliban believes President’s decision “saved his life,” his attorney Eugene Fidell tells TIME

No one’s heard anything yet from Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the former prisoner-of-war freed in a May 31 swap for five Taliban leaders after nearly five years as a Taliban prisoner. He hasn’t spoken to the press—by all accounts, he hasn’t even spoken to his parents. But, in typical American fashion, he has retained—and spoken to—an attorney.

“Sergeant Bergdahl is deeply grateful to President Obama for having saved his life,” Eugene Fidell, retained a week ago by the soldier, told TIME on Wednesday.

Fidell has traveled to Texas—where Bergdahl has returned to active duty at a desk job in San Antonio following his “re-integration” back into the service—to discuss with his client the investigation into the circumstances leading up to Bergdahl’s abduction in 2009. The attorney declined to offer any insights into Bergdahl’s mood, legal defense, or relationship with his family. Bergdahl also has an Army lawyer.

Eugene Fidell Yale

But Fidell did suggest the case—now being investigated by a two-star Army major general—is more complicated than he originally thought. That’s saying something: Fidell is a prominent military-law expert who lectures at Yale Law School on the topic, and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

“Before I was in the case, I was skeptical that the investigation called for a major general,” Fidell says. “I thought that a talented lieutenant colonel would be more than enough horsepower—I thought it was overkill.” Army officials say Major General Kenneth Dahl has yet to interview Bergdahl.

Fidell said he has changed his mind as he has dived into the case. “Based on what I now know about the complexity of the issues, which are in a number of spheres that I’m not going to get into, I understand why the Army thought that a general officer should be involved,” Fidell adds. “I now understand why management thought that it was a good idea to have a two-star officer doing this investigation.”

The lawyer, who has taken the case pro bono—without pay—declined to discuss the specifics that led him to change his mind. But Bergdahl’s case is complex: according to the soldiers with whom he served, Bergdahl simply walked away from his combat outpost in June 2009 before being captured by the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Some of those troops have called Bergdahl a deserter, and alleged that fellow soldiers died hunting for him.

Questions also surround the Army’s decision to allow Bergdahl to enlist, two years after he washed out of Coast Guard boot camp after only 26 days. And lawmakers on Capitol Hill have criticized Obama for giving up five senior Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, now 28.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told TIME on Tuesday that he doesn’t believe the swap was in the nation’s interest. “We were duty bound to bring him back, but I think we’re duty bound to bring him back in the right way,” said the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee. “What other opportunities were there for us to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release besides releasing these five high-ranking Taliban officials?…we did increase the risk to Americans and American interests by releasing these five.”

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said that Bergdahl is now free to come and go like any other soldier. “He’s free to leave base…he’s not under any particular restrictions,” Kirby said. “And I would remind you, he’s not been charged with anything.”

TIME Drugs

Colorado Selling Over 10 Tons of Pot Every Month

Marijuana photographed inside the Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colo., Jan. 9, 2014.
Marijuana photographed inside the Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colo., Jan. 9, 2014. Matthew Staver—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Annual market demand roughly 130 metric tons a year, state study finds

Correction appended, July 10

The estimated annual market demand for marijuana in Colorado is roughly 130 metric tons, according to the first post-legalization study of the market.

The study, released by state regulators, used actual sales data to draw up the figure rather than rely on survey responses as studies have done in the past, and was able to provide some revealing information.

Surveys have estimated that a third of marijuana users consumed the drug less than once a month, according to the Associated Press. But the study found that those users comprise only .3 percent of the total market, meaning the most of the marijuana is consumed by heavy, more regular users.

The study’s estimate for total market demand, which includes both medical and recreational marijuana, surpassed past figures by nearly a third. The analysis found that demand from residents hovers around 121 metric tons and demand from visitors stands at around 9 metric tons.

But in some of the Colorado’s vacation spots, out-of-staters account for as much as 90 percent of the recreational dispensary traffic. According to the study, legal marijuana is, on average, going for $220 per ounce.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly suggested that the study contradicted previous findings about infrequent marijuana users in Colorado.

TIME Google

Yelp Just Threw a Monkey Wrench Into Google’s Billion-Dollar Antitrust Case

Yelp Opposes Google EU Antitrust Settlement
Joaquin Almunia, competition commissioner for the European Union, speaks during an interview in Washington, D.C., in 2012. Bloomberg via Getty Images

At least 20 complaints in the case investigating if Google search results are anticompetitive by favoring its own products

Yelp has joined those opposed to the European Union’s proposed antitrust settlement with Google, opponents of which believe the American search giant has not been fully prosecuted for its ostensibly self-promoting search engine.

Yelp filed a formal complaint against the E.U.’s proposed settlement on June 1, though it was only recently surfaced. In the complaint, Yelp accuses Google’s search engine of favoring Google Plus Local, according to the New York Times. Google Plus Local directly competes with Yelp, an increasingly popular site where users can discover, rate and review local businesses.

Google avoided a multibillion-dollar antitrust fine when it reached a provisional deal with European regulators in February, in which it agreed to alter its display of search results. The E.U.’s antitrust commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, is expected to finalize the settlement later this year before he leaves office this fall. Yelp, however, says Google is getting off too light.

“I truly fear the landscape for innovation in Europe is infertile, and this is a direct result of the abuses Google has undertaken with its dominant position,” Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman wrote in a letter in May to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who oversees Almunia.

The E.U.’s investigation of Google began in November 2010 when several companies, including Microsoft, whose Bing search competes directly with Google search, accused Google of promoting its own services in search results. Google dominates the search engine market in Europe, where nearly 80 percent of Internet searches are made on Google, compared to 65 percent in the U.S., according to comScore.

In the U.S., a parallel two-year antitrust investigation of Google’s search engine closed in 2013, leaving Google relatively unscathed. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission found that Google search did not break antitrust law, inciting anger from FairSearch.org, a group of Google rivals which includes Microsoft and Kayak. FairSearch.org then turned its attention to the ongoing E.U. investigation to “fight to restore truly competitive conditions to the market for search and related online services,” the coalition told the Washington Post. At the time, Yelp had called the FTC’s decision a “missed opportunity,” and also looked to the European case for a fairer settlement.

On June 11, the E.U.’s Almunia expressed his intention to dismiss the case’s 20 formal complaints — it is not yet clear if Yelp’s was one of these — a required step before a finalized settlement can be signed. Still, by procedure, Almunia and the Commission must review Yelp’s complaint. If it is approved, then the antitrust investigation will resume, and Yelp will be granted the right to appeal the eventual settlement.

[NYT]

TIME Courts

Sleeping Yankees Fan’s Lawsuit Won’t Get Far, Legal Experts Say

A $10 million lawsuit filed by a man who was broadcast on ESPN while sleeping during a baseball game draws skepticism

+ READ ARTICLE

Legal experts are skeptical of the $10 million lawsuit filed by a man after he was broadcast on ESPN while sleeping during a baseball game.

Andrew Rector, who was sitting amongst Yankees fans with his head resting on his shoulder, appeared to have dozed off during the April 13 Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game. Once Rector appeared on camera, ESPN commentators Dan Shulman and John Kruk quickly began discussing his slumped-over body.

“Maybe that’s his buddy, and he likes him a lot better when [Rector's] asleep,” Kruk said, referring to a man sitting next to Rector. The commentator duo also remarked that Rector was “oblivious,” expressing surprise that he had fallen asleep during the fourth inning.

Rector filed the suit against ESPN, Shulman, Kruk, the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball (MLB), which also picked up the footage, according to Courthouse News Service. Rector claims damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, citing false statements said about him including that Rector is “a fatty cow” that represents a “symbol of failure.”

In response, ESPN stated that “the comments attributed to ESPN and our announcers were clearly not said in our telecast. The claims presented here are wholly without merit.” MLB declined to comment.

Legal experts agree with ESPN’s assessment. “I think he has no chance on this lawsuit,” Vincent Blasi, a professor at Columbia Law School and expert in tort law, told TIME. “If the grievance is defamation, you have to show someone said something factually false about him. It requires a misstatement of an empirical fact.”

The idea of defamation rests on false written or spoken statements about an individual that damages his or her reputation. Classic defamation cases include suits in which the plaintiff was falsely accused in public statements of manipulating clients in business, or having a debilitating infectious disease.

“[Rector was] clearly been set up for ridicule. He’s unfortunate. He’s been made a butt of jokes. But there’s just no defamatory statement about him,” Harvard Law School professor John Goldberg told TIME, noting that defamation suits rest more on reputation damages than emotional distress.

Goldberg added that the suit, which was filed in Bronx County Supreme Court in New York, would face an uphill — if not entirely vertical — battle. Though there are constitutional limits applying to all U.S. states, New York is “notoriously unfriendly to defamation suits,” and it is “very unlikely that the suit will get anywhere,” he said.

Still, defamation suits have the potential to result in significant compensation. A Palestinian shopkeeper, Ayman Abu Aita, filed in 2009 a multimillion lawsuit against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and the Late Show With David Letterman after the TV program aired a clip from Baron Cohen’s movie Bruno that portrayed him as a terrorist. Aita claimed the movie damaged his business and caused him to receive death threats. The case was subsequently settled in 2012 “to the mutual satisfaction” of everyone, according to Fox News.

TIME States

Washington State Braces for Sales of Recreational Pot

Medicinal Marijuana Supplier Caring for Plants
Cavan Images / Adam Weiss

Amid concerns of weed shortages

Recreational pot is poised to go on sale this week in Washington nearly two years after the state voted to legalize the marijuana trade, but uncertainty and concerns of a weed shortage already abound.

Sale of the drug became legal Monday morning and licensed retailers buying their supplies from licensed growers will be able to sell their product by Tuesday.

Washington and Colorado voted to legalize the pot trade in Nov. 2012, becoming the first states to do so. But while Colorado, which had a robust existing medical marijuana market, has overseen a legal recreational market since the start of the year, Washington is only just giving it a shot.

Only about 20 retailers are expected to receive their licenses this week, and many growers are still awaiting their own licenses. The result: a potential shortage, which will lead to hiked prices, long lines, or limits on the size of purchases.

There are still thousands of growers and retailers awaiting a license, and according to Reuters only a small portion of the growers’ marijuana has gone through necessary testing, with many harvests unlikely to be ready in time for this week’s sales.

TIME Law

Supreme Court Rules on Religious College’s Birth Control Plea

Supreme Court Justices
Members of the Supreme Court, (L-R) Chief Justice John Roberts and associate justices Anthony Kennendy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, applaud as U.S. President Barack Obama arrives to deliver his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on February 12, 2013. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

All three female Justices sign a scathing dissent in the wake of Tuesday's Hobby Lobby ruling

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that an evangelical college in Illinois will not have to fill out a form offered to religious nonprofits that would effectively transfer the cost of its employees’ contraceptives to insurers. Wheaton College argues that doing so would “trigger” emergency contraceptive coverage and is therefore still against the institution’s religious beliefs.

The court said that Wheaton College does not have to file the contested forms while the case is on appeal. Instead, the college should write the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declaring that it is a religious nonprofit organization that, according to Obamacare, is exempt from paying for contraceptives because of a religious objection.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying they would have made the college fill out the form. “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word,” wrote Sotomayor in the dissent. “Not so today.”

“Let me be absolutely clear: I do not doubt that Wheaton genuinely believes that signing the self-certification form is contrary to its religious beliefs,” she wrote. “But thinking one’s religious beliefs are substantially burdened … does not make it so.” She added, “Not every sincerely felt ‘burden’ is a ‘substantial’ one, and it is for courts, not litigants, to identify which are.”

The ruling is just part of an ongoing legal battle over the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby that the Christian-minded arts-and-crafts chain, Hobby Lobby, would not have to offer coverage of certain contraceptives, including Plan B and the IUD, in their employees’ health plans because they believe that those types of birth control amount to abortion. The Affordable Care Act has previously required that for-profit companies cover such birth control, though nonprofit religious organizations (like churches) were exempt and could pass on the burden to the insurance company. In the Tuesday ruling, Justice Samuel Alito suggested that HHS could extend the accommodations that they have in place for religious nonprofits to for-profit companies so the insurer would provide birth control without charging the company.

But Wheaton’s objection to the accommodation suggests that both for-profit and nonprofit organizations with religious affiliations would be unhappy with that solution since they believe they’re still enabling the purchase of contraceptives. So far a total of 122 religious nonprofits have sued. In her dissent, Sotomayor points out the hypocrisy in Justice Alito’s argument for the Hobby Lobby decision in the wake of this new ruling.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration says the opt-out form addresses objections to birth control coverage by transferring responsibility to the insurance company.

TIME Law

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Vetoes Gun Magazine Reduction Bill

Faith And Freedom Coalition Holds Policy Conference
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' Policy Conference at the Omni Shoreham hotel on June 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a gun control bill Wednesday that would have banned ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

(NEWARK, N.J.) — Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a gun control bill Wednesday that would have banned ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

In his veto message, the Republican governor rejected the idea that limiting the number of bullets that guns can hold will put an end to mass shootings, calling it a “simplistic” and “trivial” approach. The bill would have reduced the legal ammunition capacity from 15 to 10 rounds.

In the bill’s place, Christie called for a series of reforms to mental illness treatment, including a new standard that would make it easier to commit people involuntarily.

“Mass violence will not end by changing the number of bullets loaded into a gun,” said Christie, whose stance on guns is being watched closely ahead of a potential run for president in 2016.

Supporters of the bill, including parents of children killed in the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, have argued the limit would make mass shootings less deadly by requiring shooters to stop to reload more often, giving police and potential victims more time to react.

Christie signed several firearms bills into law last year, but he issued conditional vetoes of some of the more contentious ones, including a ban on .50-caliber rifles.

Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, a lead sponsor of the legislation, slammed the governor’s decision and suggested Christie was pandering to the primary voters he may end up courting.

“The governor’s action today can best be described with the words used in his own veto statement, ‘difficult choices are brushed aside.uncomfortable topics are left unexplored.’ I would imagine this is a very uncomfortable topic to have with conservative voters in Iowa and New Hampshire,” he said.

Added Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat: “This veto sounds like it was geared more for a national audience, rather than crafted for the streets of New Jersey.”

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